Around the State- Central- Dec. 2001
The expressway authority and state square off over how the authority wants to operate.
By Ken Ibold
A $2-billion turf war is under way in an Orlando courtroom. On one side is the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, which wants more flexibility in the way it raises money through bonds that will be paid off by road tolls. Opposing the authority is the state, which contends it should have oversight of the authority's finances. At stake is the financing of the authority's 25-year plan for central Florida's 90 miles of toll roads, as well as adding 42 miles of highway and three interchanges. The bond issue would be the largest in state history.
Under state guidelines, the authority is allowed to sell bonds to finance construction and condemn property needed for highways. It is also allowed to levy tolls to service the debt -- the basis for the power struggle.
Six years after the authority was formed in 1963, the state Legislature created the Division of Bond Financing to protect the state's interests from overaggressive or ill-considered action by the various authorities around the state that are empowered to sell bonds. The law requires those various authorities to get the division to sign off on their plans to issue bonds. The expressway authority followed those requirements until the agency's lawyers concluded that the authority should not be subject to such oversight because it raises money from tolls to repay the bonds rather than servicing the debt from the state's general tax revenues.
Last summer, the authority quietly asked a judge to allow it to sell the bonds on its own without getting approval from the Division of Bond Financing -- attempting what the state considers an end-run around the state government.
The authority doesn't see it that way. "We want to run the authority like a business, but the government doesn't operate that way," says Hal Worrall, executive director of the expressway authority.
The state contends the oversight is necessary because taxpayers are on the hook if the authority defaults on the bonds. It also says that contractors can make so much money that officials may be tempted by bribes or other inappropriate behavior in awarding contracts. The red tape, the state contends, is there to ensure the process is fair and open.
One move that concerned state officials who monitor state debt: The authority attempted to open a $50-million line of credit without approval from the governor or Cabinet. The authority says the credit would have allowed it to save $8 million by retiring bonds early.
Circuit Judge William Gridley may issue a ruling this month. But the point may be moot. Rep. Bob Allen has already filed a bill that would allow the authority to bypass the Division of Bond Finance.
In the News
Celebration -- Stetson University has opened a program in Celebration for graduate studies. The $7-million Stetson University Center offers MBAs as well as advanced classes in counseling and education and professional development classes in education, music and information technology.
Celebration has won the prestigious Award for Excellence from the Urban Land Institute in recognition of what the Washington, D.C.-based organization calls responsible land-use practices.
Daytona Beach Shores -- DiMucci Development Co. has started construction of Towers Grande, a luxury oceanfront condominium with 132 units. About 90% of the units have been sold. The 15-story building and parking garage will open in about a year.
Kissimmee -- Tupperware (NYSE-TUP) began selling its wares in 25 Kroger grocery stores in Ohio, Kentucky and Arizona as part of an effort to reverse a slide in U.S. sales. If the test is successful, Kroger says it will sell Tupperware throughout its 32-state system, which includes 2,400 stores in 24 chains. Tupperware is not put on store shelves with competing products. Instead, it is sold at kiosks that also provide information on Tupperware parties. Tupperware is also sold in Super Target stores.
Maitland -- Global Travel International laid off 51 employees -- about a third of its staff -- because of declines in air travel. The company says cruise and vacation packages remain strong.
Melbourne -- Harris Corp. (NYSE-HRS) reported a rush of orders prompted by the federal government's war on terrorism. The communications equipment company received orders for cell phone tracking equipment, high-speed data systems for robotic aircraft and fighter jets, and mobile satellite communications terminals. Some of the equipment had previously been ordered, but delivery dates were speeded up. In addition, the company says it had received other orders for classified equipment.
Orange County -- Duke Realty Corp., one of the nation's largest real estate investment trusts, is paying about $8 million for more than 26 acres near the Millenia Mall, which is under construction.
Orlando -- The Justice Department has filed a motion to join a whistleblower lawsuit that alleges Lockheed Martin Corp.'s missile unit deliberately overcharged the government $150 million for its Lantirn navigation systems. The company denies the charge.
Tourism officials in Orlando, Orange County and Osceola County launched a month-long, $5-million advertising campaign urging families within driving distance to visit central Florida. The ads targeted in-state residents as well as families in Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana.
Xytrans Inc. is building a new headquarters and manufacturing facility and may add 40 people to the payroll in the next year. The company was founded last year by six Lockheed Martin veterans to develop commercial transmitters.
Personal injury lawyer John Morgan, a prominent advertiser on television and billboards, has teamed up with Johnnie Cochran to open a series of law offices across the country. The first was opened in Memphis, with others planned for Atlanta and Washington, D.C., in the coming year.
Cypress Restaurants and a sister company, Cypress Restaurants of Georgia, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, listing assets and liabilities of about $44.5 million each. The companies, which together own 51 Denny's outlets in five states, employ about 2,200.
GranPark at SouthPark has signed three new tenants, Fairfield Communities, Schwartz-Electro Optics and Lockheed Martin. The three companies absorbed more than 200,000 square feet of space left vacant when Triton Networks shut down.
Scorecard USA Inc. and World Commerce Online, two Orlando companies that hoped to ride the internet to riches, have filed for liquidation under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code. Both companies say finding investors or financing became impossible in the wake of the economic slowdown and the Sept. 11 attacks.
Sanford-- Florida Solar Technology Inc. has launched a statewide pest control division. The company, which already describes itself as the largest pool service and maintenance company in the state, has been expanding in recent years into other home-oriented fields, including water purification and hot water systems. The company plans to hire 100 people in the next 12 months.
Pan American Airways opened a bilingual call center, primarily to handle customers who speak Spanish but also to serve as a backup to call centers in New Hampshire and Maine.
ORLANDO -- Planet Hollywood International Inc. (OTCBB-PHWD) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the second time in two years, blaming in part the economic slump in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The company listed $121 million in assets and $131 million in liabilities.
Unlike the previous bankruptcy filing, this petition did not include a reorganization plan with white knight investors already arranged. The company also closed six of its 18 restaurants, including one near the White House.