Gulf Coast Week

By: 
Dec. 21, 2007

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Funding delays projects

A projected decline in gas taxes is forcing the Department of Transportation to scale back its five-year roadwork program across the state.

In a public meeting recently at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, state transportation officials said 11 projects in Citrus, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties will be pushed back because more fuel-efficient vehicles are causing gas taxes to decline.

Gas taxes, the main source of revenue for state road projects, are expected to decline by $800 million statewide the next five years. The DOT's work program, which is updated yearly, is budgeted at $1.4 billion for the 2008-2013 cycle.

In 2010, the department had expected to purchase $23 million worth of right of way for the eventual widening of Interstate 75 in Pasco County between State Road 56 and County Road 54. Now that purchase is set for 2012.

DOT's work program must still be approved by the Legislature next year.

Fewer overseas visitors

Fewer tourists from Europe and Canada have visited Pinellas County this year than last, despite a favorable dollar exchange for international guests that has boosted business in shopping and entertainment meccas such as New York and Las Vegas.

Visa and political issues are the major problems, says Walter Klages, the consultant for Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater who spoke to the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council recently.

The number of European visitors spending at least one night in Pinellas County has declined 1.8% this year through October to 723,446. European visitors in October declined 9.3% to 81,857 compared with October 2006.

Likewise, the number of Canadian visitors to Pinellas declined 1.1% in the first 10 months of the year to 286,093, although numbers rebounded to increase by 5.6% in October to 18,834 compared with the year ago period.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Chamber program ahead

The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce's Sarasota Tomorrow program, a five-year campaign designed to improve the area's sluggish business climate, is off to a better start than even its optimistic organizers originally thought.

The major source of good news came via SunTrust Bank of Southwest Florida, which, on Dec. 11, gave the program a check for $75,000 - its full five-year commitment, all up front.

Steve Queior, chamber president and chief executive, says with other early payments coming in from companies, including LandMark Bank and Neal Communities, the Chamber now has a "six-figure bank account to put Sarasota Tomorrow into action before the end of the year."

The Sarasota Tomorrow campaign was conceived initially about a year ago, as business leaders and chamber executives began to talk about how to engage the community in a big-picture way with the message that a good business climate is good for the entire area.

The fundraising part of the campaign, designed to raise $2 million over the five years of the program, officially kicked off Dec. 4 and is scheduled to run through April.

The Observer Group, parent of the Review, has pledged $25,000 over five years to the campaign.

LEE/COLLIER

Airport commerce park

The agency that operates Southwest Florida International Airport plans to lease land to a Denver developer to build a commercial park on airport property.

The John Madden Co. plans to lease 100 acres from the Lee County Port Authority on which it will build 262,000 square feet of commercial space in four buildings.

Robert Ball, the authority's executive director, says he hopes to finalize a deal with Madden by March. Madden (no relation to the football announcer) owns a home on Captiva Island near Fort Myers. This is his first project in Florida.

The complex will be called Gulf Coast Technology Center. Tenants have not yet been signed, but the company says it will focus on technology and bioscience industries. The developer's plan is to complete the buildings by April 2010.

The authority also recently approved the development of a hotel on airport property. Albany, N.Y.-based BBL plans to build and operate a 175-room hotel.

Drought forces limits

The South Florida Water Management District has imposed irrigation limits on businesses and residents throughout the region, including Lee and Collier counties.

Starting Jan. 15, businesses and residents will be restricted to watering one day a week. Watering will only be permitted during a four-hour window with a time associated with a street address.

No restrictions apply to other outside water uses, such as for car and boat washing, pressure cleaning of paved surfaces, decorative fountains and water-based recreation such as swimming pools and water slides. Golf courses must reduce their allocated water use by 45%.

For more information, visit www.sfwmd.gov.