Bradenton -- Retailer Bealls Inc. is planning a 140,000-sq.-ft. expansion of its headquarters on 10 acres across the street from its current location. Executives have not disclosed how much the project will cost. They plan to break ground this spring.
Crystal River -- Seven Rivers Community Hospital recently got two facelifts, a name change and a new CEO. The hospital, recently acquired by Naples-based Health Management Associates (NYSE-HMA), has changed its name to Seven Rivers Regional Medical Center. J. David McCormack, a veteran executive with HMA, is the hospital's CEO.
Immokalee -- The Economic Development Council of Collier County has opened an office in the rural town of Immokalee, which has 22,000 residents. EDC officials say the office will concentrate on bringing business and industry to the mostly agricultural area.
Lakeland -- Florida Tile plans to close its manufacturing plant early this year because of a sales decline. Although the company's headquarters will remain in Lakeland, 127 manufacturing employees will lose their jobs.
Naples -- The South Florida Water Management District will pay $1 million to study damage to Naples Bay. The mangroves and oyster beds that provided habitat for fish and helped to reduce flooding in the region are gone. Local officials asked the Legislature for $5 million to restore the bay, but state officials say more studies are needed before they will release money.
Sarasota -- Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market, an organic grocery store, will open an outlet in downtown Sarasota later this year. In addition to the 36,000-sq.-ft. grocery store, the site will include retail space and 95 residences. The store will be the first grocery to open in downtown Sarasota, which city officials say is key to attracting more residents downtown.
St. Petersburg -- Progress Telecom and Orlando-based Epik Communications have merged. The new company will be based in St. Petersburg and will be called Progress Telecom. Progress Telecom's parent company, Progress Energy, will own 55% of the new company, while Odyssey Telecorp, Epik's parent, will own 45%. Ron Mudry, who has been CEO of Progress Telecom for five years, will continue to lead the new company.
Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T Corp. has bought St. Petersburg-based Republic Bancshares (Nasdaq-REPB) for $436 million. Republic has $2.8 billion in assets and owns 71 branches in central and southern Florida. William R. Klich, CEO of Republic, will become BB&T's Florida president. BB&T is the nation's 11th-largest financial holding company.
FLORIDA TRENDLINE?Cost of Living
PRICE POINTSOverall, the cost of living in Hillsborough County is about the statewide average. Healthcare is the biggest bargain, with costs about 6% below the average. Here's how the county's price level index for 2002 stacks up.CategoryIndexHealthcare94.32Housing99.37Transportation99.71Other Goods/ Services100.31Food101.01Total99.53Florida Average100.00Source: Tampa Bay Regional Planning CouncilTampa -- The Florida State Fairgrounds has broken ground on its $23-million, 20,000-seat amphitheater. The theater, which was contested by other local concert venues, is scheduled to open this summer.
The Academy Prep Center of Tampa opened in November in the historical V.M. Ybor Grammar school building, which first opened in 1908 to serve Italian and Cuban immigrants. Academy Prep is a privately funded school serving low-income fifth- through eighth-grade students who show academic promise. The original Academy Prep opened in St. Petersburg seven years ago.
Tampa Bay -- The unemployment rate for several Tampa Bay areas fell sharply in October from a year earlier, according to the Agency for Workforce Innovation. The Tampa-St.Petersburg-Clearwater area's unemployment rate fell from 4.6% to 4.1%; Sarasota-Bradenton unemployment fell from 4% to 3.5%; and Polk County's rate fell from 7.5% to 6%.
Winter Haven -- The fate of the 142-acre Cypress Gardens theme park is still in limbo. The Trust for Public Land, a non-profit land conservation organization, purchased the property from First Gardens LC in September and has been trying to find a permanent owner. Three bids received in November failed to meet the bidding requirements, but TPL is still negotiating with two of the bidders. The purchase price is $22 million.
CLEARWATER -- Digital Lightwave (Nasdaq-DIGL), a maker of fiber-optic testing equipment, owes more than $26 million to creditors and warned in November that it would not be able to make its rent. The company's losses climbed to $28 million as of the third quarter of last year.