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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 29, 2003 15 years ago

Coffee Talk

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This week's items: LandMark Bank earns a five-star rating from Bauer Financial Inc. Financiers be ware of inventor that promises to change tin or nickel to gold Opposition for OberBanker of the Year nominations

SARASOTA

Bright yellow = five stars

LandMark Bank, the Sarasota bank whose two locations are painted a shocking yellow color, has received a five-star rating, the highest possible, from Bauer Financial Inc., a Coral Gables firm that ranks banks. Bauer Financial ranks banks from zero to five stars (superior) nationwide based on capitalization, liquidity, quality of loan portfolio as determined by delinquencies and charge-offs, profitability and other historical data. Prior to receiving its five-star ranking, LandMark Bank held a four-star (excellent) rating.

LandMark Bank was one of eight de novo banks that opened in Sarasota and Manatee counties in 1999 and 2000, but it immediately fell to the bottom of the pile as one of the lowest performers in the group. When current President/CEO Tom Quale took over in December 2001, he implemented changes to bring the bank back into solid performance. (See "Back on Track," the Review, March 21, 2003).

Check references

Willis A. Smith Construction Inc. is owed $75,000 on a completed job, but it doesn't know how, when or even if it will ever get paid. The architectural firm on that same job, Form Guild Inc. of Winchester, Ky., still owed about $10,000, is in the same position.

Form Guild and Willis Smith designed and built a tenant improvement build-out for DEP Foods Inc., a limited partnership that owns the Long John Silver's/A&W Root Beer franchise at the corner of Honore and Clarke roads. Form Guild was referred to the job from Long John Silver's/A&W franchiser and parent company, Yum Brands Inc., so the architects felt the job would be handled appropriately.

Willis Smith accepted the job after receiving a request from the partners of DEP - Mark Malta, Jim Potts and Tom Dimas - all local residents. No one from Willis Smith knew any of the DEP partners. But they had good residences, including one in The Oaks subdivision, and they seemed to have some business experience and they wereYum franchisees. It seemed like a good risk.

It wasn't.

Dimas says the partners had never been in the restaurant business before and they did not know what they were doing. As a result, they made costly mistakes. They negotiated lease payments to begin in August 2002, even though build-out wasn't complete until December. They say they blindly believed the landlord's representations regarding signage for the restaurant, only later discovering, after painful, lengthy dealings with the Sarasota County, that signage permits required far more effort and expense than they anticipated. They heeded the advice of Yum representatives and paid $70,000 for used equipment, only to find 90% of it useless for their purposes; Dimas says they still haven't been able to sell the stuff.

So when it came time to pay Form Guild and Willis Smith for their completed work, DEP did not have the funds. Form Guild made an offer to accept a discounted amount if DEP would pay quickly, but Form Guild's Mark Perraut said DEP never responded to the offer one way or the other. "Dimas told me he was happy with all of our services," Perraut says. "We did all of our work on time, and I saw the photos of the completed project - Willis Smith did a great job with it. Dimas just told me he was sorry this happened to me."

On Aug. 25, Dimas told Coffee Talk he planned to call Form Guild and accept its offer.

Willis Smith and DEP are still talking. Potts accused Coffee Talk of actually being a covert collection agent for Willis Smith. Oddly, Potts also told Coffee Talk that Willis Smith should have asked for periodic draws during the construction, pursuant to their rights under the contract. "If they had asked for the draws, they would not have gotten them, and they could have walked off the job without finishing it," says Potts. "They didn't follow good business practices."

The business practice lesson that Willis Smith did learn was to be more wary of doing business with strangers. "We have never lost money," says Willis Smith's Warren Simonds. "Some people have been slow to pay, but they have always paid. We've never sued anyone or been sued in 31 years. But from now on, if we are asked to do business with people we don't know, we will need a letter of credit from a bank or an attorney escrow for the full amount."

TAMPA BAY AREA

Golden opportunity?

Think it's tough raising capital these days to put your brilliant idea into production? Hey, it's even tougher for Brian C. Charles. Charles, 35, has been circulating a proposal among Tampa Bay area financiers. Calling himself an inventor, Charles has developed what he says is a new industrial process that turns ordinary nickel or tin into precious metals such as gold or platinum.

Uh-oh, alchemist alert.

Those caring to read on saw the following in his hand-written correspondence: "There is a great potential for profit by using transmutation to obtain rare metals. I am looking for some seed capital to finance the development and commercialization of this new technology."

