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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 4, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Cost Week

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Poe officials face lawsuit: Florida insurance and financial regulators are suing several members of the Poe familyPols still getting money: Some things never change in politics, such as politicians.More development delays: The weight of the slumping housing market has recently forced several developers of residential real estate projects in and around downtown Bradenton to scale back or completely postpone the projects.Arena sale close: After several years of starts and stops, the foreclosure sale process of a partially built hockey arena in Lakewood Ranch could finally be on the verge of happening.Lee permits continue slide: Permits for residential and commercial construction continued to fall at a steep pace in March, according to figures from the Lee County Community Development Department.Collier's foreign buyers: Home sales to non-U.S. buyers in Collier County rose in January and February by 67% and 43%

Gulf Cost Week

TAMPA BAY

Poe officials face lawsuit

Florida insurance and financial regulators are suing several members of the Poe family, including former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe Sr., for allegedly paying themselves dividends while the family insurance company they ran was facing insolvency.

The suit, filed in Leon County Court in Tallahassee, names officers, directors and affiliates of several Poe companies - a total of 19 defendants - as having allegedly diverted about $143 million from three company subsidiaries at various times in 2004 and 2005, even as the companies struggled to pay claims from storms that hit Florida's Gulf Coast.

Poe Financial Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in the summer of 2006, the result of facing a loss of almost $370 million on more than $2.5 billion in claims stemming from the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, specifically Hurricane Wilma.

Since the Poe companies are insolvent, the responsibility for paying off those claims has been shifted to the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which has so far spent $1.2 billion to cover outstanding claims.

But hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid claims linger, according to the Florida Department of Financial Services. The lawsuit against the Poe officials aims to recoup some of that money, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said in a statement regarding the lawsuit.

Pols still getting money

Some things never change in politics, such as politicians.

Some Tampa Bay lawmakers have found ways to insert their local projects into spending bills despite the economic downturn that is forcing state revenues down.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, the Senate's transportation budget chairman, inserted $2 million to finish a regional hurricane shelter in Hudson, and $1.7 million for a regional hurricane shelter in Hernando County for the developmentally disabled.

Fasano is not alone

Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, the Senate's criminal justice budget chairman, managed $600,000 in the spending bill for the Drug Abuse Coordinating Office in Tampa. That money would go towards prevention and treatment programs.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

More development delays

The weight of the slumping housing market has recently forced several developers of residential real estate projects in and around downtown Bradenton to scale back or completely postpone the projects.

The latest casualty is Magnolia Lakes, a carriage home and condo project proposed by Fort Lauderdale-based Cedarwood Development Inc.

The developers recently asked Bradenton city officials for a one-year extension on starting construction, citing the weak market.

The developers hope to maintain the same zoning rights through June 2009, when they hope the market will have improved to the point where construction could begin.

The Magnolia Lakes project, which Bradenton city officials initially approved in June 2006, was planned as more than 130 carriage homes and more than 400 condos, to be built on land near 48th Street Court East.

Other Bradenton real estate projects that have stalled over the past year include Tarpon Pointe, a condo tower development on Sixth Street and Downtown City Central, a mixed-use project combining luxury condos and retail space on Manatee Avenue West.

Arena sale close

After several years of starts and stops, the foreclosure sale process of a partially built hockey arena in Lakewood Ranch could finally be on the verge of happening.

At least that's the hope of attorneys and officials with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, which owns the first mortgage on the property in east Manatee County, a few miles east of Interstate 75. SMR, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, has long sought an entertainment venue centrally located in the master-planned community.

But the arena has sat idle since early 2005, when its owner, DVA Sports LLC, stopped paying the contractor that was working on the project. A series of lawsuits followed over the next few years, leading to the foreclosure proceedings that have been ongoing through the 12th Circuit Judicial Court in Manatee County.

SMR attorneys, as well as former officials with DVA and banks that loaned the company money for the project, are expected to appear in court the week of April 7 for more hearings. Officials expect the judge in the case to issue a final summary judgment during the hearings, the last step before the foreclosure sale process could begin.

SMR President and chief executive Rex Jensen has previously said that if the developers received the property through foreclosure, he would "seriously look at trying to deliver the type of facility that the community thought they were getting when they signed on."

LEE/COLLIER

Lee permits continue slide

Permits for residential and commercial construction continued to fall at a steep pace in March, according to figures from the Lee County Community Development Department.

In March, Lee County issued permits for the construction of 47 single-family homes, down 25% from the 63 issued in February and down 85% from the 318 issued in March 2007.

The county issued permits for 24 multifamily units in March, down 33% from the 36 issued in February and down 92% from the 290 issued in March 2007.

The value of new commercial-building permits also fell in March to $6.4 million, down 60% from the $16 million in February and down 73% from $23.9 million in March 2007.

Collier's foreign buyers

Home sales to non-U.S. buyers in Collier County rose in January and February by 67% and 43%, respectively, compared with the same month a year ago, according to the Naples Area Board of Realtors.

Canadians accounted for the greatest portion of foreign homebuyers in Collier County, with 218 sales through March. After Canada, the next largest groups of homebuyers were from the United Kingdom, Germany and Ireland.

Realtors cited the decline of home prices in the Naples area combined with rising foreign currencies for the increase in purchases by foreigners. The U.S. dollar has fallen in value relative to the Canadian dollar, the euro and the British pound.

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