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Around the State- Central- Feb. 2002

Looking for Salvation
Now just a shell of its former self, Church Street Station faces another "repositioning."

By Ken Ibold

The future of Church Street Station, a mere shadow of the lively entertainment district that once hosted more annual visitors than anywhere else in Florida, became an even bigger question mark when the newly refurbished Presidential Ballroom closed just before Christmas.

F.F. South & Co. had heralded the 24,000-sq.-ft. ballroom, a banquet and catering facility, as a linchpin of its plan to reposition Church Street Station as a downtown shopping district for upscale locals. The company envisions a redeveloped Church Street with amenities such as movie theaters, apartments, a hotel, dry cleaner and even a grocery store.

The ballroom's closure came with no notice to employees, who arrived for work to find the building locked. Those with special events booked at the ballroom were also out of luck.

In November, F.F. South President Robert Kling said December was likely to hold some "interesting developments," but by mid-December the anticipated good news had turned sour. Church Street Station, which once employed more than 600, is down to a crew of seven.

Since then, the company has been silent, issuing only a news release expressing disappointment at the "unfortunate turn of events" and saying the company "will continue to focus our efforts on the repositioning of Church Street Station with new tenants and new uses."

The company has had limited success in its efforts to lease space to other operators. Louis' Downtown, an upscale restaurant, opened in December, and the city of Orlando has leased some space for its Arts and Performance District. Live theater was scheduled to make its debut at the former home of the Buffalo Traders retail store in January. The 7,000-sq.-ft. space was revamped to house a 100-seat theater that will be home to two local performing arts groups. However, the city is paying only the cost of utilities.

Still, F.F. South has a way to go to reinvigorate the atmosphere that made Church Street Station vibrant in the 1980s. The area's fortunes have crumbled in part because of competing districts such as Downtown Disney and Universal's CityWalk.

Elsewhere on Church Street, the mood is equally cautious. The city continues to block off traffic every day at 7 p.m., despite the fact that the sidewalks are as empty as the street. Businesses that have had the best luck are restaurants close to Orange Avenue, farther from Church Street Station. Lunch time still brings out throngs of workers, but the after-hours action is clearly more locals than tourists -- a dynamic the new Church Street Station plan hopes to use to its advantage.

In the News

Casselberry -- As part of its expansion into Florida, Puerto Rico-based R&G Financial Corp. will buy Crown Group Inc. for $100 million in cash and a $5-million, five-year note. Crown owns Crown Bank, with 14 branches in the Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg areas. R&G already owns 63 bank branches in Puerto Rico and the U.S. and has $4.3 billion in assets.

Daytona Beach -- Adam's Mark Hotels & Resorts has agreed to pay $1.1 million to Florida's four historically black colleges and to hotel guests who claimed they were mistreated during Black College Reunion week in 1999. The settlement ends two lawsuits against the 24-hotel St. Louis-based chain.

Kissimmee -- The Ginn Co. sold 234 single-family lots and 30 townhouses in 16 hours during the opening of sales for the Reunion Resort & Club. The 2,300-acre development will feature two golf courses, a swimming pavilion, a commercial/retail district and recreational facilities. Most of the properties will be vacation homes.

Lake Mary -- Dragon Development Corp. says it will add up to 100 computer engineers, systems analysts and software designers this year as the company joins the war on terrorism. Dragon specializes in information technology systems for government agencies such as airports, power plants, utility systems and law enforcement.

Melbourne -- Harris Corp. (NYSE-HRS) landed a three-year, $55-million avionics design contract for the Joint Strike Fighter's avionics infrastructure and other hardware. The new fighter, designated the F-35, will be the first multirole combat aircraft designed for use by all branches of the U.S. military. Harris says the company expects $2 billion in contracts in the next 20 years under the program.

Orlando -- Time Warner Communications says it will begin offering web-based local and long-distance telephone service within the next few months and has chosen central Florida for the first full-scale rollout of its technology. The Public Service Commission approved the company's November application without debate in mid-December.

