Talk & Predictions
After turns at the helm of high-tech and sports video companies in Fort Lauderdale, Michael Levy combined his interests to develop a major Internet sports news service called SportsLine USA. (Address: http://www.sportsline.com)
Levy, 49, formerly ran Lexicon Corp., which at various times made hand-held language translators, computer modems and military electronics products. More recently, he ran Sports-Tech International Inc., maker of a video and computer system that allowed professional and college sports coaches to quickly edit game tapes.
In 1993, Levy retired from both businesses and began looking for something new to do. As he watched college football bowl games on New Years' Day 1994, it occurred to him that an online sports service might work.
Originally, he wanted to provide sports information to a company like America Online. "At the time I started, I had never heard of the Internet," Levy says. But after meeting Jim Barksdale, chairman of Netscape Communications Corp., in 1994, he decided to put SportsLine on the Internet.
Netscape designed SportsLine's Internet software and introduced Levy to the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which invested $3 million. SportsLine raised another $2 million in equity and borrowed $2.5 million to get started.
The service was launched in June, and Levy figures 50,000 people log on daily. There are numerous free services but also extended news reports, statistics and betting information for subscribers who pay $4.95 per month.
SportsLine has tough competition, however, including the ESPNET SportsZone service.
But Levy believes SportsLine has better content than SportsZone. He employs a dozen journalists in Fort Lauderdale and has 50 contributing writers around the country who supplement wire services and Las Vegas oddsmakers' reports.
In January, SportsLine had 4,000 subscribers and was signing up more than 50 new ones daily. Levy's ambitious goal is to have 100,000 subscribers and several advertisers by year-end. He's also negotiating a deal that would raise another $8 million in equity for SportsLine.
The company needs revenue of $500,000 per month to break even; Levy hopes to reach that level by September. He raves about the potential of the Internet, citing reports predicting the number of Internet users worldwide will grow from 10 million to 200 million in five years. "I've been in a lot of businesses," he enthuses, "but I've never been in one like this."
- David Poppe
Corporate income tax payments to the state government are exceeding expectations. In the first four months of the state's current fiscal year (July, August, September and October) the tax payments totaled $268.9 million, up 16.1% from the same period in the previous year. The state Department of Revenue had projected that revenue from the corporate income tax would total $1.08 billion in this fiscal year, up from the previous year's $1.02 billion, a 6% increase. But the department now says "the 6% growth implied by the current forecast seems modest."
Florida officials registered more than 927,000 voters as of Nov. 31., 1995, under the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the motor-voter law. Effective since January 1995, the law requires states to let people register to vote at offices that provide driver's licenses, public assistance and other government services. More than 7.4 million of Florida's 14 million residents were registered to vote at the end of October, up from 6.5 million a year earlier. "Never in the history of our state have so many citizens registered to vote in such a short period of time," says Secretary of State Sandra Mortham.
Florida developers are required by the federal Clean Water Act to mitigate damage done to wetlands, a key element of Florida's fragile ecosystem. The law requires them to replace wetlands when they build on them. But the score is lopsided against Mother Nature. Based on permits issued by water management districts around the state from October 1987 through September 1992, the state auditor general reports that Florida lost 14,828 acres of wetlands and gained only 10,923.
Part of the problem has been the traditional solution. Prior to 1993, developers usually tried to comply with the Clean Water Act by attempting to restore or create wetlands on part of their property. But these patches of preserved land often were too isolated to thrive ecologically.
These days, Florida developers can choose to preserve part of their land or help to preserve someone else's. Since 1993, administrators of the Clean Water Act have allowed developers to offset wetlands damage by purchasing "mitigation credits." Money spent on these credits supports preservation or restoration of large tracts of undeveloped or partially developed land known as mitigation banks.
Several private firms have formed to operate mitigation banks, including Mitigation Solutions in Jacksonville, Florida Wetlandsbank in Pembroke Pines and Ecobank in Winter Park. Ecobank, for example, operates the largest commercial mitigation bank in the state, a 1,007-acre tract in Central Florida near Lake Louisa. To support preservation of the tract, Ecobank has authority to sell 298 mitigation credits, and it charges $35,000 for each one. For developers who buy in, each credit counts for preservation of one acre of wetlands.
