August 21, 2014

Utilities: Power to the People- Central- Nov. 2003

Ken Ibold | 11/1/2003
Winter Park voters sent a resounding message in September that the people want power. Reliability problems with Progress Energy led 69% of voters to approve a nearly $50-million measure that puts the utility's service in the city's hands.

The landslide capped a three-year battle between city leaders and the North Carolina-based utility after negotiations between the two over a new 30-year franchise agreement failed. At one point in 2000, Progress Energy stopped paying fees it owes to the city under the franchise agreement. The negotiations grew increasingly acrimonious and led into court, where an arbitrator ultimately set the $50-million price for Florida Progress' operations.

While Winter Park officials complained about high prices, reliability was the focus of the discontent. The city's average of 194 minutes of power interruption per year was nearly double the state average. By comparison, Orlando Utilities Commission customers averaged only 39 minutes of power interruption per year from 1997-2002, according to Winter Park's studies.

In the campaign before the vote, the utility claimed the city's takeover plan was risky and could lead to higher prices and even less reliability. Progress' PR campaign reportedly cost more than $500,000.

"Winter Park has a history of reliability problems. Since the merger (with Florida Power Corp.) in 2000, we have made significant investments in this system," Rodney Gaddy, Progress Energy Florida Vice President, said in a written statement the day of the vote. "We understand past frustrations, but we are beginning to see good results, and our reliability is improving every month. We believe customers have not recognized the improvements."

Officials in Apopka, Belleair, Belle Isle, Edgewood, Maitland and elsewhere, whose franchise agreements are up for renewal, have been watching events in Winter Park closely. Progress Energy reportedly made a $6-million profit a year from its Winter Park operations vs. $1.6 million in franchise fees owed to the city. Some officials wonder if they can save money by taking over utility operations.

Not every municipality facing contract renewals has been so quick to jump at change, however. In the last two years, Casselberry, Lake Mary, Longwood, Oviedo and 25 other Florida municipalities renewed their franchise agreements with Progress.

Casselberry decided against buying out Progress Energy but only after Progress agreed to keep the "buyout clause" in the franchise agreement that preserves the city's right to buy out the utility when the agreement expires.

If it decides to consummate the deal, Winter Park will likely look for an established entity to manage the system and to supply the city with power. Among the candidates that may bid: Orlando Utilities Commission, Kissimmee Utility Authority -- and Progress Energy.

IN THE NEWS

Daytona Beach -- Bill France Jr. stepped down as chairman and CEO of NASCAR, yielding the titles to his 41-year-old son, Brian.

Longwood -- Empire Financial Group says it was among the securities firms being interviewed by regulators in connection with the trading-scheme scandal centered on Canary Capital Partners of New Jersey. Empire executives say that while the company had done business with Canary in the past none of those transactions was of the type that landed Canary in trouble.

Orange County -- The $748-million expansion of the Orange County Convention Center opened for business, doubling the facility's convention space and making it the second-largest in the nation. With 2.1 million square feet of exhibit space, the convention center trails only McCormick Place in Chicago, which has 2.2 million square feet.

Orlando -- The Sunshine Network moved its studio production from Tallahassee to Universal Studios. The move was made in part because of the network's decision to launch a live sports-talk show and a fishing show.

London-based DMG World Media has acquired the Central Florida Home and Garden Show from the Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando.

The Florida Attorney General's Office advised customers of Lou Pearlman's beleaguered model-scouting agency, Wilhelmina Scouting Network, to keep an eye on their credit card statements for potential fraud. An internal shake-up at the company may have compromised customer credit card information.

Telemarketers William and Chantal McCorkle lost bids to have their prison sentences reduced when a district judge let stand their 24-year sentences. The pair was convicted in 1998 of scamming $36 million from more than 2,000 customers through an infomercial empire dedicated to making money from real estate foreclosures and government auctions.

Ormond Beach -- Kane's Furniture will build a 45,000-sq.-ft. distribution warehouse at the Ormond Business Center.

Osceola County -- Omni Hotels of Irving, Texas, plans to build a 732-room, $175-million luxury hotel at ChampionsGate at the Osceola/Polk county line. The property is scheduled to open in late 2004.

American Management Services will move its headquarters from Waltham, Mass., to Orlando, based in part on the success of a pilot operation it established in Orlando two years ago. The move will double local employment to 100.

Levy Restaurants has taken over day-to-day operations of Wolfgang Puck's Grand Cafe in Downtown Disney. The restaurant will retain the Puck name and menu. Terms of the deal were not released.

FLORIDA TRENDLINE?CITY COMPARISONSA survey of metro Orlando median household income puts Windermere on top at $77,912, followed by Lake Buena Vista at $74,999. Here's how other cities in the region fare:CityMedian household incomeOviedo$54,053Winter Park$51,456Orlando$41,242Eatonville$40,789Kissimmee$40,494Leesburg$30,169Umatilla$24,950Sources: ACCRA (2001); Metro Orlando Economic Development Corp.Palm Bay -- Intersil Corp. adopted a "poison-pill" plan days after closing a $365-million deal to sell a subsidiary -- which includes $250 million in cash. The California semiconductor designer employs 900 people in Palm Bay. The sale of the subsidiary led the company to cut 100 positions in Palm Bay.

Port Canaveral -- SunCruz Casinos has begun operating its largest boat, the 308-foot Surfside Princess. The ship can accommodate up to 1,200 passengers -- 20% more than SunCruz's previous Port Canaveral vessel, SunCruz III. The new ship will have room for 500 slot machines and 45 table games. It will also offer sports betting and pari-mutuel horse and greyhound race wagering.

Sanford -- County commissioners turned back a plan to have Seminole County subsidize the Level 1 trauma center operations at Orlando Regional Medical Center. The hospital and Lake, Orange, Osceola and Sumter counties have pledged $5.2 million to keep the trauma center open. Seminole officials balked at pledging the $600,000 requested, saying they wanted to see a long-term solution to the problem rather than a short-term fix.

Superchips Inc., currently headquartered in Longwood, will build a 30,000-sq.-ft. headquarters facility at the Airport Commerce Park. The facility will enable the company to expand from 49 to about 70 workers.

Viera -- Health First Inc. revealed plans to build a 35-acre, 120-bed hospital and healthcare complex over the next seven years. The $110-million project will add more than 1,000 jobs by its completion.

The Villages -- The Villages Regional Hospital has signed a contract with Quorum Health Resources to manage the Lake County hospital for at least six months. The hospital recently received state approval to add 192 beds and plans to build another 60-bed hospital in Sumter County.

Hospitality
HOTEL WOES

ORLANDO -- Four Points Sheraton, across from downtown's Lake Eola, is shutting down this month. The property's owners reportedly are considering other uses, possibly converting the 281-room hotel into condominiums. The former Harley Hotel has faced increased competition downtown. Across town, the 919-room Hyatt Orlando near Walt Disney World closed in September. Together, the two hotels employed 439.

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