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Business Observer Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Hillsborough pulls money: Hillsborough County pulled $167 million out of the State Board of Administration local government fund amid continued concerns about the fund's investments in the subprime mortgage market.St. Joseph's appeals: St. Joseph's Hospital is appealing last month's decision rejecting its bid to build a new hospital on Big Bend Road in Riverview, east of Tampa.Ikea motion fails: The bickering continues over a Tampa city councilwoman's threat to embarrass furniture store chain Ikea by posting a video on YouTube.Cortez development: Manatee County commissioners recently got their first look at a large-scale condo and mixed-use project proposed for 350 acres of farmland just northeast of the Cortez fishing village in Bradenton.Tomato fight brewing: Burger King is telling suppliers it may stop buying tomatoes from Southwest Florida, according to a letter obtained by the Associated Press.Fishkind: No recession: Florida economist Hank Fishkind says strong exports, decent job growth and continued consumer spending will keep any recession at bay this year.More affordable delays: Sarasota developer Billy Springer is again tinkering with an affordable housing development project in eastern Sarasota County in order to please county government officials and a variety of local neighborhood groups.

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Hillsborough pulls money

Hillsborough County pulled $167 million out of the State Board of Administration local government fund amid continued concerns about the fund's investments in the subprime mortgage market.

The withdrawal still leaves the county with about $592 million in the fund, though only about 20% is in the portion containing riskier securities backed by subprime mortgages. The county will put the withdrawn money in more secure investments, such as money market funds and U.S. Treasury notes.

St. Joseph's appeals

St. Joseph's Hospital is appealing last month's decision rejecting its bid to build a new hospital on Big Bend Road in Riverview, east of Tampa.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration ruled against St. Joseph's and gave the nod to a competing bid by the Hospital Corporation of America to relocate its South Bay Hospital from Sun City Center to another Big Bend Road site.

The appeal was filed with the state Division of Administrative Hearings. St. Joseph's has the support of the Sun City Center retirement community, which turned out in large numbers to oppose South Bay's plan to move eight miles north to Big Bend Road, a major east-west road that connects U.S. 301 to U.S. 41.

Ikea motion fails

The bickering continues over a Tampa city councilwoman's threat to embarrass furniture store chain Ikea by posting a video on YouTube.

Councilman Joseph Caetano requested that the city council attorney write a letter to Ikea reaffirming the council's approval of the company's plan to build a store in Tampa. Caetano is upset that Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena wrote a letter on council stationery to Ikea last month threatening to post a video on YouTube about the project because Saul-Sena said the project wasn't environmentally friendly.

Caetano's motion didn't go far. Council members Charlie Miranda and Gwen Miller supported his letter request, with Saul-Sena and John Dingfelder opposed. Council members Tom Scott and Mary Mulhern were not present for the vote. Four votes are needed to pass a motion.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Cortez development

Manatee County commissioners recently got their first look at a large-scale condo and mixed-use project proposed for 350 acres of farmland just northeast of the Cortez fishing village in Bradenton.

And while the redevelopment project, planned by the Manatee Fruit Co., won't be up for official approval for a few months, all five commissioners commented on its size Jan. 15. The current plans for the project, to be called Peninsula Bay, include 1,100 condos built in 19 five-story buildings and a public boat ramp with at least 70 parking spaces.

The developers worked with Manatee County planning officials for at least a year on the boat ramp part of the project, which is considered key to gaining approval since county residents have complained for years about the lack of public boat slips. The developers are also planning to build a boat-storage facility to go with the slips.

The project faces significant hurdles, including environmental potential impacts and traffic, as well as opposition from local residents.

LEE/COLLIER

Tomato fight brewing

Burger King is telling suppliers it may stop buying tomatoes from Southwest Florida, according to a letter obtained by the Associated Press.

That's bringing more unwanted attention on eastern Collier County and the town of Immokalee, where much of the crop is grown. The publicity is reminiscent of a similar incident a few years ago after which McDonald's and Yum Brands pledged to pay a penny more per pound for tomatoes. Burger King has no such agreement.

The letter quoted Burger King Vice President Steven Grover who asked suppliers to "submit contingency plans for the possibility that we would choose not to purchase tomatoes grown on farms in the Immokalee, Florida region."

Fishkind: No recession

Florida economist Hank Fishkind says strong exports, decent job growth and continued consumer spending will keep any recession at bay this year.

Speaking to commercial real estate brokers at conference in Fort Myers Jan. 22, Fishkind says the bottom in the Florida homebuilding market should occur in 2008 because there have been so few new housing starts. Demand will start eating into the overbuilt inventory this year.

Fishkind's outlook for the financial markets also was positive. "The Fed flooded market liquidity starting last August and that has stabilized the financial markets," Fishkind says. Conventional 30-year mortgage rates will fall below 6% this year, boosting the housing sector.

Fishkind's forecast for Lee County was more subdued because of the overbuilding of homes.

"It's going to take years to work that off, make no mistake about it," he says. But population and job growth will continue, and that should help absorb the inventory. "It's not the end of the Lee County economy," he says.

More affordable delays

Sarasota developer Billy Springer is again tinkering with an affordable housing development project in eastern Sarasota County in order to please county government officials and a variety of local neighborhood groups.

This time, the tinkering tool is a hatchet. Springer, of Ridgewood Building & Development, said he would cut the number of homes for the proposed Palmer Place to 600 from what was originally going to be 1,488, with half of those to be priced under Sarasota County's affordable housing guidelines. Springer made the cuts because Sarasota County Commissioners have said the project, to be built on 412 acres east of Interstate 75 near Palmer Road, was too big.

Springer is planning to ask the commission for an extension that would put off a vote until February. The county originally approached Springer in 2004 and asked him to come up with an affordable housing plan for the land.

Now, in addition to cutting back on the homes, Springer said he would set aside space for a school and would also prevent occupancy until a Palmer Road widening project is completed. After previous meetings and discussions with county officials, Springer had already agreed to several other substantial changes to the project, including offering to spend $3 million road improvements

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