Southwest Florida Roundup
Economic realities: The Tampa Bay Times buys the Tampa Tribune
In May, the Tampa Bay area became a one-newspaper metro when the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest paper, bought and closed its rival, the Tampa Tribune. With the Tribune’s additional circulation, the Times now ranks among the nation’s 10 largest daily newspapers and the fifth-largest on Sundays.
For decades, the two papers vied aggressively for readers and advertisers. In 1987, the St. Petersburg-based Times crossed Tampa Bay to start a Tampa edition, opening offices in downtown Tampa and northwest Hillsborough County and ultimately passing the Tribune’s own daily circulation in Hillsborough. The Tribune tried to counter with a Pinellas County edition.
Over the years, the downturn in the U.S. newspaper industry took its toll on both papers.
In 2012, the Tribune’s longtime owner, Media General, sold the paper to Los Angeles-based Revolution Capital Group for $9.5 million. Last summer, Revolution sold the Tribune’s headquarters building in downtown Tampa for $17.75 million to Miami-based Related Group, which plans to turn the riverfront site into a residential development.
Meanwhile, the Tribune contracted out its printing to the Times, which also has been selling off property and cutting costs to shore up its finances. In April, the Times sold its headquarters building in downtown St. Petersburg for $19 million to a joint venture of Convergent Capital Partners and Denholtz Associates.
During the four years that Revolution owned the Tribune, the paper’s employment shrank from about 620 to 265. In recent months, the company reportedly had stopped paying some of its bills. The Times took on several dozen Tribune employees.
Although the purchase price was not disclosed, loan documents reveal the Times borrowed about $13 million from Crystal Financial just before buying the Tribune. The Times, which initially borrowed $28 million from Crystal in 2013, now owes the Boston firm $18 million.
Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash says the deal puts the Times on sound financial footing and helps ensure a locally owned paper will survive in the region — the Times (parent company of Florida Trend) is owned by the non-profit Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg.
“There are very few cities that are able to sustain more than one daily newspaper, and the Tampa Bay region is not among them,” Tash says.
Hot Car Alert
Tampa dads Jim Friedman and Fadi Shamma aim to prevent babies from being left behind in hot cars. The entrepreneurs have developed a wireless sensor system, called Sense a Life, to detect the presence of a child in a car seat after the driver’s door has been opened. The weight-activated device verbally reminds the driver getting out of the car to check the back seat. If the child has not been taken out after the driver’s door closes, it then sends an alert via mobile app. Shamma, a pharmacist, and Friedman, an electrical engineer, also have teamed up with a third co-founder, University of South Florida medical student Masud Hossain. They’re seeking investor funding for initial production.
ANNA MARIA ISLAND — Sarasota-based real estate company Michael Saunders & Co. Opened an office in Holmes Beach, its 19th location.
CHARLOTTE COUNTY — The Punta Gorda Airport opened an expanded terminal with new gates, check-in counters, baggage claim belts and security checkpoints. The 42,000-sq.- ft. Expansion project cost $8.3 million.
CLEARWATER — USAmeriBancorp raised $45 million in a debt offering. The money will be used to fuel growth, partially redeem preferred stock and for general business purposes. Clearwater’s MarineMax bought Russo Marine, a privately owned boat dealer based in Massachusetts. Financial terms were not disclosed.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY — County commissioners voted 4-3 to not place a half-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot to fund new transportation projects. The county commission approved a $40-million renovation of Steinbrenner Field to keep New York Yankees spring training in Tampa through 2046.
SARASOTA — Cincinnati-based freight brokerage firm Total Quality Logistics plans to create 100 jobs by 2020 at a new office downtown.
SARASOTA COUNTY — The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee will introduce a pre-engineering program in partnership with USF in Tampa. Starting this fall, students can take pre-engineering classes at USF Sarasota-Manatee for two years and finish their degree at the Tampa campus.
ST. PETERSBURG — Kobie Marketing is expanding its St. Petersburg headquarters and plans to hire 85 people this year. The Federal Reserve approved a $32-million purchase of St. Petersburg-based Cornerstone Bancorp by Republic Bancorp of Kentucky.
TAMPA — Marketing technology firm mynfo raised $6.8 million in a round of funding led by Almaz Capital of Los Angeles. IT security firm ReliaQuest is expanding its Tampa headquarters and plans to create 55 jobs by the end of this year. Tampa Electric will spend $5 million to build a 1.8-megawatt solar array at Legoland. Ability Network, a Minneapolis- based health care IT firm, expanded its Tampa office and plans to add 75 jobs by the end of 2017.
Food distributor Beneficial Blends is expanding its Tampa headquarters and will create 70 jobs by 2019.
The Florida Public Service Commission fined Peoples Gas $1 million and ordered it to provide $2 million in customer credits over failures in its inspection compliance.
TREASURE ISLAND — Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties opened the 77-room Treasure Island Beach Resort, the city’s first new hotel development in about a decade.
Sarasota-based digital health care company Voalte hired Adam McMullin, who previously led Hill-Rom’s clinical workflow solutions business, as chairman and CEO. Voalte founder Trey Lauderdale will remain president.
Darren Ghanayem left Anthem and became senior vice president and chief information officer at Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans.
Kitson & Partners hired former St. Joe Co. Executive Rick Severance to lead development of Babcock Ranch, an 18,000- acre master-planned community northeast of Fort Myers.
The Florida Institute of Oceanography in St. Petersburg named marine geologist Philip Kramer director after Bill Hogarth announced his plans to retire this month.