Around the State- Central- June 2002
Central Florida's counting on el Niño to boost its economic prospects.
By Ken Ibold
Central Florida's long bout with low-level lakes may finally be nearing an end, a prospect that's already boosting the economic fortunes of boat sellers, developers and others with a stake in the area's hundreds of lakes. Their good fortune is likely to continue, thanks to el Niño, weather forecasters say.
Sales of boats and high-priced waterfront homes have taken a beating from the combination of drought, recession and 9/11. The area remains dotted with dry lakebeds surrounded by houses with boat docks.
According to the National Climate Prediction Center, the typical el Niño cycle will dump an extra five inches of rain over central Florida, most of which is expected this fall and winter.
For real estate agents and sellers of lakefront property, the rain will be welcome. For several years, sales of lakefront homes have dried up as fast as the lakes themselves, particularly in otherwise modest neighborhoods, where a lakefront lot adds $100,000 or more to the price of a house. When homes have sold, prices have been stagnant.
On the Conway chain of lakes, for example, the average home sale jumped from $113 per square foot to $131 from 1998 to 1999, when the drought took hold and stranded most boats on dry land. Sales prices increased by only 3% in 2000 and held steady in 2001, according to a study of county records by Mike Roth, statistics and technology coordinator for the Orlando Regional Realtor Association. Prices began inching up again to nearly $138 in the first quarter of 2002.
Roth says he suspects a similar situation exists on the Winter Park chain and the Butler chain, but data inconsistencies in the Multiple Listing Service and county tax records make a definitive determination impossible.
The forecast for rain and the relatively mild recession have spelled good news for boat sellers, whose sales are up from last year.
For example, at Boat Tree of Orlando sales may hit $1 million in a typical March, says sales manager Glen Adams. Its best March ever totaled about $1.5 million. This past March, sales reached $1.2 million. That performance comes on the heels of a year that saw sales drop about 25% in May 2001 and another 25% after Sept. 11.
"The last two years definitely put a hurt on the business," Adams says. "This year has been a pretty good bounce back. We're looking to break some records in the next year."
In the News
Altamonte Springs -- Atlanta real estate firm Vlass Group LLC will develop a "town center" between Altamonte Mall, Cranes Roost Park and I-4, with the city planning to build a parking garage and other amenities. The first phase may be completed by late 2003.
Daytona Beach -- Budget Group (OTCBB-BDGPA.OB), parent company of Budget Rent a Car, was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange because the company could no longer meet the exchange's minimum standards for stock price and market capitalization. A few days later, Budget missed an $18.5-million interest payment and also failed to file its 2001 financial results with the Securities and Exchange Commission on time. The company says it is seeking fresh capital to get back on its feet but also warned that a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing was a possibility.
Edgewater -- American Maglev Technology plans to build a magnetic levitating bullet train between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World as a technology demonstrator in an attempt to win the favor of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority. The initial segment will be built without public money, but extending it to Tampa could cost $1.1 billion. The American Maglev team, which includes Lockheed Martin, will invest $490 million in the effort.
Kissimmee -- Three companies presented plans to build a convention center in Osceola County to target meetings deemed too small for the Orange County Convention Center and too large for individual hotels and resorts. Xentury City Development of Kissimmee, Tempus Resorts International of Orlando and Landmark Organization of Austin, Texas, lined up to make proposals in the wake of the collapse of the World Expo Center deal last year.
Lake Helen -- Matt Butler resigned as president and CEO of 1-800-Attorney Inc. after only three months on the job. The legal directory publisher and attorney referral service has fallen on hard times, and all but two members of the company's board of directors have resigned.
Maitland -- Colonial Properties Trust bought the 901 Maitland Building for more than $16.5 million. The nearly 156,000-sq.-ft. property is home to Lucent Technologies, Prudential Insurance and Chase Mortgage. Colonial Properties now owns about $400 million worth of property in central Florida, including 750,000 square feet of office space, 2.2 million square feet of retail space and 2,200 apartments.
Melbourne -- Harris Corp. (NYSE-HRS) says the communication system it developed played a key role in the successful test of a new missile defense system. The March 15 test in the Marshall Islands was part of a six-year, $70-million contract Harris has with TRW Inc. to develop the components.
Florida Today and WKMG-Channel 6, the Orlando CBS affiliate, are teaming up to cover events in Brevard County. The TV station will air some reports from the Florida Today newsroom and will rely on the newspaper's reporters to enhance its coverage of the space program. Financial terms were not released.
Orlando -- Home Depot bought a 15-acre lot at the high-profile intersection of Lee Road and I-4, where the company plans to build a 110,000-sq.-ft. store. Home Depot paid more than $772,000 an acre.
The greater Orlando Aviation Authority planned to finalize a $143-million bond issue by late May to support several projects, including construction of the airport's fourth runway and the south terminal expansion.
Enterprise Florida and the Czech Republic have signed an agreement to share market information and business leads.
Huge crowds over spring break and the Easter weekend forced the major Orlando-area theme parks to close their parking lots and stop letting in visitors. Universal Orlando reported attendance at its two parks climbed to record levels on several days. Disney World's 12,000-car parking lot was filled to capacity more than once, and waits for several rides exceeded two hours. SeaWorld resorted to busing visitors from remote parking lots. Taking it as a sign that the tourism slump was easing, Disney said it would hire about 700 workers immediately.
Lockheed Martin sold a 22-acre tract in east Orlando for $2.23 million to Woodland Lakes Apartments LLC, a subsidiary of Jacksonville's Group IV Properties Inc. The sale was the fourth in the area in little over a year by Lockheed Martin, which is selling 911 acres surrounding its east Orlando facility.
Olympic speed-skating medalist and Orlando resident Derek Parra has signed a sponsorship deal with Big Bear Mountain Water, which is owned and operated by the Serrano Mission Indians of Highland, Calif. The Orlando Sentinel reported the deal to be "well into six figures."
United Heritage Bank and Lake Mary's Community National Bank of Mid-Florida plan to merge, creating United Community Bancshares of Florida Inc., through a stock swap. If approved by shareholders and regulators, the two banks would continue to operate independently but would service each other's customers. Community National reported assets of $77.1 million at the end of 2001, and United Heritage had assets of $79.1 million.
Planet Hollywood International (OTC-PHWDQ.PK), which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the wake of the Sept. 11 hijackings, says its reorganization plan is taking longer than expected because of ongoing negotiations with creditors. The company was granted an extension, but other restaurant companies are impatiently waiting to present their own plans for reorganizing Planet Hollywood.
Osceola County -- Twenty-one hotels and motels missed paying their property taxes by the April 1 deadline, blaming the travel slump for their problems.
Orange County Extends Home-buying Program to Nurses
ORANGE COUNTY -- To help combat a serious teacher shortage in the Orlando area, Orange County government for the past year has offered down-payment assistance to teachers buying first homes in the county. Now, county commissioners have extended that program to nurses, also in dangerously short supply statewide. Nearly 16% of nursing positions across Florida went unfilled last year ["Healing Hands," November 2001]. All nurses, as well as home-health aides, paramedics and EMTs, can qualify for up to $7,500 in down-payment assistance if they're buying a first home in the county. If they continue to work in the county for five years, the debt is forgiven.