TW Metals, a metal distributor and processor, has opened a 44,000-sq.-ft. service center with a 4,000-sq.-ft. office in the Airport Industrial Park of Orlando, doubling the size of its current Orlando facility. The privately owned company handles a line of plate, sheet, bar, tubing and pipe products.

AirTran Airways (NYSE-AAI) filed a federal lawsuit against the man who breached airport security at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport just before Thanksgiving. The airline says the resulting closure of the airport for much of the day cost AirTran more than $1 million.

Galaxy Nutritional Foods (AMEX-GXY) says Sbarro restaurants is expanding its use of Galaxy's Veggie Mozzarella cheese substitute to all 800 restaurants in the Italian eatery's chain. The cheese has also been used at Pizza Hut stores in Fort Wayne, Ind., with good results, the company says.

Cavu Inc. laid off about two-thirds of its staff when an anticipated infusion of $140 million in fresh venture capital failed to materialize when expected. The company reportedly cut 84 of its 120 employees, keeping enough on staff to service existing clients. The wireless internet service provider has nearly exhausted $74 million in venture capital. The company says it expects the new money to be invested soon and the layoffs would allow it to continue operating in the interim.

Orlando is the worst city in the nation for traffic fatalities. The city racked up 18.8 accidents involving drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians per 100,000, according to the Road Information Program, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit research group.

Planet Hollywood Chairman Robert Earl persuaded a bankruptcy judge to boost his salary from $200,000 to $300,000, then to $400,000, instead of the $600,000 a year he used to make, which he asked the judge to reinstate. The company is a fraction of its former size, operating 10 company-owned outlets with a headquarters staff of 27. The company still owes about $130 million to creditors. Separately, a lawyer for Landry's Seafood Restaurants Inc., one of the nation's largest seafood restaurant chains, says the company has been looking at buying the Planet Hollywood chain.

Correct Craft Inc. has struck a three-year deal for General Motors to become the title sponsor of the Masters Waterski and Wakeboard Tournament, which is owned by Correct Craft. The 2002 event will be held at Callaway Gardens in Georgia in late May.

SurgiLight Inc. (OTCBB-SRGL) has settled a patent-infringement lawsuit involving Presby Corp. of Dallas for an undisclosed sum. Under the terms of the agreement, SurgiLight will be able to continue clinical trials on the vision-correction laser system designed and patented by Presby to combat presbyopia, the farsightedness that begins afflicting many people at middle age. The settlement came a week before the case was to go to trial.

New York businessman Gilbert Feliciano filed a $500-million lawsuit against Universal Orlando, saying the Latin Quarter at CityWalk represented an idea he pitched to the company in 1996. Feliciano is represented by Stuart attorney Willie Gary, who won a $240-million judgment against Disney in a similar claim involving its Wide World of Sports complex.

Oviedo -- State regulators shot down applications by Orlando Regional Healthcare System Inc. and Florida Hospital to build a hospital in Oviedo. Regulators say there is enough unused hospital capacity in Seminole County without adding beds, despite the fact that the closest hospitals to fast-growing Oviedo are at least 20 minutes away.

Sanford -- Pan American Airways added two flights per day between Orlando Sanford International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International, bringing to seven the destinations served by Pan Am's Sanford hub.

Orlando Culinary Academy: On the Front Burner
A culinary academy with ties to Paris' famed Le Cordon Bleu -- internationally known for training great chefs since 1895 -- plans to open a teaching center in south Orlando. The Orlando Culinary Academy expects to open by next July in 52,000 square feet of office space leased at 8511 Commodity Circle in Orlando Central Park.

Ken Shore, the academy's president, says he hopes to have 850 to 900 students enrolled by 2004. The center will include a 100- to 150-seat restaurant, with students cooking and operating the fine-dining room in the latter stages of their training. The restaurant will serve a variety of cuisine, including French and American, Shore says.

Chefs from Le Cordon Bleu, one of the world's most famous schools of culinary art, will occasionally visit the Orlando academy to instruct students, Shore says. Students must complete 48 weeks of training and a 12-week internship before graduating.