Two companies are competing, but there may be only enough market for one.
by Stacie Kress Booker
Two publicly held energy giants are vying to build the state's first trans-gulf natural gas pipeline. Each company has a regional office in Polk County; each is vying for the same customers and each is courting the same environmental groups. The two firms -- Coastal Corp., based in Houston, and the Williams Companies of Tulsa -- have filed applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to lay pipelines along the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Both propose routes that would start in Mobile, Ala., come ashore in the Tampa Bay area and serve nine central/south Florida counties.
Fueling the competition is the state's hunger for power: The Florida Public Service Commission predicts the state will need an additional 9,600 megawatts of electricity by 2007, a 25% increase. An overland pipeline, operated by Enron subsidiary Florida Gas Transmission, serves the state's growing number of power plants using natural gas, but it won't be able to handle future demand. The proposed underwater pipeline, either Coastal's Gulfstream Natural Gas System or Williams' Buccaneer Gas Pipeline, could deliver enough natural gas to provide more than 50% of the state's additional power requirements through 2007. Natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel, is increasingly the "fuel of choice for producing electricity," says Stan Mays, a Gulfstream spokesman. He says Florida utilities that face a federal lawsuit for violations of the Clean Air Act will want to meet demand with cleaner, gas-fired plants. But the market will be big enough to support only one pipeline. And as the application process enters a year of public review and evaluation by FERC and DEP, the race to line up customers will be critical. Both contenders are coy. Brian O'Higgins, Florida manager for the Buccaneer pipeline, declines to give specifics on who his firm is talking to; Gulfstream's Mays says it has signed on 10 power producers. In the end, says O'Higgins, "Whoever can secure the customers will build the project."
In the News
Clearwater -- Marking the bay area's first merger of a local insurance firm with a regional bank, Pennsylvania-based financial services firm FNB Corp. acquired Roger Bouchard Insurance in December. Bouchard has 60 employees and 3,500 commercial and individual customers.
Fort Myers Beach -- Town leaders are ready to take on an ambitious, multimillion-dollar street-scaping project for congested Estero Blvd., a main local thoroughfare. Engineering firm Wilson, Miller, Barton and Peek, based in Naples, will be the project consultant. Nearby Bonita Springs will be keeping its eye on the project, with a similar endeavor in mind for its Main Street.
Lakeland -- Lakeland Downs Partnership Property has put the last of the large, developable "big box" parcels along U.S. 98 on the selling block. The asking price: $3.25 million. The 26.5 acres are in the city's prime commercial sector, a quarter mile from Interstate 4, which includes Home Depot and Lakeland Square Mall.
St. Petersburg -- Swiss technology group Oerlikon-Buhrle Holding AG is paying $150 million for Plasma-Therm (Nasdaq-PTIS). The deal, a cash offer of $12.50 per share, means Plasma-Therm founder Ronald H. Deferrari and his son, President Scott Deferrari, will leave the company sometime this month. Plasma-Therm, which makes equipment used to manufacture semiconductors and integrated circuits, employs 170. No layoffs are expected.
A Department of Defense appropriations bill earmarks $6.5 million for the University of South Florida's Center for Ocean Technology to develop a MEMS Technology Center. MEMS, or microelectromechanical systems, allows the manufacture of instruments the size of a computer chip. The center will adapt MEMS to marine sensors and medical applications. Initial applications could focus on red tide toxins and detecting infections in infants. The facility will be housed at the Pinellas STAR Center.
Sarasota -- PricewaterhouseCoopers purchased Sarasota-based Gulf/Atlantic Valuation Services Inc., a national commercial appraisal firm. Gulf/Atlantic specializes in appraisal and market study services for the healthcare and retirement industries and will function as a group within PricewaterhouseCoopers' existing global real estate division. Ten of the firm's 16 employees will remain at its Sarasota offices; the others will be transitioned into Pricewaterhouse's regional offices.
Tampa -- Bank of America, parent of NationsBank Florida, will lay off 62 employees at its retail service center here. The move follows an announcement made last September to cut 720 jobs across the U.S. and is part of an overall workforce reduction in the bank's mortgage subsidiary that will eliminate 312 positions nationwide.
All Trades Staffing, which serves the construction and maintenance industry with 26 offices nationwide, is expanding. The company opened five new regional offices in 1999: three in Texas, one in St. Petersburg and one in Sanford. All Trades also moved into a new 10,000-sq.-ft. corporate headquarters in downtown Tampa at the end of last year. The company bills nearly $1 million per week.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida rolled out a new product expanding its benefit packages available to small businesses with 50 or fewer workers. Called Blue Care, the program will be administered under the company's HMO.
Winter Haven -- The city's oldest insurance agency, McDonald Insurance, has merged with the county's largest, Lakeland-based Lanier Upshaw. McDonald will keep its name. The merger is part of Lanier's expansion strategy to have offices in most Polk County cities. McDonald adds its policy-premium volume of approximately $5 million to Lanier's $50 million.
Tropicana Update: Change of Plans
Bradenton-based Tropicana Products has scrapped plans to build new corporate offices in Lakewood Ranch [Florida Trend, November 1999] for an "unexpected" option closer to home. The global juice giant purchased 10 acres of land adjacent to its 230-acre Bradenton complex from the School Board of Manatee County in December.
Lakewood Ranch CEO John Clark says a shuffling of corporate executives played a big part in the about-face. Shortly after the Lakewood Ranch decision, Tropicana's parent, Pepsico, tapped then-President and CEO Gary Rodkin to head its Frito-Lay division and handed the Tropicana reins to Brock Leach. Leach says he wanted "a more efficient, team-oriented option" than a move to Lakewood Ranch would provide.
Tropicana also stands to garner additional incentives following a decision in December by the Bradenton City Council to expand the city's Enterprise Zone. While the council's decision doesn't include Tropicana's new property, which is unincorporated land, it opens the door for the company to request annexation into the city and become eligible for the new incentives.
Meantime, Lakewood Ranch is left holding the designs for 125,000 square feet of office space for what was to be Tropicana's new corporate headquarters. Ranch officials say they are talking to prospective tenants and will go ahead and initiate the permitting process for the site.
Nude dancing: Laps Off Limits
In the world of adult entertainment, Tampa has an international, and some might say unwanted, reputation as the Las Vegas of lap dancing. And the business is lucrative. Joe Redner, the Tampa adult entertainment kingpin who owns the infamous Mons Venus club, commissioned an economic impact study and says his club has a $20-million dollar positive impact on the city of Tampa. According to Redner, 85% of his club's customers are out-of-towners.
But city council members wanting to limit this "contact sport" slapped bay area nude clubs with an ordinance in December that requires dancers to stay at least six feet away from their patrons. Redner, who lost a race for a city council seat to Bob Buckhorn, the man who introduced the motion for an ordinance, is spearheading a challenge in state court. The melee has reignited Redner's political aspirations. "This may propel me into running for mayor," he says. That election isn't for another three years. Stay tuned.