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Business Observer Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Gandy project to beginHometown petition snagCompany wins $20 millionReds look elsewhereWine Festival's $14 millionAirport tops 8 millionHoffman backs McCainWestshore's transit fund

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Gandy project to begin

South Tampa's Gandy Boulevard is getting a new look designed to make it safer and more attractive.

The $20 million two-year Department of Transportation project, from Dale Mabry Highway to east of the Gandy Bridge, includes a 30-foot-wide, landscaped center median, decorative brick crossings, and new sidewalks and traffic signals.

The project, begun last month, was held up nearly two years after bids came in too high and merchants complained the project's median would hurt business by preventing left turns except at intersections. Left turns will be allowed at some businesses and at eight intersections.

Hometown petition snag

Florida Hometown Democracy could be de-railed because of a business-backed group's last-minute petition drive.

Hometown Democracy needs 611,009 signed petitions by the Friday deadline to get on the Nov. 4 ballot. Supporters say they have turned in 730,000 petitions, but just 501,000 had been certified by county elections supervisors on Jan. 10.

Hometown supporters have run up against a petition glut in Florida's largest county. The Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections office has been swamped in recent weeks with tens of thousands of petitions for two other ballot initiatives, one of which is sponsored by a group formed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to defeat Hometown Democracy. Since Jan. 1, the group has deposited hundreds of thousands of petitions at election supervisors' offices around the state.

The amendment would require individual referendums on any changes to county comprehensive growth plans.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Company wins $20 million

Turns out the ultra-niche industry of manufacturing and selling mining tires is pretty lucrative. At least it is in Sarasota, where a local company recently received a $19.6 million judgment in a trade secrets lawsuit that played out like a game of international espionage.

The Sarasota County Circuit Court case pitted Tire Engineering and Distribution, a global mining tire company with an office in Sarasota, against Sam Vance, the company's sales and marketing manager through 2005. The company accused Vance of misappropriating the firm's confidential and proprietary information, such as its tire and wheel blueprints, pricing data and its customer list.

Sarasota-based Abel Band further argued that Vance gave Tire Engineering's secrets to other businesses, including his current employer, Dubai-based Al Dobowi Group.

Reds look elsewhere

The Cincinnati Reds' days holding Spring training in Sarasota may be ending. The team, which has played in Sarasota since 1998, entered exclusive negotiations with the city of Goodyear, Ariz. to move there.

Reds executives have said the potential move is strictly based on local finances that were working against the team. In November, Sarasota city and county voters rejected a $16 million referendum that would have gone toward renovating the team's facility, Ed Smith Stadium. And then, in a meeting in late January, the Sarasota County Commission delayed a vote on a new funding proposal for what is overall estimated to be a $41 million renovation project.

But even if those proposals passed, the team said in a statement, it would still leave the Reds on the hook for paying for as much as $9 million for the upgrades. Meanwhile, if it moves to Arizona, the team said it won't "have to contribute much, if anything, financially for the construction costs of the Goodyear facility." Added Reds executive John Allen: "I can say it's a very attractive economic situation for us out there."

The Sarasota County Commission though, hasn't completely given up on keeping the Reds from moving to Goodyear, which is about 20 miles west of Phoenix. The commission plans to vote Feb. 12 on a refined proposal for renovations to the stadium.

LEE/COLLIER

Wine Festival's $14 million

The Naples Winter Wine Festival raised $14 million for children's charities in a four-hour auction held Jan. 26.

The 635 auction attendees at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples bid on 72 luxury lots, with winning bids ranging from $45,000 to $1 million. Last year, the festival raised $16.5 million.

Airport tops 8 million

More than eight million passengers traveled through Southwest Florida International Airport in 2007, the airport's busiest year ever and a 5.3% increase over 2006.

However, December traffic fell 5.1% compared to the same month in 2006. It's the second monthly decline in a row and an indication that the tourism industry may slow in 2008.

By comparison, Tampa International Airport saw 19 million passengers and Sarasota Bradenton International Airport had 1.6 million passengers in 2007.

Hoffman backs McCain

Fort Myers developer Al Hoffman stumped around the Gulf Coast for Sen. John McCain's presidential bid, helping him win the Florida Republican primary.

Hoffman recently returned from Portugal, where he served as U.S. ambassador following his retirement as chairman of WCI Communities, the Bonita Springs-based homebuilder. Hoffman has been a potent fundraiser for Republican candidates in Florida, including President George W. Bush.

Westshore's transit fund

As right of way for road widening shrinks and traffic builds, a business alliance in the West Shore district is pitching a plan to fund transit in the Gulf Coast's largest business district.

Under the plan, a portion of the road improvement fees paid by developers in the West Shore district would be diverted to transit. The Westshore Alliance has filed a formal request with the city and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council to amend the business district's long-range growth plan known as a Development of Regional Impact.

Under the growth plan's provisions, developers who build at West Shore must contribute fees to offset road improvements within the district, which has boundaries of Tampa Bay, Tampa International Airport, Himes Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard. The Alliance wants to use some of those fees for mass transit, from lunchtime shuttles and circulator buses to a transit hub connecting travelers to buses, light-rail trains and airport shuttle vehicles.

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