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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Superintendent vs. County: In a debate watched by construction and related industries, Hillsborough County's proposal to use money earmarked for school construction to build new roads is a bad idea and probably illegalOfficials fight tax cut: With early voting started and the primary election nearing, government officials are stepping up the campaign to defeat a constitutional amendment to cut property taxes.City denies condo extension: Another downtown Sarasota condo project has fallen on tough times, although this one, known as the Atrium on 1750 Ringling Blvd., is struggling long before the first brick was ever laid.Port lands big one: A South American shipping company has chosen Port Manatee, one of the largest deepwater seaports in Florida, as the location to expand its weekly Gulf of Mexico trips.Enviros raises $20 million: The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, an environmental group in Naples that works closely with developers, has raised $20 million and is seeking an additional $5 million in donations.Naples continue to drop: The Naples Area Board of Realtors recently reported 134 single-family homes sold in December, a 9% drop from the same month a year ago$1.4 million land consultant: Lee County commissioners approved paying Coral Gables-based Dover, Kohl & Partners $1.4 million to conduct a study of 83,000 acres in Southeast Lee County on which they recently placed a moratorium for new development.

Gulf Coast Week

REGIONAL BUSINESS NEWS AT A GLANCE

TAMPA BAY

Superintendent vs. County

In a debate watched by construction and related industries, Hillsborough County's proposal to use money earmarked for school construction to build new roads is a bad idea and probably illegal, Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia wrote in a letter to county commissioners.

"This could have serious consequences on our ability to provide classrooms for the children of Hillsborough County, as well as consequences for new development," wrote Elia.

County commissioners scheduled a public hearing Wednesday on a proposal to allow school impact fees paid by developers to be used for transportation improvements. Such improvements are necessary because of new school construction, county officials say.

The school board sued the county last year over whether the board's responsibility to pay for transportation improvements extends beyond the areas adjacent to schools. At the very least, the county should wait until the court has made its finding, the letter said.

Officials fight tax cut

With early voting started and the primary election nearing, government officials are stepping up the campaign to defeat a constitutional amendment to cut property taxes.

Officers from the Florida Association of Counties, Florida League of Cities and Florida School Boards Association voiced opposition Monday at a meeting in Tampa.

The amendment would double the homestead exemption, allow homeowners to transfer up to $500,000 of their Save Our Homes benefit if they move, create a $25,000 exemption on tangible property and cap increases on non-homesteaded property's taxable value.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

City denies condo extension

Another downtown Sarasota condo project has fallen on tough times, although this one, known as the Atrium on 1750 Ringling Blvd., is struggling long before the first brick was ever laid.

The Sarasota City Commission voted 4-1 Jan. 7 against giving developer Leonard Garner a one-year extension on receiving financing for his Atrium project, a 17-story, 88-condo development planned for a vacant lot on Ringling. Since the project was initially approved by the commission in 2005 under less stringent zoning rules, the vote essentially means that when, or if, Garner reapplies for project approval, the final product can be no higher 10 stories.

Garner received a one-year extension from the commission last year and he hoped that would be enough time to get going on sales, which were starting at $700,000. But sales were slow.

The decision comes two months after the commission faced a similar case, one where it voted on the side of the developer seeking an extension. In that case, involving West Palm Beach-based Kolter Communities' Grande Sarasotan project, the commission, by a 3-2 voted, approved a two-year extension. The Grande Sarasotan is planned as a 144-condo tower on U.S. 41 and Gulf Stream Avenue.

Commissioners who voted for the Grande Sarasotan extension Nov. 19 said they did so partly on the advice of city attorney Robert Fournier, who warned of potential legal issues in not granting it.

There could be as many as five more downtown Sarasota condo projects seeking a timeline extension to go before the commission over the next year.

Port lands big one

A South American shipping company has chosen Port Manatee, one of the largest deepwater seaports in Florida, as the location to expand its weekly Gulf of Mexico trips.

Isabella Shipping Co. said Port Manatee was the best place to grow its U.S.-based operations from Texas to Florida. It plans to start the weekly Saturday port call Feb. 2.

Isabella officials also said it expects to deliver tropical fruits and vegetables to the port from Turbo, Colombia and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, by way of Port Freeport, Texas. Exports, going to Colombia and Costa Rica, are expected to include baled cotton, linerboard, wood pulp and used cars.

The company intends to use two alternating ships for the deliveries and loads. Each ship can hold 30 containers, with capacity for 3,500 pallets in four holds below deck.

LEE/COLLIER

Enviros raises $20 million

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, an environmental group in Naples that works closely with developers, has raised $20 million and is seeking an additional $5 million in donations.

The organization has battled some developers and helped others, depending on the projects and their impact on the environment. The money will be used to expand the organization's advocacy, research, native wildlife protection and education programs, build an endowment, create a nature center and connect its facilities with the Naples Zoo along the Gordon River.

Naples continue to drop

The Naples Area Board of Realtors recently reported 134 single-family homes sold in December, a 9% drop from the same month a year ago. Median prices remained flat at $426,000. Also in December, 135 condos were sold, an 18% drop over December 2006. The median price fell 14% to $289,000.

The Naples organization does not report its monthly figures to the Florida Association of Realtors, which publishes monthly sales and median-price statistics for all areas of the state.

$1.4 million land consultant

Lee County commissioners approved paying Coral Gables-based Dover, Kohl & Partners $1.4 million to conduct a study of 83,000 acres in Southeast Lee County on which they recently placed a moratorium for new development.

Lee County staffers initially estimated the job would cost no more than $750,000. But the cost ballooned after commissioners broadened the consultants' tasks to include a broad range of issues, from transportation to natural resources. Commissioners also asked for the consultants to expedite their results by summer.

The area is an important source of mining for limestone rock that is essential for construction. Because it's a limited resource, the state Legislature has threatened to strip Lee County's authority over where mines can and can't be located. The moratorium comes just as the development industry faces a slowdown and will last until September.

Dover, Kohl beat Orlando-based MSCW Inc. and Golder Associates in Tampa for the job.

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