"Our business plan is to have roughly 49,000 acres in some 16 regional sites all over the state by the end of 1996 or the first quarter of 1997," says Alan Fickett, a partner in Ecobank. None of the Ecobank sites will be smaller than 1,000 acres -- "the minimal size for good ecosystem management," Fickett says, deriding the "old postage-stamp, frog-pond mitigation that we've all been used to."
A pack of regulatory watchdogs (regional water management districts, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is overseeing firms like Ecobank, trying to ensure that the mitigation banks are properly maintained and remain free of development.
But this market-based approach to preservation is still unproven. If wetlands destruction isn't slowed, mitigation banks themselves could become an endangered species.
-- Barry Walden Walsh
Generous To A Fault
Industrial recruiter Larry Pelton, president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, looks just about everywhere for companies that might create local jobs [FT, "Spreading The News," May 1995]. But excuse him if he doesn't rave about business prospects in Philadelphia.
From the City of Brotherly Love, little Medibar Medical Industries and giant Scott Paper announced plans to relocate to Palm Beach County. Part of the lure was a county-government kitty called the Job Growth Incentive Fund. Unfortunately, after the county paid Medibar $351,000 from the fund, the company filed for bankruptcy. After pledging $156,000 to Scott Paper, the tissue company said it would be acquired by Kimberly-Clark of Dallas, Texas, and that its 65-employee home office in Boca Raton, opened early last year, would be closed. The county got its money back, though: Kimberly-Clark donated the $156,000 to two local not-for-profit groups.
Undeterred, prosperous Palm Beach County still backs Pelton with big money. Just before Christmas, the county commission pledged grants of $150,000 to lure a regional office of Joseph E. Seagram & Sons and $900,000 to encourage an Office Depot expansion in Delray Beach.
Underwater No More
After sinking to unprofitable depths in the early 1990s, Florida's boating industry is buoyant again. Florida's Department of Revenue says the industry sold $2.68 billion worth of motorboats, yachts, marine parts and accessories in 12 months ended last June 30, up 18% from the previous year and more than 30% above the depressed 1991-93 period, when marine sales statewide ranged from $1.81 billion and $1.95 billion. Fresh evidence of the rebound could be found at the recent Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, where dealers rang up sales estimated at $250 million, up 25% from the previous year.
No Windfall Here
A study of tax data suggests that Hurricane Andrew's devastation of southern Dade County in 1992 triggered an exodus of well-paid workers. The study's author, Morton D. Winsberg of Florida State University's geography department, notes that Dade has been losing residents to other counties for years, though its population continues to grow due to immigration. Winsberg found that the net outflow of U.S. taxpayers from Dade to other counties accelerated from 20,177 in 1991 to 45,519 in 1992, citing figures from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Winsberg says those who left Dade in '92 took annual wages of $579 million with them, and "the average taxpayer who left reported an income that was 29% higher than the average taxpayer who arrived." That trend probably continued during the last three years, says Charles Blowers, chief of planning research of Dade County, noting that many immigrants arriving in Dade "are not well-off people."
Prominent financial adviser Charles J. Givens, Jr., once told FLORIDA TREND, "People will pay you unbelievable sums of money if they think you know something they want to know" [FT, "Selling Dreams," November 1990]. Now some people will get their money back from Givens, who gained fame for his best-seller "Wealth Without Risk" and now markets financial products and advice from Orlando. Givens will refund up to $175,000 to dissatisfied customers and modify his business practices to settle a civil complaint filed by Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. The money will go to about 135 former customers of the Charles J. Givens Organization Inc. who failed to obtain refunds on their own.
Gone To The Dogs
When Florida voters rejected a 1994 proposal to allow casino gambling at horse tracks, greyhound tracks and jai alai frontons, Kay Spitzer, president of the Biscayne Greyhound Track in Miami, foresaw trouble [FT, "Life Without Casinos," January 1995]. "Without significant tax relief," Spitzer predicted, "there will be five pari-mutuels that go out of business within the next year." What she didn't predict is that one of them would be hers: Spitzer announced in late 1995 that Biscayne Greyhound Track, founded in 1926, is closing.
