Around the State
A group trying to bring the USS Forrestal to Tampa has generated as much controversy as progress.
In Tampa, a group of Navy veterans is trying to land a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the USS Forrestal, and turn it into a high-tech museum. The non-profit group USS Forrestal Sea, Air, Space Museum Inc. wants to dock the nation's first supercarrier, which served from the 1950s through the early 1990s, at the Port of Tampa as a centerpiece for the Channelside District, a retail/restaurant complex. Supporters say the Forrestal would fit well with adjacent tourist venues, such as the Florida Aquarium, Garrison Seaport and Ybor City.
Along the way, however, the group has steered itself into rough seas. A meeting last year among Forrestal group representatives and two members of the Tampa Port Authority may have violated the state's Sunshine Law. That The Tampa Tribune's editorial page editor, Edwin A. Roberts Jr. -- the author of numerous columns promoting the Forrestal venture -- arranged and attended the private meeting also raised eyebrows. Then, in June, the Forrestal group's executive director, Jack Martin, resigned after media reports unveiled his criminal record and previous troubles with the IRS.
Another issue is finding dock space for the 1,086-foot-long ship, which would likely displace International Ship Repair, a long-time port tenant that employs 300. Port director George Williamson says he doesn't want to break International Ship's lease, which expires at the end of 2000, and has notified the Forrestal group that it will need to "find a space to park the vessel (in the interim) if it brings the ship in before the current lease is up."
Space is a moot point, however, if the U.S. Navy doesn't think the group has a solid, well-financed business plan. The Forrestal group must raise at least $12 million by November, when the Navy will decide whether to donate the ship. The group is banking on support from the half-million veterans in the greater Tampa Bay area, along with corporate sponsors, such as Outback Steakhouse, which has contributed $100,000. If private fundraising falls short, the group may seek industrial revenue bond financing.
Charles Bray, an executive with International Ship, worries that a focus on tourism will dilute the port's business mission, and questions whether $12 million will be enough to cover the costs of extensive dredging and modifications to the pier to accommodate the Forrestal.
In the project's favor, Tampa is the only city that's applied for the carrier. The city of Baltimore, a potential competitor, has yet to submit a proposal. Tampa's plan "looks better than pretty good," says Dennis McDonald, fundraising chairman. And Tampa Mayor Dick Greco -- one of the Port Authority directors at the private meeting last year -- favors the project, particularly since the group is not asking for taxpayer dollars. Williamson says the Channelside site will eventually be developed as a tourist destination. "If the Forrestal is not successful in coming, something else will," he says.
In The News...
BRADENTON -- Flagship National Bank, which opened in May, is the third new community bank to open recently in the Sarasota/Manatee area. At least four others are in various stages of regulatory approval and are expected to open within the year. Flagship plans to open a Sarasota branch by late fall.
CLEARWATER-- The Honeywell plant on U.S. 19 shouldn't be affected by the nearly $14 billion merger of the Minneapolis-based maker of control systems and thermostats with aerospace supplier Allied Signal. The merger could result in 4,500 fewer jobs and the closing of Honeywell's headquarters, but the Clearwater plant has little overlap with New Jersey-based Allied Signal's operations.
Kenneth Davidson, founder and CEO of Maxxim Medical (NYSE-MAM) is leading a buyout group to take the medical supply manufacturer private. The deal is valued at about $800 million. Leveraged buyout specialist Fox Paine & Co., based in San Francisco, will provide equity financing for the deal, expected to be completed by September.
COLLIER COUNTY -- One of the state's fastest growing counties is putting the brakes on urban sprawl. County officials accepted a moratorium on new development in rural areas surrounding Naples. The Department of Community Affairs recommended the measure while landowners, developers and environmental groups come up with an acceptable growth plan.
For the third consecutive month, commercial and residential property sales surpassed last year's levels. In May, sales totaled about $290 million with at least 135 more deed transactions than a year ago.