Alas, getting in touch with Charles isn't easy. For starters, he lives out of state. And those darn skeptics wouldn't be reassured when they find out where.

His landlord since 1997 has been the Arizona Department of Corrections. Charles is in state prison in Tucson for burglary, first degree. On the plus side for his fledgling alchemy career, Charles - if he behaves himself - is scheduled to be a free man no later than March of next year.

Call for Marty

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce put on quite a show at the downtown Hyatt Aug. 20 for its annual luncheon celebrating business and the arts. This year's program was entitled: "Cultural Arts: What's In It For You & Your Business?"

There were actors and paintings, choirs and drummers scattered about the lobbies for arriving guests to enjoy. The chamber's cultural arts committee flew in a Kansas City industrialist, who told the full ballroom that he trebled his gross margins by hiring artisans to stamp designs on the mats he mass-produces.

But Tampa arts czar Paul Wilborn closed the luncheon on a depressing, if humorous, note. Wilborn is a former journalist transitioning into an ill-defined city post known officially as "manager of creative industries."

Wilborn recalled a 1980 Martin Mull concert in Tampa. Surprisingly, the actor-artist-musician didn't stay at a Red Roof Inn. Instead, Mull checked into the very hotel in which Wilborn's listeners were now sitting.

Mull, best-known back then for hosting a 1970s talk show parody called "Fernwood 2Night," strolled over to the Tampa Theatre for his show via Franklin Street. Mull let his fans know that he was not impressed with their city.

"Tampa, great town!" Mull proclaimed from the stage. "Call me when you get it finished."

Ouch!

What hurts even more: 23 years later, Wilborn thinks Tampa is still not ready to dial up Mull.

Tampa won't be complete without a lively cultural scene, which Wilborn says the city lacks today. But Wilborn says he and his new boss, Mayor Pam Iorio, are committed to fostering a creative renaissance in Tampa.

Is it too early at least to call directory assistance for Marty Mull in L.A.?

Opposition for Ober

The 2004 Republican election primary for Hillsborough County's chief prosecutor might not be a quiet affair.

Robin Fuson, a former professional baseball player, made his first pitch for votes Aug. 22 by questioning first-term State Attorney Mark A. Ober's commitment to Tampa's war on drugs.

"I'm a prosecutor, not a politician," Fuson told about 100 supporters in sauna-like conditions at the Outpost outdoor bar in Tampa's Channel district.

The 45-year-old Fuson quit Ober's office about 18 months ago. Fuson says it was because Ober wasn't aggressive enough about combating illegal drug activity in east Tampa. Ober says it was because he was about to fire Fuson for insubordination.

Fuson says he was encouraged by the local police and former prosecutors who attended the Outpost event. A few of the cops work undercover so Fuson wouldn't identify them. But one guest was quite recognizable: retired Devil Ray and future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, a Fuson pal.

Ober says Fuson started out in his administration as a top narcotics prosecutor in 2001. But Fuson was demoted twice before tendering his resignation, according to Ober.

Fuson plea-bargained trafficking cases that called for 25-year mandatory minimum sentences down to probation, Ober says. That's why Fuson was demoted. "I felt it was a public safety issue," Ober says.

Fuson says it was Ober, not him, who shied away from tough felony trials. "We can't turn our backs on criminals just because the case is a little complicated," says Fuson.

If Ober is so soft on drug dealers, the incumbent wonders, why did more than a third of all new drug defendants sentenced to state prison in Florida within the past year come from his county?

Banker of the Year nominations

The deadline is fast approaching for the Review's second annual "Banker of the Year" special section. Nominees may be bank presidents or chief executives who have guided their institution to a record performance in the past two years. Or maybe they guided their bank out of a financial slump. They could be private client officers who have excelled at attracting the bank's top customers. They are the bankers - up and down the Gulf Coast - from Hernando to Collier counties, responsible for extraordinary performance, efficiency and/or turnaround efforts.

Submit nominations with the name, employer and telephone number of the nominees, along with your reason for the nomination. Send to Senior Editor Kendall Jones at [email protected] or by fax at (941) 362-4808 or (813) 221-9505.

Correction

The name for Ben McLeish, a nominee for the 2003 Commercial Real Estate Broker of the Year, was spelled incorrectly in the Aug. 22 edition of the Review.

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