Barnett Banks Inc. tapped Jeffrey C. Larsen as president and chief operating officer of its consumer finance subsidiary, EquiCredit Corp. Larsen, 53, is a 29-year veteran of the financial services industry, most recently as executive vice president of Livingston, N.J.-based CIT Group/ Consumer Finance Inc.
James C. Brantley, 51, president of the Central Florida Development Council (CFDC), will retire next month after 30 years working for state and local governments in Florida. In 1985, he helped establish the CFDC and has been the group's only leader. A search is underway for Brantley's replacement.
Dr. John A. Murphy, one of the nation's most innovative educators, joined Arvida Co. as head of the company's Educational Knowledge Center. At Arvida, he will work with local superintendents and school boards to establish education goals and address concerns in districts that contain the Boca Raton developer's residential communities. Murphy, 60, spent 38 years in education, most recently as superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school system.
Arthur Levitt III, 38, returns to California to rejoin Walt Disney Co. after three years as president and CEO of Orlando's Rank Leisure USA Inc., the company that operates Hard Rock Cafes. He becomes president of Location Based Entertainment, a new Disney division to develop sports restaurants and entertainment centers.
After a brief stint with Tandy Corp., Michael J. Murray rejoined Viacom Inc.'s Blockbuster Entertainment Group as president of Blockbuster International, responsible for video and music retailing outside the U.S. He had been vice president of Blockbuster Music from 1993 to 1995. Murray, 46, replaces Ramon Martin-Busutil, who resigned in October.
Armand Arel, a former marketing executive with Kiwi Airlines, will lead Florida's effort to attract international visitors as the Division of Tourism's new international bureau chief. He replaces Charles E. Wright, who left last summer to become executive director of the Leon County Tourist Development Council and president and CEO of the Tallahassee Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The World Trade Organization, successor organization to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), selected former U.S. Representative Jim Bacchus, 46, as the only American to serve on the WTO's new seven-member Appellate Court in Geneva. He will serve part time for a term of two to eight years. Bacchus, a member of Congress from 1991 to 1994, remains as managing shareholder of the Orlando office of the Greenberg Traurig law firm.
Nina K. Brown, 41, was named managing shareholder of Akerman, Senterfitt & Eidson's 42-lawyer Miami office. She replaces Stanley Wakshlag, who will focus on expanding his commercial litigation practice, marketing and community relations. Brown, a litigator who focuses on business and environmental insurance issues, is the first female managing shareholder in Akerman, Senterfitt's 73-year history. The firm also recently established a presence in Palm Beach County with the addition of 11 lawyers from the West Palm Beach office of Mershon, Sawyer, Johnston, Dunwody & Cole, a 75-year-old Miami firm that is disbanding. A twelfth Mershon, Sawyer lawyer joined Akerman, Senterfitt's Miami office.
Barry Diller's arrival as chairman of Home Shopping Network triggered a covey of executive departures at the St. Petersburg television retailer. David F. Dyer, recruited as chief operating officer by former HSN President and CEO Gerald Hogan, resigned a week after Diller named James Held as president and CEO. Dyer had been president since Hogan's departure in August. Brian Kaminer, senior vice president of product integrity, and Theo Killion, senior vice president of human resources, also left HSN with Dyer. Another departed HSN manager, former Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer Stella L. Tavilla, left to accept a job with Intuit Inc., the fast-growing California software company.
James E. Boyd, 39, became CEO of Bradenton-based Employee Services after the drowning death of Wilbur H. Boyd II, who in 1988 co-founded the employee leasing firm with his father, former state senator Wilbur H. Boyd, Sr. The senior Boyd remains chairman of the company. James Boyd, a nephew of Wilbur Boyd, Sr., also will continue as CEO of the Boyd Insurance Agency in Bradenton.
Prominent Miami developer and Republican fundraiser Alec Courtelis died on Dec. 28 after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 68. Just weeks prior to his death, Gov. Chiles had appointed Courtelis to the Florida Board of Regents, which oversees the state university system. He previously served as a regent from 1988 to 1994, including a term as chairman. Courtelis, a self-made millionaire, had been serving as national finance chairman for Sen. Phil Gramm's 1996 presidential bid.