FORT MYERS -- The area has its first government one-stop center -- a combination job recruitment and training center that also houses other social service agencies such as child care assistance. The concept to locate various public assistance services under one roof originated in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, as part of welfare reform. While there are about 100 such centers statewide, the Fort Myers facility is the first built specifically as a one-stop. Agencies at the center include the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security, the Department of Children and Families, and the Workforce Council of Southwest Florida. The center serves a five-county area.
Miami-based developer Lefmark Group purchased two retail centers along U.S. 41, Cypress Lake Shopping Center and College Parkway Center. Both are slated for redevelopment and expansion. Lefmark also recently acquired the Beall's Department Store Center on Homestead Blvd. and a Kmart in Bradenton.
LARGO -- Shands HomeCare is selling 10 of its 26 home health operations in Florida to Flagship Healthcare based in Miami Lakes. The deal includes offices in Largo and Brandon. Gainesville-based Shands, a not-for-profit home healthcare provider, expects to consolidate its remaining operations into two offices serving Gainesville and Lake City.
Broadband telecommunications-maker Paradyne plans to go public this summer with a stock offering aimed at raising $90 million. It's the largest privately owned communications equipment company, and after the IPO it's expected to rank 20th among publicly traded companies in the Tampa Bay area. Shares are expected to cost between $12 and $14
MANATEE COUNTY -- Despite deep federal cuts to Medicare reimbursements for home healthcare, Bon Secours hospital still plans to expand its home healthcare agency into Manatee County.
Bon Secours already offers home healthcare in Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties through its acquisition of Independent
Home Health Services.
The African Telecommunications Network expects to begin installing Elcotel pay telephones in Nigeria in the coming months. Elcotel (Nasdaq-ECTL) will sell as many as 10,000 in a two-phase deal worth about $7.5 million. The wireless phones will be in rural areas where it has been too expensive to run phone lines.
SARASOTA -- Power boat builder Chris Craft is adding 30 to 40 jobs at its Sarasota headquarters and manufacturing facility. Sales for 1998 jumped 10% to $50 million. Parent company, Waukegan, Ill., based Outboard Marine Corp., isn't faring as well. It has laid off about 200 employees this year.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Florida Properties expects to get the city's approval this month to develop 13 single-family homes in a community-like, neo-traditional design setting. The homes planned for Crescent Lake, a residential area near downtown, will range from 1,450 to about 1,900 square feet and will be priced from $140,000 to $180,000. Construction could begin next month.
TAMPA -- Tampa Electric Co., a subsidiary of utility TECO Energy (NYSE-TE), plans to build a 5,800-sq.-ft. customer service office off Interstate 75 near Ruskin. The $733,000 facility is expected to be ready by 2000.
California's Tenet Healthcare put three area hospitals up for sale: South Tampa's Memorial Hospital, Town 'N Country Hospital in northwest Hillsborough County and Palms of Pasadena in south Pinellas County. Any acquisition would cost at least $200 million.
Software Spectrum will create 750 new jobs when it opens its new 100,000-sq.-ft. technical support center this fall. The call center will be along the I-4 technology corridor. Software Spectrum based in Garland, Texas, provides business software services.
Charter Behavioral Health Systems closed two of its bay area psychiatric hospitals this summer, one in Largo and another in Lutz, which employed about 85. Jim Hill, CEO of Charter's Tampa facility, the single Charter psychiatric inpatient facility remaining in the area, says managed care's squeeze on reimbursement rates has hurt profitability. Yet the Atlanta-based behavioral health treatment provider may have come up with another way of doing profitable business in the Tampa Bay area. Charter has confirmed that it is in "very preliminary talks" to use the hospital buildings as treatment centers for Juvenile Justice programs. These programs provide mental health treatment services to individuals who have been committed to the Juvenile Justice Department by the court system. This would not be the first time Charter has worked with Juvenile Justice. Charter previously transitioned two of its residential treatment operations, Manatee Palms and Bay Harbor in Largo, into Juvenile Justice programs, which now serve about 80 kids. A significant advantage to this type of program is that it allows Charter to continue providing mental health treatment services with much more lenient licensing and managed care requirements.