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Gulf Coast Week

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  • | 9:23 p.m. February 20, 2009
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Dinner cruise cuts back
Yacht Starship, which docks at Channelside in downtown Tampa, will still operate its dinner cruise service with a 150-passenger ship in Tampa and Clearwater, but it is selling its 600-passenger ship.
The company is also ending its seasonal service in Boston and laying off some of its 80 staff members. President Troy Manthey is also in the process of acquiring the company.

WaMu closes 11 branches
Washington Mutual has closed 11 of its 39 savings-and-loan branches in the Tampa Bay area.
The bank, acquired by JPMorgan Chase in September, has offered jobs in other branches to all of the affected employees. Chase will eventually rename the remaining 28 branches as Chase.

Wells Fargo gets BayWalk
The downtown St. Petersburg shopping and entertainment center, BayWalk, is now in the hands of Wells Fargo Bank, which recently got the property at a foreclosure sale.
BayWalk's mortgage had about $14.5 million left to pay when it went into foreclosure. The center remains open.
St. Petersburg-based Sembler Co. built BayWalk in 2000 and sold it to real estate developer Fred Bullard last year. Bullard tried to rework the mortgage, but when he could not, he let the property go into foreclosure.


Project moves along
After dozens of redesigns and more than four years of denials, a redevelopment project for a neighborhood just outside of downtown Sarasota is again close to obtaining approvals.
The latest reincarnation for developer Ron Burks' School Avenue property, opposite Payne Park, includes a 100-room hotel, 120,000 square feet of office space, 19,000 square feet of retail space and more than 200 town homes.
The proposal includes an additional tree component to serve as a buffer for nearby homes. It also caps the height of buildings at the same levels of the closest homes.
Burks has been stymied multiple times in trying to gain approval to develop the 10-acre property, as several neighborhood groups have opposed the varied proposals. While Burks' latest proposal won the approval of some individual neighbors, as well as the city's planning board, more approvals are still necessary.
Some neighbors are publicly calling for more concessions, for one, and Burks' project still needs the full Sarasota City Commission approval.

More school job cuts
In an ongoing effort to trim $40 million from its $400 million budget, the Sarasota County School Board recently agreed to eliminate about 140 jobs.
The cuts include guidance counselors, media center specialists and personnel from the transportation and maintenance departments. The board also agreed to not fill the vacant associate superintendent position left open when Lori White was promoted to the job of superintendent last year.
That job cut, including benefits, will save the district more than $200,000 a year.

Piccolo may leave SRQ
Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, chief executive for Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, has acknowledged that he is a finalist for a similar leadership position at a bigger airport in the Midwest.
But so far, Piccolo is staying at SRQ, which is the airport's call letters. Piccolo recently told SRQ's board members that he has been in the running for the vacant head post of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which is bigger than SRQ, both in daily flights and population of the surrounding area. The airport, on the banks of the Ohio River, is home to one of Delta's national hubs.
Piccolo, who has been with SRQ since 1995, added that as of Feb. 17, he hadn't been offered the job and he made no decision as to whether he would take it if he does receive an offer.


Collier cuts building staff
Collier County government laid off 17 employees in departments related to construction, reflecting the continuing downturn in the industry.
This is the third round of cuts in that government agency. In total, 109 positions have been cut or frozen in Collier County's Community Development and Environmental Services Division since last year. The most recent cuts were focused in areas of building review and permitting, zoning, engineering and environmental permitting. Code enforcement positions have been spared.
The cuts are due to declines in fees for building permits, which have funded the positions that are being eliminated. In total, the cuts will save the county $1.5 million for the remainder of the year.
In addition, the department is considering further cutbacks such as reducing the hours worked by the remaining employees.

Lee approves Sox builder
Lee County commissioners selected Naples-based Kraft Construction to build the new Boston Red Sox spring-training stadium. In addition, they selected the architecture team of HOK Sport and Parker-Mudgett-Smith Architects to design the new facility.
The county has not yet selected the site for the new stadium, an effort that will likely prove contentious. In addition, the cost of the project has not yet been established.

Lee tourism drops
The number of visitors to Lee County who stayed in paid accommodations dropped 10.7% in December compared with the same month in 2007.
According to figures compiled by Davidson Peterson Associates for the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, the area suffered a 20.6% drop in U.S. visitors staying in paid accommodations in December compared with the same month in 2007. Canadian visitors dropped 30.2%.
By contrast, visitors from Germany and the United Kingdom increased by 47.4% and 55.9%, respectively.
Revenue per available room in hotels, a gauge that combines occupancies and rent, was down 9.1% in December to $63.21 compared with December 2007.


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