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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 14, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Authority looks at transit: The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority is planning the first round of public workshops for a master plan to improve mobility within its seven countiesSt. Pete residents favor park: Given the chance to weigh in on the future of Al Lang Field on the St. Petersburg waterfront, most of the nearly 200 people who attended a public forum recently in St. Petersburg said they want all or much of the baseball grounds turned into parkland.Hangar deal creates 400 jobs: Up to 410 new jobs could be created at Tampa International Airport in the next two years with the recent approval of a lease agreement for Pemco World Air Services Inc. for a maintenance hanger.Congressman expands role: U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is putting his entrepreneurial and business skills to good useCounty cuts more jobs: Local and county governments in the Sarasota-Manatee area continue to layoff small groups of employees in response to budget cuts stemming from the slowing economy and enforced tax cutsNew airport development: The Lee County Port Authority approved a deal to lease land to Denver-based developer John Madden Co.Lee hotels post mixed results: A majority of hoteliers surveyed by the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau - 57% - reported January occupancy rates were better or the same than January 2007Wine Festival's $17 million: The Naples Children and Education Foundation, organizers of

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Authority looks at transit

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority is planning the first round of public workshops for a master plan to improve mobility within its seven counties: Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota. The authority has two years to approve a plan.

The current proposal calls for enhanced public transportation. Ferries could move people between downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg, Bradenton and Apollo Beach. A light rail system plan calls for using existing CSX lines to connect Tampa to St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Brooksville, Bradenton and Polk County. Clearwater and St. Petersburg also would be connected, and another rail line would extend from Bradenton to the Hillsborough County line.

St. Pete residents favor park

Given the chance to weigh in on the future of Al Lang Field on the St. Petersburg waterfront, most of the nearly 200 people who attended a public forum recently in St. Petersburg said they want all or much of the baseball grounds turned into parkland.

However, many people also said they would like to see other uses for the spring training stadium, which the Tampa Bay Rays will vacate when its spring games move to Port Charlotte next year. The Rays want to retrofit the site and play their regular-season games there in 2012.

City officials said the public input will assist them in developing a recommendation to the city council on the Rays' stadium proposal, due by June.

Hangar deal creates 400 jobs

Up to 410 new jobs could be created at Tampa International Airport in the next two years with the recent approval of a lease agreement for Pemco World Air Services Inc. for a maintenance hanger.

Pemco provides heavy maintenance and modification services for both wide- and narrow-body aircraft from around the world and specializes in converting airliners such as Boeing 737s into cargo carriers. Pemco will begin moving into the former US Airways hangar at TIA on April 1.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Congressman expands role

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is putting his entrepreneurial and business skills to good use: He was recently named as the ranking member of Congress' Finance and Tax Subcommittee. Buchanan, who has been in the printing and auto dealership businesses, represents Manatee, Sarasota, and parts of Charlotte County.

The Finance and Tax Subcommittee oversees the lending programs run by the Small Business Administration, which includes the Section 7(a) loan program and the 504 Certified Development Company program.

"As the ranking Republican on the Small Business Committee's Finance and Tax Subcommittee, I will have greater influence over legislation affecting Florida's small businesses and their workers," Buchanan said.

County cuts more jobs

Local and county governments in the Sarasota-Manatee area continue to layoff small groups of employees in response to budget cuts stemming from the slowing economy and enforced tax cuts. The latest layoff announcement came March 11 from Sarasota County, which said it would be letting go of 20 to 30 employees by March 20. The layoffs follow about 150 job cuts the county has made over the past three months.

County officials said the job cuts in response to a $5 million budget shortfall this year. In addition, county officials said the state property tax reform package cut county tax collections by another $14 million.

LEE/COLLIER

New airport development

The Lee County Port Authority approved a deal to lease land to Denver-based developer John Madden Co., which plans to build 275,000 square feet of office space on 25 acres at Southwest Florida International Airport in a first phase.

The project, dubbed "Madden Research Loop," is geared toward technology companies that want to locate offices in an upscale business park in Fort Myers. Madden (no relation to the football announcer) has developed more than 10 million square feet of real estate, including technology parks in Colorado and other western states. Madden owns a home on Captiva island near Fort Myers.

Lee hotels post mixed results

A majority of hoteliers surveyed by the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau - 57% - reported January occupancy rates were better or the same than January 2007. However, 43% said occupancy rates were worse than a year ago.

Lee hoteliers were slightly more upbeat about lodging revenues, with 60% reporting better or same levels in January versus the same month a year ago.

The survey is conducted monthly by Davidson Peterson Associates.

Wine Festival's $17 million

The Naples Children and Education Foundation, organizers of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, recently awarded $17.3 million to 24 children's' charities in Southwest Florida.

The biggest beneficiaries included Boys & Girls Club of Collier County in Immokalee ($6.5 million), Immokalee Early Learning Initiative ($2.3 million) and FSU/CHSI Isabel Collier Read Medical Campus ($2 million). Those grants were made for long-term initiatives.

More Murdock Problems

In less than six months, a potential $100 million, 870-acre redevelopment project in Charlotte County has gone from being downsized to 40 acres to being no size. And just like several other scaled back projects on the Gulf Coast, the culprit in this fallen deal is the slumping housing market.

This particular deal, in an area of Port Charlotte known as Murdock Village, revolved around West Palm Beach-based developer Kitson & Partners buying the 870 acres from Charlotte County to build a massive mixed-use development. The developer and the county agreed to a $72 million deal for the land in October, but by February Kitson was seeking to shrink the deal to just 40 acres for $3.3 million.

And on March 10, Kitson indicated to county commissioners that the market has softened to the point where the company isn't likely to close on any land deals.

With Kitson pulling out, the land would remain under Charlotte County ownership until another buyer could be found - a costly proposition. The county previously borrowed $93 million to buy the land through purchases and eminent domain, a tab that is now over $100 million due to escalating interest.

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