Around the State- Southeast- Jan. 2002
Boca Raton -- Telecom equipment maker Siemens Information and Communication Networks, Boca Raton's largest employer with 1,350 employees, laid off 50 workers at its Boca site. Spokesman Tom Phillips says the layoffs are part of a company-wide restructuring.
A group of buying clubs accused of deceiving consumers into buying memberships has agreed to pay more than $9 million to settle the charges, the Florida Attorney General's Office reports. The Boca Raton-based Triad Discount Buying Service Inc. companies and operator Ira Smolev will pay $8.3 million in restitution and $750,000 for investigative costs under the agreement.
Microbrew pub Brewzzi was honored with gold and silver medals at the 2001 Great American Beer Festival. The restaurant's "Boca Alt" and "Import-Export Buis" took the honors.
Boynton Beach -- Nutritional supplements e-retailer Vitacost.com has ranked 345th on Inc. magazine's list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies. The 5-year-old company recently purchased four health-related internet sites with 240,000 customers.
Davie -- The city is cutting off its participation in a 4-year-old fish farming operation. The venture has been a money-loser for the city, which invested more than $700,000 but earned only about $150,000. The farm -- run by Nova Southeastern University -- produces tilapia and eels in a converted sewer plant. Under a new lease, the university will pay rent and a percentage of gross sales to the city.
Fort Lauderdale -- ANC Rental Corp., parent of Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental, has filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors. The company lists debts of $5.95 billion and assets of $6.5 billion. ANC Rental President Larry Ramaekers blames the drop-off in travel following the Sept. 11 attacks.
The president of the 7,000-member National Federation of Public and Private Employees has pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges. Walter J. Browne and his sister, Patricia Browne DeVaney, are accused of mail fraud, embezzlement and unlawful labor practices, among other allegations contained in a 40-page federal indictment.
West Palm Beach -- The opening of the W Hotel, to be built next to the Palm Beach County Convention Center, could be delayed by financing difficulties. Ron Wackrow, who heads The Related Cos. hotel division, says that lagging tourism has made hotel financing more difficult. The 300- to 400-room hotel was scheduled to open in May 2003.
The Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau has expanded a program to contribute to airline advertising designed to market service to Palm Beach International Airport. The program offers up to $30,000 in matching funds and was originally offered only to airlines that didn't yet have direct flights to Palm Beach. Under expanded guidelines, the funds will be available for airlines already offering such flights.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office is looking into allegations that members of the county's housing finance authority routinely conducted business in private in violation of Florida's Sunshine Law. The allegations arose during the trial of former authority Chairman Lloyd Hasner, who was convicted of mail fraud and money laundering in November. A Hasner family construction company is also drawing scrutiny from a federal grand jury probing a $750,000 airport construction deal.
Judge: No Masks
BOCA RATON -- A federal judge has ruled against a group of Boca Raton postal workers who sued for the right to wear protective masks in customer service areas. U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz says the workers had not produced evidence of a credible threat of contracting anthrax "while servicing customers at the window."
Miami -- After months of difficult negotiations, county officials inked a deal with a consortium of contractors to build a long-awaited performing arts center in downtown Miami. After the county deemed a low bid of $279 million for the twin performance halls too high, the contractors agreed to cut corners and reduce their profit, trimming the total price tag to $255 million. Construction will be complete in late 2004.
Miami-Dade -- One of Miami-Dade's largest companies will grow substantially with the merger of Royal Caribbean International Cruises (NYSE-RCL) and Britain's P&O Princess Cruises. The combined entity will be based in Miami and will be led by Royal Caribbean Chief Executive Richard Fain. By combining their fleets -- for a total of 41 ships -- the new company will surpass Carnival Corp. (NYSE-CCL) as the world's largest cruise operator.
Ryder System (NYSE-R), one of Miami-Dade's most venerable public companies, is seeking a new headquarters, possibly in nearby south Broward County. Downsizing at the transportation and logistics provider has left its current west Miami-Dade facility nearly 40% empty. Ryder was founded in Miami in 1933.
The Florida Elections Commission has ordered state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla to pay a record $311,000 in fines for campaign finance violations stemming from his 1999 election. Attorneys say he will appeal.
More corporate defections from Miami-Dade to Broward: Civil engineering firm Beiswenger, Hoch & Associates and an affiliate, engineering software maker GEOPAK Corp., will move their headquarters from North Miami Beach to Sunrise. About 160 workers will be affected.
As part of a reorganization, internet portal Terra Lycos has laid off 24 from its Miami-based Latin American headquarters. Terra Lycos, with an estimated 94 million users in 41 countries, was created by the merger of Spain's Terra Networks and U.S.-based Lycos.
Citing poor management skills, the Miami-Dade School Board has removed veteran school Superintendent Roger Cuevas and tapped former Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim to fill the post on an interim basis. Among Stierheim's first acts: Negotiating an early-retirement plan for often-maligned Deputy Superintendent Henry Fraind. The top two employees of Florida's largest school district routinely came under fire for their handling of the district's finances and other controversies, including allegations that senior school board officials claimed college degrees from so-called "diploma mills."
The Keyes Co./Realtors, Florida's largest independent real estate firm, has merged with Miami-Dade's AllState Realty and now operates 36 offices statewide. Miami-based Keyes was founded in 1926.
MIAMI-DADE -- Calling for change in Miami's political leadership, voters elected lawyer Manny Diaz as the city's mayor. It is the first elective post for Diaz, who first burst into the public light a year ago as a lawyer for the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez. Diaz replaces the embattled Joe Carollo, who finished third in the general election to Diaz and former Mayor Maurice Ferre. In the runoff, the city's predominant Cuban population generally voted for Diaz while blacks and non-Hispanic whites supported the Puerto Rican-born Ferre. In Miami Beach's mayoral race, City Commissioner David Dermer defeated former state Rep. Elaine Bloom.