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Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Alaka'i expandsAlaka'i Consulting & Engineering Inc., a Largo-based defense contractor that makes bomb-detection devices, has moved from a Pinellas County business incubator to a new facility in Largo that will allow it to expand.Gymboree closesA Tampa Bay area franchisee of Gymboree Play & Music centers, who sought protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in March, has closed some of its Bay area locations.Another Indigo HotelA joint-venture partnership of Seaboard Hotel Associates LLC, Tampa-based BayStar Hotel Group and St. Petersburg-based Ballast Point Group plans to begin construction later this year on a 168-room Hotel Indigo in downtown Tampa's Channelside District.Bed tax for BoSoxLee County is considering diverting 20% of the taxes it collects on tourist accommodations to pay for a new stadium and training facility for the Boston Red Sox baseball team.Visitor count dropsThe number of visitors to Collier County in September declined 12.9% to 57,700 compared with one year ago, according to consulting firm Research Data Services.Airport traffic dropsThe number of passengers who traveled through Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers in September dropped 15% to 328,000 compared with the same month a year ago.Airport traffic decreasesTotal passenger traffic through Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport dipped almost 7% in September, but the drop wasn't as steep as officials thought

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Alaka'i expands

Alaka'i Consulting & Engineering Inc., a Largo-based defense contractor that makes bomb-detection devices, has moved from a Pinellas County business incubator to a new facility in Largo that will allow it to expand.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young was the guest of honor at an Alaka'i ribbon cutting Oct. 23 at its new location at the Young-Rainey STAR Center, 7887 Bryan Dairy Road, Largo.

The company recently completed a two-year incubator program at the STAR Technology Enterprise Center in Largo. The program was a key reason Alaka'i was drawn to the area, co-founder Ed Dottery told Coffee Talk.

Since relocating from New Hampshire to Pinellas in 2006, Alaka'i has increased its revenues six-fold and projects it will bring more than $3 million in federal contracts to the area next year.

The new facility will double the company's square footage to 3,000 square feet, provide room for a laser-test range and allow for an expansion that could double the staff from seven to 14 in the next year.

Gymboree closes

A Tampa Bay area franchisee of Gymboree Play & Music centers, who sought protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in March, has closed some of its Bay area locations.

Tot-Bot Inc. originally filed for Chapter 11 in court, which would have allowed it to reorganize debts and remain in business. But the court recently appointed a trustee who will liquidate the business.

Another Indigo Hotel

A joint-venture partnership of Seaboard Hotel Associates LLC, Tampa-based BayStar Hotel Group and St. Petersburg-based Ballast Point Group plans to begin construction later this year on a 168-room Hotel Indigo in downtown Tampa's Channelside District.

The companies expect a 13- to 14-month construction schedule. The seven-story, 175,000-square-foot hotel will rise at Meridian and Cumberland avenues and 11th Street, about three blocks from the waterfront, near the Florida Aquarium.

There are 27 Indigo Hotels in the country, including locations in St. Petersburg and Sarasota. They are part of the InterContinental Hotels Group, which includes Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn.

Ballast Point also plans to build stores and apartments across the street from the hotel site at Cumberland and 11th.

LEE/COLLIER

Bed tax for BoSox

Lee County is considering diverting 20% of the taxes it collects on tourist accommodations to pay for a new stadium and training facility for the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

In its quest for a new facility, the team has pitted Sarasota against Lee counties on the Gulf Coast to see who can build a new stadium for the team to replace the one in Fort Myers. Sarasota recently turned down the team.

In its most recent fiscal year, the Lee County Tourist Development Council collected $22 million from the 5% tourist bed tax.

About 54% of the money pays for advertising and promotion, 33% pays for beach-related improvements and 13% pays for debt on the Lee County Sports Complex, which includes Hammond Stadium where the Minnesota Twins have spring training.

Visitor count drops

The number of visitors to Collier County in September declined 12.9% to 57,700 compared with one year ago, according to consulting firm Research Data Services.

A 52% increase in European tourists couldn't overcome a substantial decline in domestic visitors, including a 25% drop in visitors from the Midwest.

Occupancy rates at Naples-area hotels declined 14% in September to 39% and revenue per available room dropped 15.3% to $41 compared with the same month in 2007.

Airport traffic drops

The number of passengers who traveled through Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers in September dropped 15% to 328,000 compared with the same month a year ago. For the year to date, passenger traffic is down 5.7% over the same period last year as airlines cut back on flights.

The passenger-traffic leader at the Fort Myers airport in September was Delta with 53,542 passengers. The other traffic leaders included AirTran (44,140 passengers), JetBlue (39,544), Southwest (37,621) and US Airways (34,391).

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Airport traffic decreases

Total passenger traffic through Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport dipped almost 7% in September, but the drop wasn't as steep as officials thought it was going to be.

Overall, 76,424 passengers came through the airport, a 6.7% decline from September 2007.

Even worse, however, was the number of lost plane seats: Airport officials said as many as 18,500 seats, roughly 20% of the total coming through the airport, were eliminated due to airline cutbacks in September.

Airlines that cut capacity at the airport include Air Tran, which eliminated about 4,000 seats through flight cut backs and Delta, which reduced its total seat count by about 1,800. Continental Airlines pulled out of the market entirely.

Airport officials said the decrease in total traffic numbers was mitigated in September because the remaining planes filled more available seats. For example, Jet Blue reported a small uptick in passenger counts, as it picked up some of Continental's old routes.

Company lands contract

Venice-based window manufacturer PGT Industries has moved ahead with a facet of its strategy for the economic downturn by landing contracts to work on a pair of large Miami construction projects.

The company announced Oct. 28 that it would handle the curtain wall assembly and installation for the Met 2 and 1450 Brickell towers, a mixed-used project and a 35-story office tower, respectively. Curtain wall construction, which is essentially a lighter and sleeker window that resists air and water infiltration through eliminating outside weights, is a new market for PGT.

The company is in the process of diversifying its product base away from being primarily a manufacturer and installer of hurricane resistant windows and doors. The Met 2 is one of three buildings that make up one of the largest on-going mixed-use construction projects in Greater Miami. The building PGT is working on is planned at 47 stories, spanning 420,000 square feet. PGT is expected to manufacture 7,000 curtain wall units for that project.

The Brickell project is on line to be the newest office tower in the city, totaling 306,900 square feet of glass. PGT is contracted to manufacture 5,000 curtain wall units for The Brickell project.

Swiftmud restricts water

A dry September and October has driven the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District voted this week add further restrictions to watering in the Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco county areas.

For property owners, the additional restrictions further limiting lawn irrigation, cutting back on the 60-day allowance for watering new plants and lawns and reducing the time for running fountains and waterfalls.

For utilities, the new rules require water utilities, private and those run by local governments, to increase their enforcement of violations, including issuing citations for first-offenders. For more information, visit http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/restrictions.

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