Around the State- Southwest/ Tampa Bay- June 2001
A Naples firm signs on to tackle urban blight in Fort Myers.
By Stacie Kress Booker
Naples-based Coastal Engineering Consultants has tackled difficult projects before. The company was the principal contractor in the controversial Windstar subdivision project, which involved an unconventional approach to water flow problems and mangrove restoration in the Naples golf community. It also designed and built a successful beach restoration project for Marco Island that has become a model statewide.
Coastal is one of six consultants that have signed on with Fort Myers' Brownfields Redevelopment Program, an urban renewal project with $169,000 in funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the first brownfields program in Lee County.
Typically, brownfields are blighted urban areas with known or suspected environmental contamination. The city's program will focus first on redeveloping properties along Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and the economically disadvantaged Dunbar neighborhood, a landscape dotted with abandoned auto repair shops, junkyards and auto salvage businesses.
The possibility of contamination and uncertainty associated with having to clean up a site under the eye of environmental regulators scare away developers -- but shouldn't, says Michael Stephen, founder and president/CEO of Coastal. "Just because they're designated brownfields doesn't mean they will have contaminants," he says.
Coastal's task: Determine if there is indeed contamination, identify the contaminants and develop a remedial action plan. "These assessments help to remove uncertainty," says program coordinator Ryan Windle, and spur development by removing much of the risk and the liability for potential buyers and developers.
While Fort Myers (population 49,030) is known for its pretty, historic downtown, its unemployment rate is 50% higher than that of Lee County (2.6%), and 20.7% of its residents live at or below the poverty level. Tourism and service-based operations drive the economy. Windle says the program is designed to spur commercial and industrial development in the brownfields areas to create jobs and enhance the city's tax base.
Fort Myers is one of 16 EPA-funded brownfields assessment pilot communities in the state. More than $15.5 million in combined state and federal funds have been earmarked for brownfields projects in Florida -- still a pittance compared to funding that goes into brownfields redevelopment in some Rust Belt and Northeastern states, some of which receive as much as $400 million annually.
Federal funding for the Fort Myers program only covers assessment of designated properties. But it lays the groundwork for the city or developer to tap into state programs such as the 35% tax credit and revolving loan fund for brownfields cleanup and the job bonus refund tied to job creation resulting from brownfields development. Windle plans an aggressive marketing push to local and regional developers to let them know about opportunities in the MLK/Dunbar zone.
In the News
Largo -- Paradyne Networks cut its workforce for a second time this year. The latest round amounts to a 15% downsizing, or more than 100 jobs. In January, the telecom equipment manufacturer cut 120 jobs and closed a development center in New Jersey.
Val-Pak parent Cox Target Media cut 75 jobs at Val-Pak's Largo headquarters. The move is part of a consolidation of Cox's two direct mail products, the Val-Pak blue envelope and the Carol Wright mailer. The revamped direct advertising mailing will carry the Val-Pak name and will be mailed to 55 million U.S. households. No changes are expected at the Largo production facility.
Naples -- Cleveland Clinic Florida opened its 170,000-sq.-ft. hospital this spring. It features 70 large, private rooms with resort-like amenities.
Sarasota -- The Sarasota County Commission is considering a water desalination plant in the Venice area. The plant would have to draw up to 100 gallons of water a day from the Intracoastal Waterway to produce 20 gallons of drinkable water a day. The Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a permit for a 25-million-gallon-a-day desal plant in Hillsborough County ["Difficult Solutions," June 1999].
Richmond, Va.-based direct marketing firm Huntsinger and Jeffer opened a satellite office here this spring. The 35-year-old firm specializes in marketing for the resort, real estate, travel and tourism industries.
Model centers at Lakewood Ranch's fifth and final residential village, Greenbrook, should be open by late summer. Lakewood Ranch is a 5,500-acre master-planned business and residential community spanning Sarasota and Manatee county lines.
St. Petersburg -- Florida Power Corp. executives move into new office space this month on Central Avenue. The company is giving up its top-tier commercial real estate in the Bank of America tower in downtown St. Petersburg in a move to consolidate. In separate news, Florida Power isn't accepting new customers into its load-management program for peak winter months. The program offers customers discounts in exchange for cutting off AC, water heaters and pool pumps during high-demand times.
Tampa -- B2B software developer Ariba laid off 160 employees locally, nearly a third of the Mountain View, Calif.-based company's workforce. The company makes web-based procurement software and had been considered one of the highfliers of the new economy. Ariba bought Tradex Technologies for $2 billion two years ago and moved into Tradex's Tampa facilities.
Reptron Electronics cut more than 100 of its 600 employees, most of them assembly line workers. Earlier this year, Reptron, which manufactures printed circuit boards and distributes various electronics products including semiconductors, slashed 20 jobs at its local parts-distribution division.
SBC Telecom is closing its Hidden River Corporate Park call center and firing 400 employees. The San Antonio-based company set up shop in the former Salomon Smith Barney back-office facilities less than a year ago. It was one of the area's top-paying call centers, with wages at $14 to $15 an hour. Behind the move: Scaled-back marketing while it awaits regulatory approval on long-distance service.
Marriott will scoop up some of the area's recently laid off call-center workers. The company's Vacation Club International division will hire 500 for a new 66,000-sq.-ft. call center expected to open this month at netp@rk.
Wanted: A few good tenants, preferably long-term -- that from Chicago-based Orix Real Estate Equity Corp., which is now funding the lagging Channelside project. Orix recently hired CB Richard Ellis, a national firm that will serve as leasing and management agent. The 230,000-sq.-ft. restaurant/retail/entertainment complex in the downtown Garrison Seaport district has yet to sign on more than a 10-screen theater, an entertainment center, a few restaurants and some small retailers.