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Coffee Talk (Tampa)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. September 23, 2005
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Coffee Talk (Tampa)

Still not coasting

There isn't a community bank in the Tampa Bay area that is moving faster than Coast Bank of Florida.

The Bradenton-based banking unit of publicly traded Coast Financial Holdings Inc. announced Sept. 15 that it had signed 15-year leases for eight new branches.

Five of the eight new branches will mark the entry of Coast into Hillsborough and Polk counties. Coast will have two locations each in Brandon and Lakeland, as well as one in Lutz. The annual base rent for the eight branches is projected to top $1 million, according to a regulatory filing.

The latest announcement follows Coast's expansion into Pinellas County earlier this year. In the past 18 months, Coast's total assets have grown from $264 million to $468 million, a 77% increase.

But the cost of that growth is straining the holding company's capital position and bottom line. Coast's ratio of total equity to assets stood at 7.3% on June 30, which was lower than the 8.7% that Coast reported at the end of 2000, its first year in business.

Hence, the Coast Financial board's decision to sell 2.5 million more shares of common stock. The offering is expected to net the bank at least $40 million and possibly as much as $46 million. The proposed share price of $17.25 is in the range of where Coast stock traded over the summer. Investors should be advised to be patient. Coast lost 23 cents a diluted share for the first half of 2005, compared to a six-cent gain for the same period last year.

Bust or boom

Will Sarasota County's upward trek in real estate prices continue or is the bubble about to pop?

As always, it depends on whom you ask.

Sarah Warren, editor of the local bar association newspaper called Docket, asked seven Sarasota real estate lawyers for their views. And, of course, opinions vary. Some worry about rising interest rates and speculative buyers. Others say Florida has one of the best economies in the nation and the influx of retirees means demand will continue to outstrip supply, especially when it comes to beachfront property.

William Seider, for one, says he's worried about the high number of investors.

"Everyone is starting to speculate, which is scary," he told the Docket editor.

"While I think it will slow from its current pace," Sherry Edwards says, "the force of demographics will simply not let it bottom out."

Edwards contends the area will see "at least five more years of exceptional growth during which many of the baby-boomers will be coming to purchase their retirement home, no matter what it costs."

Sam Norton expects this year to match or exceed 2004.

Lauren Kohl-Helbig and Julie Horstkamp, however, both expect a market correction.

All the legal work tied to the real estate industry has been good news for firm employees, says Kohl-Helbig. "Head hunters call to recruit my staff," she says. "I have had to give them all raises and monthly bonuses to compensate them for long hours."

New bank makes it

The first local bank to open in booming south Hillsborough County since the 1980s has become reality. SouthShore Community Bank, the organization of which was profiled by the Review in May, opened for business Sept. 12 in Apollo Beach.

President and Chief Executive Larry R. Tracy had hoped a stock offering would raise $10 million, $2 million above the minimum required for a state-chartered bank like SouthShore Community.

The bank ended up about halfway between the two numbers. The bank closed its offering the week prior to opening, with a bit more than $9 million of stock sold.

Tracy hopes to position the bank as the community financial institution that is most familiar with the territory between Ruskin and Brandon. A slew of super-regional and Tampa Bay area-based banks are expanding their branch networks into the south Hillsborough market.

CEO: Chico's will grow faster

The president and chief executive officer of Fort Myers-based Chico FAS Inc. says his company will double sales in the next three years.

In a bold prediction made at a breakfast meeting of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce recently, Scott Edmonds said the national women's apparel retailer should have $2 billion in sales by 2008.

"It took us 21 years to get to $1 billion," Edmonds noted.

So far, Edmonds' track record is good. Chico's reported $500 million in sales in 2002 and reached the $1 billion mark in 2004.

In the most recent quarter ended July 30, Chico's reported sales of $343 million, a 35% increase over the same quarter in 2004. The company recently announced plans to add as many as 120 new Chico's and White House | Black Market stores next year, a 20% increase. It also will add 20 new intimate-apparel Soma by Chico's stores.

Edmonds also promises more charitable giving by Chico's in the Fort Myers area, including assuming title sponsorship of the annual Edison Festival of Lights parade, starting in 2006.

It could have been worse

Brenda P. Murray, chief administrative law judge at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, hit a Raymond James Financial Inc. subsidiary with a stiff fine earlier this month.

But Murray cleared Raymond James Financial Services Inc. of willful violation of federal law by failing to preserve electronic mail at branch offices before 2001.

The closely watched SEC case involved a former Raymond James independent broker in Rhode Island, Dennis S. Herula, who is serving a federal prison term.

Murray upheld SEC allegations that Raymond James failed to supervise Herula, as the rogue broker used company resources to promote a fraudulent multimillion-dollar investment scheme.

The judge ordered the Raymond James Financial Services to pay a civil penalty of $6.9 million and the broker-dealer unit's former president and chief operating officer, J. Stephen Putnam, to pay another $200,000 for poor oversight of the Cranston, R.I., office where Herula was assigned.

Putnam, 61, of Tarpon Springs, left the broker-deal unit two years ago and has no supervisory duties as an executive vice president at the Raymond James holding company.


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