October 23, 2014

Around the State

| 3/1/1998
COCONUT CREEK -- The nation's third-largest used-car retailer, Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Driver's Mart, opened its first Florida outlet and will compete with AutoNation USA and CarMax.

FORT LAUDERDALE -- H. Wayne Huizenga's Florida Panthers Holdings (NYSE-PAW) agreed to buy the Arizona Biltmore for $225 million in cash and stock and assume $63.5 million in debt. It is the latest in a string of hotel and resort purchases for the company, which owns the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers.

JUNO BEACH -- FPL Group (NYSE-FPL) announced a $846 million deal to purchase all of Central Maine Power Co.'s non-nuclear power plants. Under the deal, much of the plants' power will be sold back to the utility until March 2000. After that date, FPL will pursue its own customers in New England.

MIAMI -- New York City's American International Group agreed to acquire American Bankers Insurance Group (NYSE-ABI) for $2.2 billion, or $47 a share. American Bankers, which employs 3,000 worldwide and 1,700 in south Florida, will be a wholly owned subsidiary.

A group of investors led by Craig Robins of Dacra Development Corp. is selling its 70% stake in Pan Am Air Bridge to Air Alaska, a Dallas-based aircraft leasing company, for $2 million. Pan Am Air Corp. will retain its 30% stake in the 78-year-old seaplane operator.

MIAMI BEACH -- Merv Griffin's Beverly Hills-based hotel company, Merv Griffin Hotels, announced the purchase of Les Suites, a two-story property in the South Miami Beach art deco district. The $2.3 million deal is the company's second hotel acquisition in Miami Beach.

MONROE COUNTY -- Resort tax revenues in the Florida Keys jumped 10.1% in 1997 to $9.7 million. Key West and Islamorada had the largest increases, 11.6% and 11.1%, respectively, according to the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

SUNRISE -- Racal Data Group laid off 300 employees, or roughly one-quarter of its work force. Racal, which produces hardware for high-speed data transfer, was put up for sale last year by its British parent company, Racal Electronics.

AIRPORTS

A Controversial Plan ...

... to convert Homestead Air Force Base to a civilian airport has suffered another setback, as the federal government ordered a second round of environmental impact studies. The decision was criticized heavily by local officials and economic development groups who say redevelopment of the area has waited long enough. Before Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, hastening the base's closure, the facility generated 11,400 jobs and pumped more than $400 million a year into the local economy.

"This region needs a jump-start," says Bill Losner, president of the First National Bank of Homestead. "Developing the base is just the thing to do that." Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas says at least two and as many as five companies, which he declined to name, had planned to locate near the base. Those plans are now on hold, he says. Penelas estimates the impact of the delay at between 2,000 and 5,000 jobs.

in 1996, county officials granted base-development rights to Homestead Air Base Development Inc. But HABDI's current plan is more extensive than the original proposal seen by federal authorities, prompting the call for further review.

Not everyone is discouraged. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson believes additional studies will help avert litigation by environmental groups who question the wisdom of a sprawling transportation hub sandwiched between two national parks. "In the long run," she insists, "we'll be saving time by heading off problems before they emerge." Sorenson says this setback shows the danger of placing all of the region's economic development hopes in one basket. "We have a tremendous transportation corridor, vast agricultural lands and untapped ecotourism opportunities," she says. "I have no doubt that this airport will be built, but in the meantime, shouldn't we be focusing our energies on other projects that will bring in jobs?" -- David Villano

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Southeast, Business Florida

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