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Business Observer Friday, May 2, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Riverwalk nears completion: A longtime vision in Tampa, linking the downtown via a riverwalk, is getting closer to completion.USGS dedicates building: The U.S. Geological Survey recently celebrated the dedication of its newest building in St. Petersburg, an 11,400-square-foot facility with six state-of-the-art labs, a dive locker and 12 offices.Tax increase delayed: Sarasota County commissioners has agreed to postpone a planned increase in a new-construction tax of almost 50% for at least one year.Project lives on: The Sarasota City commission narrowly approved a change to the city's land-use rules, a key victory for a developer seeking to build a mixed-use project just south of downtown Sarasota.Popular festival canceled: The Sarasota Reading Festival, a popular annual event that brings several noted writers to the area every November, is the latest victim of the soft economy.County cuts jobs: A drop in new construction and development in Collier County has forced county government officials there to trim another nine jobs.Passenger traffic rises: More than 1 million passengers passed through Southwest Florida International Airport in March.First Florida now Synovus: Naples-based First Florida Bank is now officially part of Synovus Financial Corp

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Riverwalk nears completion

A longtime vision in Tampa, linking the downtown via a riverwalk, is getting closer to completion.

Workers recently finished the Riverwalk's $2.6 million Platt Street Bridge segment, linking USF Park and the Tampa Convention Center.

The Trump Tower and Curtis Hixon Park segments on the 2.2 miles along the east banks of the Hillsborough River and the Garrison Channel are still in the planning stages.

USGS dedicates building

The U.S. Geological Survey recently celebrated the dedication of its newest building in St. Petersburg, an 11,400-square-foot facility with six state-of-the-art labs, a dive locker and 12 offices.

Its the third within the USGS campus and the latest addition to the C.W. Bill Young Marine Science Complex along the waterfront in downtown St. Petersburg.

The complex consists of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science and its Center for Ocean Technology, the USGS Florida Integrated Science Center, the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, the Southwest Regional Office of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Florida Sea Grant, Eckerd College and the Florida Institute of Oceanography.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Tax increase delayed

Sarasota County commissioners has agreed to postpone a planned increase in a new-construction tax of almost 50% for at least one year.

The delay, which was sought by some of the area's leading business groups, including the ArgusaFoundation and the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, is essentially an acknowledgment that any increase in the so-called "impact fees" the county imposes on builders will only make the current building slump worse, commissioners said.

Commissioners had been debating a proposal to raise taxes on new construction by 47%, or about $2,000 on a 1,000-square-foot home. The issue could come up for a vote again in June, 2009.

Project lives on

The Sarasota City commission narrowly approved a change to the city's land-use rules, a key victory for a developer seeking to build a mixed-use project just south of downtown Sarasota.

Developer Ron Burks has proposed a project of 200-plus condos, retail stores and a hotel on nearly 10 acres of abandoned industrial property on School Avenue, near Payne Park.

The city has yet to vote on an official site plan for the project, but on April 28, by a 3-2 vote, it approved a land-use change allowing certain buildings to be as high as five stories. Two commissioners, as well as several residents of nearby homes, were hoping to cap the project at four stories.

The development has gone through numerous transformations and votes over the past three years, many of which came about due to strong opposition from a few vocal neighborhood groups. The project was initially planned for as many as 460 condos, for example, but Burks revised it downward as the opposition grew.

Popular festival canceled

The Sarasota Reading Festival, a popular annual event that brings several noted writers to the area every November, is the latest victim of the soft economy.

The festival's board of directors, saying grants, corporate sponsorships and charitable donations would not cover the $100,000-plus cost of putting on the week-long event, voted to cancel it late last month.

"Non-profits throughout Sarasota - and the rest of the country, for that matter - are feeling the pinch of corporate belt tightening and a reduction in private philanthropic donations," said Debbi Benedict, the board's president in a statement.

The festival also serves as a charitable organization on its own, raising money for the New College Library Association and the Friends of the Selby Public Library. This first festival was held in 1997.

LEE/COLLIER

County cuts jobs

A drop in new construction and development in Collier County has forced county government officials there to trim another nine jobs.

The latest cut at the Collier County Community Development and Environmental Services Division come on the heels of the elimination of 16 jobs in February.

Currently, the division has frozen 88 of its 299 positions. Building-permit and zoning-application fee revenues are the sole source of funding for the county's construction permitting operations.

Passenger traffic rises

More than 1 million passengers passed through Southwest Florida International Airport in March. It's only the third time in the airport's 25-year history that the 1-million-passenger mark has been surpassed in a single month.

In March, 1,030,151 passengers traveled through the Fort Myers airport. Passenger-traffic leaders included AirTran (144,393 passengers), JetBlue (119,328), Delta (112,346), Northwest (95,442) and US Airways (94,457).

First Florida now Synovus

Naples-based First Florida Bank is now officially part of Synovus Financial Corp., a Columbus, Ga.- based financial holding company that initially bought First Florida in 2006 as part of its expansion into the Sunshine State. The holding company announced the completion of the merger April 28.

Synovus now has $1.68 billion in assets, 26 offices and 300-plus employees on the Gulf Coast, according a company press release. David Dunbar will continue on as chief executive of Synovus' Florida operations, while Dom DiMaio, the president and CEO of First Florida, will lead the Naples branch as the holding company's market president.

First Florida is one of several Gulf Coast banks having problems with underperforming loans. Indeed, going into 2008 the bank had the highest percentage of non-current loans to current loans out of more than 80 Gulf Coast-based community banks, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The bank reported that $54.3 million of its $300.8 million loan portfolio, or 18.08%, was more than 90 days past due, according to FDIC figures.

Synovus is traded on the NYSE under the symbol SNV.

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