Gulf Coast Week

By: 
Nov. 23, 2007

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Hooters founder gets win

A federal judge agreed with Clearwater-based Hooters founder Lynn "L.D." Stewart that the company that bought his business breached a contract to pay him a certain percentage of gross annual sales.

In the same opinion, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich also ruled in favor of a Hooters of America Inc. counterclaim that the company paid Stewart more money than he was entitled to receive.

Richard Fee, Stewart's attorney, said his side disagrees with the judge that Hooters of America overpaid Stewart.

The judge ordered Stewart and Hooters of America to meet with a special master, or accountant, to review the claims and decide how much money Stewart should receive because of the contract breach.

Brokers look over Progress

With its Mediterranean, copper-domed towers and limestone-arched entryway, the complex at 100 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg was conceived in the late 1980s as a grand shopping destination.

But what Maas Brothers and Burdines failed to achieve two decades ago, maybe Fresh Market or Crate and Barrel could fulfill today.

Rebranded as 100 Bay Central, the edifice dominating one block of downtown St. Petersburg crawled with real estate brokers recently.

They got their first look in about a decade at the complex's glass lobby and high-ceilinged floor space. Most of it was off limits until Progress Energy Florida vacated the building this year for its new 16-story headquarters.

The owners hope to put a couple of stores on a ground floor and one or two corporate tenants on the second floor. They want to fill the place by June 1.

Lutz Real Estate Investments paid $15 million last year for the building, once known as the South Core project. It was part of a multiblock retail district pitched by Bay Plaza Development Group in 1987.

Bay Central is counting on downtown condo construction - the Signature Place condo tower is rising next door - to help supply both retail customers and workers.

Tampa lays off 100

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said the city would lay off 100 workers, the second layoff announcement in the past five months.

The layoffs come from budget shortfalls stemming from property tax changes the Legislature enacted in response to the sharp increase in property values in recent years.

Employees will get six or seven months notice that their jobs are being eliminated.

SARASOTA/BRADENTON

A Grande decision

A West Palm Beach-based developer planning a $200 million-plus condo project in downtown Sarasota received a favorable ruling from the city commission Nov. 19.

And in addition to being a project-saver for Kolter Communities, the decision, which the commission approved 3-2, could be a boost for other developers working on projects in the city.

The rule regards Kolter's planned Grande Sarasotan project. Under its current plan, the proposed 144-condo building on U.S. 41 and Gulf Stream Avenue would be one of the tallest, and most expensive, city buildings.

Kolter executives, seeing the downtown condo market collapse, asked the city for a two-year site plan extension this summer - even though the project was initially conceived in 2005 under the city's old zoning rules.

Sarasota City Manager Robert Bartolotta denied the request, citing the new and stricter zoning rules, which Kolter's proposed project did not follow. Kolter officials appealed that decision, though, saying it would likely turn the project into a failure.

The commission reversed Bartolotta's decision, in part after following the advice of city attorney Robert Fournier. Over the next year, several other developers could be facing the commission with a similar issue.

Jeb joins bank board

Orlando-based CNL Bank, which has one of its largest branches in the state in Sarasota, as well as an office in Naples, added some star power to its board of directors Nov. 15.

The newest members to the bank's board are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Walt Disney World Company executive Dianna Morgan.

Bush has taken on few formal business roles since leaving office earlier this year. He's worked as a consultant for Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers and also serves on the board of Dallas-based hospital company Tenet Healthcare.

Morgan retired from Disney in 2001 after a 30-year career that culminated with a position as senior vice president for public affairs and human resources.

In addition to Sarasota, Naples and its Orlando headquarters, CNL, with $1.4 billion in assets, has branches in Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale.

LEE/COLLIER

Babcock gets early nod

The Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council gave conditional approval to West Palm Beach developer Kitson & Partners to develop 13,630 acres in Charlotte County near the Lee County line.

Currently, the land is being used as pasture, sod farms, row crops and mining. Kitson's proposal includes: 11,616 single-family homes, 6,254 multifamily units, 2.9 million square feet of shops, 1.4 million square feet of offices, 500,000 square feet of medical offices, 664,000 square feet of industrial buildings, 177 hospital beds, 418 assisting living units, a 120,000-square-foot church, 600 hotel rooms, six schools, 275 acres of parks, 150,000 square feet of government buildings and 54 holes of golf.

Kitson and a Morgan Stanley real estate fund bought the 90,000-acre Babcock Ranch last year for an undisclosed sum and sold 73,000 acres of it to the state for conservation for $350 million, keeping the remainder for future residential and commercial development.

Collier County raises taxes

Despite clear evidence of an economic downturn in Southwest Florida, Collier County commissioners rejected a request by businesses to delay raising taxes on new construction.

Commissioners voted to raise taxes on builders starting January by an average of 15%, according to the Collier Building Industry Association. Already, so-called "impact fee" taxes on builders in Collier County are the highest in the state.

For example, a builder of a 2,500-square-foot house will see his "impact fee" taxes rise from about $38,000 to $48,000 per home. Builders pass such taxes along to homebuyers.

According to the latest figures from the state, taxable sales of building investment are down 26% in the Naples area.

Seminoles ready to deal

The Seminole Tribe of Florida says it will expand its gambling facilities in Immokalee in eastern Collier County and Tampa to accommodate Vegas-style slot machines and card games such as black jack and baccarat.

Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner says the new games could be in place as soon as this spring, barring any outcome of litigation. On Nov. 14, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed a 25-year compact with the Seminoles that allow slots and card games in exchange for a share of the gambling revenues.

The terms of the deal call for the tribe to pay the State of Florida $50 million upon the federal government's approval of the compact. Guaranteed annual minimum payments to the state will be $100 million. Starting in the third year, the state will receive between 10% and 25% of the revenue based on a sliding scale.