Around the State
Panama City Beach collected $498,761 in bed taxes in March - the largest amount ever and an increase of 32% from March 1996. The county raised its bed tax from 2% to 3% last year. The additional money will be used to promote the city and to fund beach maintenance and renourishment.
R+L Carriers, operating as Gator Freightways, signed a letter of intent to purchase 11.1 acres in the Santa Rosa County Industrial Park. The Wilmington, Ohio-based company plans to transfer its Pensacola trucking operation and could add 30 to 40 jobs for drivers and warehouse workers.
Sacred Heart Health System will begin a $78-million expansion of its hospital this year. The nearly 310,000-square-foot expansion will create 54 hospital jobs and 250 temporary construction jobs.
Patterson Broadcasting of Atlanta, which owns two Pensacola radio stations, WXBM-FM and WWSF-FM, and is in the process of buying another, WMEZ-FM, agreed to be purchased by Capstar Broadcasting Partners of Austin, Texas, for $215 million. Capstar, which owns or has agreements to purchase 120 stations in 31 markets, will be the nation's largest radio broadcasting company upon completion of the acquisition. No programming or personnel changes are expected at the Pensacola stations as a result of the purchase.
Professional boxer and Pensacola native Roy Jones Jr. will open the Roy Jones Jr. Sporting Goods & Emporium in Pensacola later this summer. The store features sports memorabilia alongside numerous name brand products and may add a restaurant. Jones, disqualified in a bout against Montell Griffin last March, will fight Griffin again in August.
The Santa Rosa Island Authority unanimously approved a 99- year, $160-million lease of 40 acres to local developer Allen Levin, who will build two 21-story condominiums on the property. It is Santa Rosa's biggest single construction project ever and will be built on the island's largest piece of undeveloped property. Levin may add up to six more condominiums eventually.
The Florida Department of Agriculture announced two foreign markets have opened to Florida agriculture products. Mexico officially recognized Florida citrus as being canker-free and will likely begin receiving fresh citrus shipments next season. Japan opened its produce markets to U.S.- grown tomatoes, recognizing them as being free from blue mold pathogens. The Japanese market could create a $150-plus million demand for U.S. tomatoes, which are grown primarily in Florida and California. As part of its crack down on workers' compensation fraud, the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud arrested three south Florida residents: a subcontractor doing business without workers' comp; a Miami insurance agent using invalid proof of workers' comp coverage; and a Hollywood woman who filed three separate times for the same workers' comp injury.
Escambia County Is Seeing...
... construction in the country's fastest-growing segment of the lodging industry - so-called extended stay hotels - and not everyone is happy about it. Three hotels are currently either under construction or being planned for the Pensacola area. H. Wayne Huizenga's rapidly growing chain, Extended Stay America, leads the way with a 101-unit, three-story building in Pensacola, due to open in December. Perdido Housing, a local nonprofit developer, plans to build two 120-unit extended stays, pending public bond approval, just outside Pensacola. Extended stay hotels began in the mid 1980s and target budget-conscious business travelers needing lodging for weeks or months. The hotels generally provide small suites with a kitchen, recliner, cable TV and computer hookup for $159 to $399 a week, much cheaper than most hotel rooms. Local officials speculate that Pensacola is a hotspot for extended stay lodging because of its three Naval bases, a stream of relocating retirees and a great deal of construction in the area, creating lots of temporary jobs. Some critics of extended stay hotels think they could become breeding grounds for urban problems. One planned for Perdido Key was cancelled recently amid allegations that an extended stay hotel is merely disguised low-income housing that would increase crime and decrease property value. These concerns arose after the Wall Street Journal cited three Atlanta suburbs where extended stay hotels were serving as cheap housing alternatives for families with children. "Extended stay being used as low-income housing has been a concern," says Barry Evans, Escambia County Administrator.
- Brian Hires