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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Jan. 16, 2004 14 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: The difference a month makes "Relationships Built on Trust," huh?Florida Bar President Miles McGrane would get a little respect from the judges when he needs to reschedule a court hearing. Not so.Carl Lindell selling Volksw

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

The difference a month makes

"Relationships Built on Trust," huh?

Last April, the chief executive of the bank that uses that promotional slogan was telling GCBR that there was no way, no price that could persuade his bank's parent company to sell out to a mega-bank.

First National Bank of Florida CEO Garrett Richter was saying F.N.B. Corp. won't sell. Never gonna happen. "It's essentially known in the industry we aren't for sale, and if we do get a call, we basically don't call back," Richter told us at the time.

About a month after Richter's remarks, however, the board of directors of F.N.B. put the word out the company was for sale. Not a single financial institution - and investment banking firm SunTrust Robinson Humphrey knocked on 16 doors in all - submitted what the F.N.B. board considered a serious bid.

Maybe it was payback for all those earlier unreturned calls.

No respect

As a representative of the Sunshine State's nearly 74,000 attorneys, you'd think Florida Bar President Miles McGrane would get a little respect from the judges when he needs to reschedule a court hearing.

Not so.

McGrane - who travels the state talking to bar associations and other groups - was a no-show at the Dec. 8 luncheon of the Clearwater Bar Association. The trial attorney, who handles primarily medical malpractice defense work, was in court in Miami that day. But he was able to make it to the Tampa Bay area the following day for the St. Petersburg Bar Association meeting.

The absence wasn't intentional, McGrane assured Clearwater Bar President Robert C. Dickinson III, who was among the crowd at the St. Petersburg Mirror Lake Lyceum. McGrane planned to attend both functions on two consecutive days.

"Unfortunately a judge in Dade County set a matter down for a hearing," the lawyer said. "Well, I am president of the bar, I thought I could write a little note and say, 'Judge ¦ I'm talking about funding for the court system.' "

It didn't work. The judge told McGrane to show up or else.

Tradin' in

The lucrative nature of Carl Lindell's real estate ventures became too alluring for the chairman of Lindell Motors Inc. After 35 years in the car business, Lindell is selling his Volkswagen and Honda dealerships in Tampa. He's also put up for sale the Mazda dealership in St. Petersburg.

The sales are not surprising. An Oct. 3 GCBR article described Lindell and partner Ron Weisser's rapid expansion in the Tampa Bay area's residential development market, with projects under way in Manatee, Pasco and Hernando counties.

Pasco County car dealer Jason Kuhn, who operates Bay Ford in Hudson in partnership with Khaled Hassan, Edward Leibowitz, David Leibowitz and Michael G. Lewis, expects to complete the purchase next month.

Lindell declined to disclose terms of the deal. But he told GCBR last fall that Lindell Motors grossed about $135 million in 2003, with average annual growth of about $5 million over the past five years.

'One hell of a ride'

Clearwater land broker Bill Eshenbaugh just might be a front runner for the 2004 Land Realtor of the Year by the way things are going. The "Dirt Dog," as he known among his real estate colleagues, won the 2003 national award from the Realtors Land Institute. He was only the second real estate professional from Florida to receive the honor in 41 years.

Eshenbaugh, who wouldn't disclose details, expects to close this year on three big deals in downtown Tampa, ranging from affordable housing backed by tax credits, assemblage of property for apartments and an upscale condominium project. Those deals should cover at least three city blocks.

"This is like going to the rodeo as a cowboy," says Eshenbaugh. "You get up on top of the chute, slide down onto a 2,000-pound Brahman bull, you pull your hat down tight and say, 'Let 'er rip boys.' You know you're in store for one hell of a ride for 2004 as it looks now."

Christine has left the building

You think Colonial BancGroup Inc. executives were expecting Christine L. Jennings to walk so soon after the Alabama holding company closed on its purchase of her Sarasota bank?

Judging by the sustained silence coming from Montgomery, Ala., where the holding company is based, and from Bonita Springs, Colonial's regional headquarters for the territory that includes Sarasota, Coffee Talk will vote no on that question.

A day after Jennings announced her exodus Jan. 13, there was still no Colonial executives willing to comment on their sudden vacancy in Sarasota. She wasn't hanging around her former office and couldn't be contacted at home.

Harlan C. Parrish, Colonial's Southwest Florida president and chief executive in Bonita Springs, promised to get back to GCBR as soon as he had something to say. W. Flake Oakley IV, the holding company president, didn't return a message left for him in Montgomery.

Which leaves Coffee Talk to ponder life after the merger for a community banker.

Jennings made out pretty well when Colonial bought Sarasota BanCorporation Inc. for $40.5 million in stock. The chairwoman, president and chief executive helped found Sarasota Bank in the early 1990s.

Her employment contract called for a 2003 salary of $160,000, plus bonus. (Her 2002 bonus was $40,000.) After the Colonial deal, she was free to quit with a $478,400 severance. Her Sarasota BanCorporation stock was worth about $3.1 million from Colonial.

So, at age 58, Jennings has come into roughly $3.8 million, before taxes, in the past year. That should be enough to retire on after four decades in banking.

Is Colonial, which also operates in the Tampa Bay area, tougher on the community bankers it takes in after an acquisition than other multistate holding companies? Hard to say.

Jennings had praised the Alabama bank last June when the deal was announced: "We expect that Colonial Bank's style of community banking will blend nicely with the business practices our customers have enjoyed." She left after about a month under Colonial's thumb.

That won't make Parrish's job any easier. The regional CEO already is working to combine into his existing network Sarasota Bank's former operation as well as the Southwest Florida branches that Colonial will pick up in a pending $141 million purchase of P.C.B. Bancorp Inc.

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