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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 2, 2010 11 years ago

Gulf Coast Week: July 2 - July 8

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Regional business news at a glance.

TAMPA BAY

Ramil new USF chair
John Ramil, president and COO of Tampa-based TECO Energy Inc., was named chairman of the University of South Florida Board of Trustees. He succeeds Rhea Law, chair and CEO of Tampa-based law firm Fowler White Boggs.

Ramil has been on the USF board for the last four years and previously led its health sciences and research workgroup. The Tampa native joined TECO in 1976 through USF's cooperative education program and became president in 2004. He is also a past chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Mall files Chapter 11
The owner of Van Dyke Commons, a 136,000-square-foot strip mall that opened just two years ago at Van Dyke Road and Dale Mabry Highway in Lutz, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to block foreclosure proceedings.

St. Petersburg-based retail developer Clark East said the move became necessary when his company couldn't pay off the center's mortgage and line up new financing. New York-based iStar Financial was set to foreclose after winning a $31.3 million judgment in Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

East said the fully leased center was originally financed through Fremont Investment and Loan, which sold the loan to iStar.

Poker goes 24 hours
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa introduced around-the-clock poker July 1 as part of the new gaming compact between tribal and state leaders. The new “all in, all the time” card tables are also available at other Seminole casinos in Hollywood, Coconut Creek, Brighton and Immokalee.

The new rules also remove several maximum betting limits.

Poker experts believe the move will ultimately allow the Seminoles to attract national tournaments to its casinos, including television coverage. Other legal poker sites in Florida, such as horse and dog tracks, can operate only 18 hours a day.

LEE/COLLIER

Collier cuts budget
Collier County commissioners cut the county's annual general-fund budget by 6.2% to $313.6 million without raising the tax millage rate.

The county says it has reduced capital spending on transportation and storm-water projects as well as by cutting operational costs by 5%, including the reduction of 359 county jobs.

Taxable value of property in Collier County dropped 12.1% last year, according to preliminary figures from the county's property appraiser.

TIB gets lifeline
A group of former Bank of America executives has agreed to invest as much as $350 million in Naples-based TIB Financial, parent of TIB Bank and Naples Capital Advisors, the company announced.

North American Financial Holdings, headed by retired Bank of America vice chairman Eugene Taylor, has agreed to invest $175 million in TIB through the purchase of newly issued common stock and convertible preferred shares. NAFH may invest another $175 million in the next 18 months if it chooses.

The move cedes control of TIB to NAFH, which will effectively own 99% of the common stock after accounting for the convertible shares. The deal also calls for an offering of 149 million shares to existing shareholders for 15 cents per share, which could equal 12% of the company's shares and raise another $22.4 million.

The deal is scheduled to be completed in the third quarter.

Airport traffic rises
Passenger traffic rose 5.3% in May at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, but is down 1.4% year-to-date over the same periods last year.

According to the Lee County Port Authority, 552,105 passengers traveled through the Fort Myers airport in May.

More than 7.4 million passengers passed through the Fort Myers airport in 2009.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

County files lawsuit
Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Rushing recently filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo Bank in an effort to recover $40 million in investment losses the county suffered nearly two years ago.

The allegations, which include breach of contract and fraud, are technically against Wachovia Bank, which Wells Fargo bought in 2008. The lawsuit contends that Wachovia investment managers lost the money by tying it up in complicated investment strategies connected to the fall 2008 credit crisis.

The bank denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

Regulators close bank
Peninsula Bank, with almost $200 million in nonperforming loans and a negative Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio as of March 31, was shut down by state regulators June 25.

The bank was taken over by Miami-based Premier American Bank, which is owned by Bond Street Holdings, a group of former bank executives and regulators who are buying troubled institutions in Florida and the Southeast. Bond Street bought Immokalee-based Florida Community Bank Jan. 29 after regulators seized that $836 million-asset bank.

Englewood-based Peninsula, with $644 million in assets when it failed, was founded in 1986 as First American Bank of Charlotte County. It became Peninsula in 1991 under new investors and grew to a dozen branches on both Florida coasts, including ones in Charlotte, Sarasota, Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Peninsula is the 16th Gulf Coast-based community bank to be shut down by regulators since 2008.

Campaign approved
Sarasota County commissioners gave the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau an extra $100,000 for its summer marketing campaign focused on dispelling Gulf oil spill myths.

The budget for the campaign, which includes radio, print and online, is $230,000. The campaign is aimed at tourists within about a day's drive of Sarasota and will include limited-time hotel packages and other giveaways for local destinations.

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