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Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. May 28, 2004
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Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

Buying Horizon

If you were intrigued enough by GCBR's recent profile of Manatee County's Horizon Bank to call your stockbroker, bank President and CEO Charlie Conoley wants to be sure you know what you're buying.

His bank's holding company is called Horizon Bancorporation Inc. Don't confuse it with Horizon Bancorp, the holding company for a commercial bank in Indiana that trades on the Nasdaq exchange with the symbol HBNC.

Conoley hopes his Horizon gets a trading symbol of its own soon. He'd like to go up on Nasdaq, too.

A spot on the Nasdaq ticker should help market liquidity as investors exercise warrants that Horizon sold over the past year. Conoley would like those good folks, if they so choose, to be able to profit from the wisdom they showed by sinking money into his bank's parent.

There is Horizon stock to be had. Conoley says he's not the biggest shareholder, only in the top five.

University Parkway office space red hot

It is a great time to own office rental property on University Parkway. According to the most recent office space vacancy report of Sarasota County generated by the Commercial Investment Division of the Sarasota Board of Realtors, University Parkway office space has a vacancy rate of less than 2%.

Both Interstate 75 Fruitville and University Parkway property have experienced straight declines in vacancy rates since last year; University Parkway started at 7.37% in 2003 while I-75 Fruitville was as high as 17.26%. At the same time, Downtown Sarasota's vacancy rate was lower than last year (from 10.42% in April 1, 2003), but had actually increased slightly from the last period in January from 6.93% to 7.94%. Overall, the worst area in the county, South County, actually improved rather significantly from January to April, going from 29.25% to a still high 23.89%.

The vacancy rate for "other suburban" remained virtually unchanged, increasing from 23.18% in January 2004 to 23.44% in the most recent survey.



UNIVERSITY PKWY AREA 632,399 11,375 1.8% 55,871 362,850 105,834 63,733 8,000 DOWNTOWN SARASOTA2,151,859 170,949 7.94% (45,140) 55,555 (23,433) 66,331 (21,721)I-75 FRUITVILLE SOUTH1,139,121 86,903 7.63% 64,362 45,579 29,205 78,751 27,700 SOUTH COUNTY 334,224 79,842 23.89% 14,800 23,800 43,228 17,849 - OTHER SUBURBAN 198,406 46,509 23.44% 0 7,090 80,000 (22,280) (512) TOTAL 4,456,009 395,578 8.88% 89,893 494,874 234,834 204,384 13,467

Real impolitic

Barbara A. Petersen is president of the First Amendment Foundation, a non-partisan group that tries to keep open as much as possible about Florida government.

It ain't easy.

Fourteen new exemptions to the Sunshine State's sunshine laws were passed this year by the Florida lawmakers, Petersen lamented during a recent speech in St. Petersburg.

But it wasn't just a bad year for open government at the Capitol. It was a bad couple of months for common decency in Tallahassee.

Petersen had a vignette to illustrate how bad.

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, got his Alzheimer's institute at the University of South Florida, named for his father who died of the disease. The Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute may turn out to be a worthy public investment toward curing a dreaded ailment. Or it could be just a foolish monument to political ego.

But one thing is for sure. A good chunk of the $20 million going into building the institute will come from Florida taxpayers. Yet Byrd wanted to seal up everything the institute does. No public meetings. No public access to any records.

To Petersen's surprise, Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, was willing to go along. That was conditioned on Byrd giving up his quest to rescind a telephone rate hike, which the speaker had wholeheartedly supported last year before his U.S. Senate run.

Why would King cut the speaker any slack?

Petersen says a King staffer told her why the boss would consider tossing a blanket over the USF institute: "You'll litigate it. We'll get what we want. And Johnnie Byrd will get screwed."

When her St. Petersburg audience finished gasping, Petersen remarked: "I grew up in Washington, D.C. I've been hanging out with the Florida Legislature for 15 years now. I'm still not that callous."

Byrd rejected the Senate compromise and the business of preventing any public scrutiny of a tax-supported medical facility will have to wait for another year.

What a deal

The St. Petersburg office of SouthTrust Mortgage Corp. must be the place to shop for a mortgage. That's where a corporate affiliate of disbarred securities broker Jacques Chrysochoos secured the $2.25 million loan to buy Steffen Manor, the Tampa home that convicted corporate raider Paul Bilzerian built for his wife, Terri Steffen.

Located in the exclusive Avila gated community, the home is considered by many to be the largest residence in Hillsborough County, with 31,000 square feet of living space and a reported appraised just market value of $6.18 million. That's what's raising a lot of questions. Just how did Chrysochoos negotiate such a good deal at a $2.55 million sale price, considering the Securities and Exchange Commission had a multimillion-dollar lien on the property? The SEC, which quitclaimed its interest to the Chrysochoos affiliate, filed the lien against the property following Bilzerian's securities fraud conviction.

In a December interview, Chrysochoos told GCBR he owned interest in a couple of bars in New Orleans and some real estate rental properties. He also talked openly at how much money he personally lost, too, when the bubble burst during the dot-com heyday of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The deal is likely to be of interest to the attorneys of Samir El Masri, a Belgium businessman who sued Chrysochoos in U.S. District Court, Tampa, on charges of fraud and civil theft. He has denied the allegations in documents filed by Tampa attorney G. Michael Nelson, who is listed in court records as a former business partner.


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