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Gulf Coast Week: Aug. 13 - Aug. 19

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  • | 8:29 a.m. August 13, 2010
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Hotel site takes hits

Tampa-based online travel agency is taking heavy criticism from customers around the world who claim their hotel reservations were canceled following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in July.

Problems arose when room wholesalers pulled reservations made through the website after the company did not pay them.

An attorney for said the site recently returned to service with a new wholesaler and a different way of handling payments. Prior customers with transaction disputes are being pointed to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Tampa.

Bus toll study funded

The Tampa Hillsborough County Expressway Authority and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit are working together on a study of bus toll lanes as a possible solution to traffic congestion. Both have been awarded an $800,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration to fund the study.

A THEA spokeswoman said the Tampa Bay region grew 30% in the last 15 years and a network of bus toll lanes may help relieve future traffic congestion. The network's goal is to optimize service for transit customers while generating a sustainable source of revenue for traffic agencies.

No more free parking?

Tampa International Airport is considering canceling free parking for visitors who use its short-term and long-term garages for an hour or less.

The first-hour courtesy has been in place at TIA for the last five years, but interim executive director John Wheat said no other airports offer the service. Charging for the first hour of parking could generate $2.2 million annually, at the rate of $1 for 20 minutes, he said.

Members of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority weren't initially receptive to the idea during their Aug. 5 meeting. They said the practice helps alleviate vehicle crowding in the airport's curbside pickup areas.


Angel fund raises $1.5M

The Tamiami Angel Fund I announced it has raised $1.5 million to fund Florida-based startup companies.

The Naples-based fund will target early stage and expansion-stage companies with high-growth opportunities. The fund is an outgrowth of the Gulf Coast Venture Forum, an angel investment network that extends from Sarasota to Naples.

The fund currently has 30 members, mostly composed of retired executives who enjoy entrepreneurship and have the wherewithal to help startups.

New I-75 exit explored

Collier County is exploring the feasibility of a new exit ramp at Interstate 75 at Everglades Boulevard, on the south side of the Golden Gate residential community.

Collier County officials say they are studying the environmental impacts of the proposed new exit on I-75 and were recently notified that $1 million in federal money has been allocated to the project by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

The proposed exit would be built between two existing ramps, one at Collier Boulevard and the other at State Road 29.

Housing permits flat

Permits for builders of single-family homes in Lee County remained flat in July, indicating the market has stabilized, albeit at a low level.

Builders in Lee County pulled 33 permits for single-family homes in July, the same number they pulled in the same month in 2009. However, builders pulled 28 permits for multi-family units, an increase over the eight they pulled in July 2009.

Commercial construction remained subdued, with permits totaling $1.4 million in July, down from the $2.1 million in July 2009.


Developer files suit

Wells Fargo Bank filed a $28.6 million foreclosure lawsuit against a Manatee County development firm that attempted to turn a pair of west Bradenton apartment complexes into condos during the boom.

The foreclosure suit was filed last month in Manatee County Circuit Court against Palm Cove Development of Bradenton LLC and Fountain Lake of Bradenton LLC. The apartment complexes, more than 500 units in total, underwent a condo conversion in 2005, when the concept was trendy among many Florida developers.

The suit contends the developers borrowed nearly $29 million from Wachovia Bank in 2005, using both properties as collateral. Wells Fargo bought Wachovia in 2008.

Groups appeal decision

A pair of citizen groups who lost a case claiming Sarasota County officials violated Sunshine laws appealed the ruling.

The groups, Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government and Citizens for Sunshine, alleged that county officials held non-public negotiations in their effort to woo the Baltimore Orioles to move its spring training site to Sarasota from Fort Lauderdale. The county was ultimately successful, agreeing to rebuild Ed Smith stadium in a $31-million deal financed partially by taxpayers. The Orioles relocated and played their first season in Sarasota in March.

Sarasota County Circuit Court Judge Bob Bennett denied the groups' claims in a decision handed down in early July. Bennett acknowledged three county commissioners unintentionally violated the state's Sunshine Laws, but he said there was no overt attempt to break the law by avoiding public discussion.

University buys station

The public radio arm of USF in Tampa bought a radio station in Sarasota, part of a network expansion project.

The university acquired the license from WSMR 89.1, a Michigan-based station that had carried a Christian music format. It paid $1.27 million for the station and plans to change the music format from Christian to classical music.

The changeover is planned for Sept. 15. The station can currently be heard in Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Manatee and Sarasota counties, in addition to parts of Hillsborough, Lee and Pinellas counties.

The school also plans to renovate a building on its Sarasota-Manatee campus that can be used for the studio and to host live performances.


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