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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 29, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Saxon lays off 140: Saxon Mortgage is laying off 140 workers in the Tampa Bay area, according to documents the company filed under the state's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.HART uses grant money: Electric streetcar supporters in Tampa are accusing Hillsborough County's bus agency of hijacking nearly $1 million in federal money previously set aside to extend the streetcar line into downtown.Fee spikes on the table: Despite passionate opposition from homebuilders and contractors in the midst of sharp building downturn, Manatee County commissioners are considering raising building permit feesMurdock Village problems: The redevelopment of Murdock Village, an 870-acre site in Port Charlotte designed as a mixed-use project focusing on retail and residentialNaples raises taxes: The City of Naples raised taxes on new construction in a unanimous decision by the City Council Feb. 20.Gilkey on land-use boardStadium plan criticized: More than 100 people spoke at a recent St. Petersburg City Council hearing on the Tampa Bay Rays' downtown ballpark proposal, with the majority objecting to the project.

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Saxon lays off 140

Saxon Mortgage is laying off 140 workers in the Tampa Bay area, according to documents the company filed under the state's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

News of the layoffs in Tampa comes two weeks after Morgan Stanley, Saxon's parent company, announced it was paring back its mortgage operations and cutting 1,000 jobs in the United States and the United Kingdom. At that time, Morgan Stanley officials said they couldn't disclose where the layoffs would take place.

HART uses grant money

Electric streetcar supporters in Tampa are accusing Hillsborough County's bus agency of hijacking nearly $1 million in federal money previously set aside to extend the streetcar line into downtown.

Without consulting the streetcar board, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency voted last month to use the money to expand its bus service.

The $900,000 federal grant was supposed to go toward extending the 2.4-mile streetcar line from the Convention Center to Whiting Street in downtown, a distance of about four blocks.

Instead, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit wants to use the grant to buy another bus and increase service on Nebraska Avenue, its busiest route.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Fee spikes on the table

Despite passionate opposition from homebuilders and contractors in the midst of sharp building downturn, Manatee County commissioners are considering raising building permit fees by as much as 60% in an effort to cover a $2 million budget shortfall in the county's building department.

The fee increases, which the county building department proposed to commissioners at a Feb. 26 meeting, would also bring Manatee County's fees up to Sarasota County's fees, a building department official said.

Currently, building fees in Manatee County for a new single-family home run about 33 cents a square foot, almost half of Sarasota County's fees, which are about 64 cents a square foot.

Under the building department's proposal, recommended by a consultant it hired in January, the new fees in Manatee County for a single-family home would be a bout 54 cents a square foot. For a 1,800-square-foot home, that can be about a $350 difference, from what was about $525 to close to $900.

At the Feb. 26 meeting, several Manatee County building executives told the commission that the overstaffed building department should have to do what just about every homebuilding and construction firm that works in the county has had to do: Cut prices and lay off employees. Other executives asked commissioners to expand a program that allows builders to use third-party private firms for much of the assessment and fee work, rather then expand county fees.

Manatee County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the fee increases at a March 11 meeting.

Murdock Village problems

The redevelopment of Murdock Village, an 870-acre site in Port Charlotte designed as a mixed-use project focusing on retail and residential, has hit another snag that could lead to more delays and less money for Charlotte County - already in high debt over the project.

The latest problem is market driven.

Syd Kitson, chairman of Kitson & Partners, the prospective development firm behind the project, is seeking a new deal for the land due to the struggling housing market. In October, Kitson's firm had agreed to buy the full 870 acres for $72 million, in a deal expected to close later this year.

But at a Feb. 26 meeting with Charlotte County commissioners, the firm asked for a 30-day extension to work out the details of another deal, in which the developer would buy just 40 acres of the property for $3.3 million and build only the retail component. The new proposal from Kitson includes a two-year waiting period to see how the housing market fares and also allows the county to sell the remaining 830 acres to another builder.

The county borrowed $93 million to buy the land through purchases and eminent domain, a tab that is now over $100 million due to escalating interest. The commission is expected to vote on a new deal at its April 8 meeting.

LEE/COLLIER

Naples raises taxes

The City of Naples raised taxes on new construction in a unanimous decision by the City Council Feb. 20. There was little discussion and no representatives from the building industry spoke.

This comes despite a construction downturn and the decision by some neighboring counties to lower, suspend or even eliminate taxes on new construction, also called "impact fees." (See Review article in Feb. 8 issue).

Naples is in Collier County, which has the highest taxes on new construction in the state. Builders there say the taxes have aggravated an already difficult situation. Collier County raised taxes on new construction in January.

Gilkey on land-use board

Dennis Gilkey, the former chief executive officer of developer Bonita Bay Group and now CEO of Gilkey Organization, will co-chair a committee that will oversee planning for a vast area of southeastern Lee County that is under a one-year development moratorium.

The Lee County Commission imposed the moratorium on 83,000 acres despite threats from the state to take away the right of local government to determine where limestone rock mines should be located.

Only a few areas of the state have this rock, which is a key ingredient in construction. The moratorium could block access to the key product.

Stadium plan criticized

More than 100 people spoke at a recent St. Petersburg City Council hearing on the Tampa Bay Rays' downtown ballpark proposal, with the majority objecting to the project.

By the time the 3½ -hour forum ended at 10 p.m., the council had heard from nearly 110 speakers. About 70 were against the proposal the Rays announced in November to redevelop their current home at Tropicana Field and construct a $450 million ballpark at Progress Energy Park, home of spring training site Al Lang Field, by 2012.

Council members took no action. They will hold two more public hearings, on April 10 and May 22, and a March 6 forum on alternative uses for Al Lang Field before deciding by June 5 whether to authorize a November referendum on a new stadium.

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