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Business Observer Saturday, Mar. 29, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Cone sentenced to prison: The owner of a Tampa construction company has been sentenced to five years in prison and five years probationMoffitt growth may hit snag: The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute's $400 million expansion plan in Tampa has run into yet more troubleBallfield plans lack financials: Three proposals to redevelop Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg posed more questions than answersMassive mall progresses: A massive mega-shopping mall project in northern Sarasota County, to be built by Sarasota-based Benderson Development, is one step closer to beginning constructionLWR city chatter heats up: Lakewood Ranch, one of the largest master planned communities on the Gulf Coast, is exploring the possibility of becoming an incorporated cityCollier targets job retention: Faced with rising unemployment and companies moving out of the area, Collier County commissioners are offering to pay qualifying companies $1,000 per existing job if they stay put and promise to hire more people.Discount carriers dominate: Three discount carriers were among the top five passenger airlines flying to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Cone sentenced to prison

The owner of a Tampa construction company has been sentenced to five years in prison and five years probation for his involvement in an organized scheme to defraud, according to Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Michael Lee Cone, president and owner of Cone Constructors Inc., was previously convicted in a jury trial of defrauding the Florida Department of Transportation and various subcontractors.

From July 1999 through May 2000, the Tampa-based road-building company was the general contractor on sections of the Suncoast Parkway. The Department of Transportation paid the company a monthly progress payment, from which the company was supposed to pay its subcontractors.

Investigators with the DOT determined that Cone and his company engaged in a scheme to defraud some of its subcontractors by not paying them their shares. Cone, 51, also filed false certificates with the DOT certifying that all of the company's subcontractors had been paid.

Moffitt growth may hit snag

The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute's $400 million expansion plan in Tampa has run into yet more trouble, now that Senate leaders have sent the funding bill before a committee chairman who opposes it.

The cancer center receives about $16 million, or 4%, of the proceeds from the state's cigarette tax each year, a stream of funding that the center uses for construction and other brick-and-mortar costs.

About two-thirds of that funding is set to expire at the end of this calendar year. The remaining amount expires in 2016. A bill from Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, and Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, would renew full funding through 2038.

That bill passed a Senate panel last week over the objections of Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, who warned at the time that the Moffitt bill is a tough sell when the state is facing a revenue shortfall of about $3 billion.

Senate leaders re-referred the bill to Education Facilities Appropriations, a committee that King leads, signaling likely doom for the bill in that chamber.

Ballfield plans lack financials

Three proposals to redevelop Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg posed more questions than answers, including how much of the new taxes generated at the 86-acre site would be used for the project's goal, a new $450 million waterfront ballpark.

Only one of the three national developers, Houston-based Hines Interests, declared what it would pay for the Tropicana site: $50 million. The Rays already have said they plan to contribute $150 million toward the downtown stadium.

That leaves a $200 million to $300 million gap. The team is preparing a detailed financing plan that it will submit to the city before June 5, when the city council is expected to decide whether to authorize a November referendum on a new stadium.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Massive mall progresses

A massive mega-shopping mall project in northern Sarasota County, to be built by Sarasota-based Benderson Development, is one step closer to beginning construction.

The latest hold-up for the project, which covers 275 acres west of Interstate 75 near the University Parkway exit, stemmed from the Florida Department of Community Affairs. Even though Sarasota County Commissioners have already approved a twice-revised plan for the mall, the DCA recently said some of the project didn't meet its mixed-use standards.

So over the past few weeks, a group of officials from Sarasota County, Benderson and the DCA have worked out a compromise that caps the total amount of non-residential space Benderson can develop on the property at 1.9 million square feet of gross leaseable space. That space includes 1.68 million square feet of retail space and 220,000 square feet of office space.

LWR city chatter heats up

Lakewood Ranch, one of the largest master planned communities on the Gulf Coast, is exploring the possibility of becoming an incorporated city. Informal conversations on turning the 30,000-acre development in east Manatee County into a city have been held for the past few years by various developers and officials, but now several groups are trying to advance the cause through a feasibility study.

The study, to be done by Orlando-based economist Hank Fishkind, would delve in to the pros and cons of incorporation, including the tax structure of the potential city. The study is expected to cost about $35,000.

Lakewood Ranch homebuilder Pat Neal has agreed to contribute $17,500, half the total cost, toward the study. The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance also supports the idea of formally studying the city concept and has set up a donation portal on its Web site to cover the rest of the costs of the study.

"Incorporated cities have more control over their destiny," said Neal, whose company recently completed its 7,000th home on the Gulf Coast. "Sooner or later, I think this will be a municipality. Sooner or later - I'd prefer sooner."

Lakewood Ranch stretches about seven miles on land just east of Interstate 75.

LEE/COLLIER

Collier targets job retention

Faced with rising unemployment and companies moving out of the area, Collier County commissioners are offering to pay qualifying companies $1,000 per existing job if they stay put and promise to hire more people.

To qualify, expanding companies must increase employment by 10%, pay 115% of the county's average wage and be in an industry targeted by the Economic Development Council of Collier County. Industries include aviation and aerospace, health and life sciences, computer software and services, manufacturing or wholesale trade and distribution.

The $1,000-per-job incentive is subject to availability of funding and is payable over three years. It also gives the county authority to review and audit the performance of participating companies.

Discount carriers dominate

Three discount carriers were among the top five passenger airlines flying to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, according to the airport's February data. The traffic leader was AirTran, with 115,417 passengers traveling to and from Fort Myers. Rounding out the top five were JetBlue, Delta, USAirways and Southwest. The airport served more than 8 million passengers in 2007.

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