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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 7, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Hillsborough to cut 25 jobsFranchisee files Chapter 11Ybor preserves commercialMore affordable housingMore housing layoffsEDC program expanLee stimulus packageBuilding permits remain lowCollier denies I-75 tolls

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Hillsborough to cut 25 jobs

The downturn in residential construction is requiring Hillsborough County to cut 25 positions in the building services division.

The cuts follow 47 positions cut in the building division last year. Eight of the current positions being eliminated are vacant. Building services is self-funding, meaning money for salaries comes from fees for permits, inspections and plan reviews.

Last year, the county increased fees to speed up permits and plan reviews. The increase allowed the department to keep a staff of 141 employees. County statistics from Oct. 1 through January show the number of permits issued fell 24.4% compared with last year.

Franchisee files Chapter 11

Quick Service Foods-Tampa Inc., which operates 15 Church's Chicken fast-food outlets in Central Florida, has filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Chapter 11 allows a company to remain in business while reorganizing finances. The restaurant company cited poor market conditions, the cost of commodities and a claim that its franchiser, Atlanta-based Cajun Operating Co., has "failed to provide adequate advertising as required by the franchise agreements."

Quick Service intends to keep its restaurants in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Orange counties open and retain as many of its 320 employees as it can, the filing said.

Ybor preserves commercial

Tampa and the Florida Department of Transportation have been working for years to save old houses in Tampa's Ybor City area that otherwise would be demolished to make way for road work.

Now they're aiming to protect a handful of historic commercial structures.

The effort, called the Tampa Interstate Historic Mitigation Project, has funding for another 29 structures to be moved. Among those are a handful of commercial buildings.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

More affordable housing

Developer Leonard Garner is again asking the Sarasota City Commission to allow him to change the scope of a residential project in downtown Sarasota. The latest project, to be called Alcazar, is planned as a 10-story apartment tower just north of the Whole Foods Market Center.

Garner wants to revamp the entire project to fit under the city's affordable housing guidelines. But for Garner to build affordable housing in that location, the city would need to approve a density increase from 42 apartments to 168 apartments.

Garner has told city staff and commissioners at various meetings over the past year that if he's given the density increase, he would set prices from $530 a month for a 400-square-foot studio to $1,800 for a three-bedroom apartment. At a March 3 meeting, commissioners delayed a final vote on the change at least until April.

More housing layoffs

The Gulf Coast housing slump has led to more layoffs of employees in South Sarasota County, with the latest coming on opposite sides of the building and construction spectrum.

The big layoffs in terms of sheer people losing their jobs came from Venice-based window manufacturer PGT Inc. The company announced March 4 that it would be laying off 300 employees, bringing the six-month total of employees let go by the company to almost 500. The layoffs stem directly from the housing downturn, as well as two straight hurricane free summers, the company said.

Meanwhile, officials in the city of North Port, about 10 miles south of the PGT plant, also said on March 4 that they would be laying off 13 employees, including 11 from the building department.

EDC program expands

Sarasota County commissioners recently voted to expand a program run by the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County that helps export-oriented businesses seeking to move to or expand in the county.

The program, called Sarasota Means Action Response Team (SMART), has placed qualified businesses on a permitting fast track for development projects since it was first implemented in the 1990s.

The commissioners, in an effort to improve the area's business climate, voted to expand the program to include rezones and other special exceptions.

To qualify for the program, a company must meet specific guidelines, including paying an average wage that equals or exceeds the annual average wage of Sarasota County's private industries, creating at least 10 new jobs if relocating and having a critical timing need that jeopardizes the project if fast-track processing is not utilized.

LEE/COLLIER

Lee stimulus package

The Lee County Commission is considering an economic stimulus package that would expedite county construction projects, lower taxes on new construction or do both.

Already, the county is scheduled to start $169 million worth of construction projects this year and it could add other projects such as the widening of Gladiolus Drive.

In addition, the county is exploring the possibility of suspending or rolling back taxes on new construction, also known as impact fees.

Building permits remain low

The Lee County Department of Community Development issued 63 single-family-home permits in February, a 17% increase over the 54 permits issued in January but a 79% drop from the 300 issued in February 2007.

Permits were issued for 10 new commercial buildings valued at $16 million in February. That's down 13% in value from January and down 28% from February 2007.

Collier denies I-75 tolls

Collier County commissioners recently voted against tolling two lanes currently under construction on Interstate-75 as a way to fund the construction of another four toll lanes.

Instead, Collier commissioners urged the Southwest Florida Expressway Authority to examine other ways of relieving north-south traffic congestion.

However, commissioners in neighboring Lee County are pursuing tolling the two new lanes now under construction. Tolling those would bring in the necessary revenues to fund the construction of another four lanes, bringing the total lanes of I-75 in Lee to 10.

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