Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Southwest Florida - Red tide, higher ed, transportation

Forecast: BANKING

Garrett Richter, President / CEO
First Florida Integrity Bank, Naples

“Our outlook at First Florida Integrity Bank in 2020 is positive. Economic indicators tell us that unemployment remains at an all-time low with continued job creation in the Southwest Florida market. Building permits on a per capita basis are positive. Tourism tax revenues continue to increase, and we remain a destination. We have strong loan demand and sense an upbeat attitude among our borrowers. The forward-looking challenge will be the geo-political challenges facing the country and the world. We are a divided nation, but we’re not alone. Many countries, United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, China, Venezuela and others, all face division. How we resolve our division will have an impact on our economic outlook. From a local standpoint, Southwest Florida will also be faced with environmental challenges with red tide. Failing this challenge will negatively impact tourism and new residents seeking Florida’s tax advantages.”


Syd Kitson, Chairman / CEO
Kitson & Partners

Kitson & Partners is developing Babcock Ranch, a solar-powered town created in Charlotte and Lee counties.

“Florida has enjoyed steady economic growth for 10 years — so we are certainly in the later stages of this cycle. But the combination of low taxes, a stable political environment, exceptional natural resources, an expanding and diversifying economy and the No. 1-ranked public university system in the nation are fueling a continued net population growth of almost a thousand people every day. That makes us cautiously hopeful that — barring any geo-political events outside our control — Babcock Ranch and other communities in Southwest Florida will continue a steady upward trend through 2020. We are also cautiously optimistic that when the downturn does arrive, it will be less dramatic than what we experienced in 2008. One reason for this view is Southwest Florida does not have an oversupply of homes and has avoided the over-exuberance and irresponsible lending practices that sparked the last market meltdown. At Babcock Ranch, we are preparing for the next slowdown by providing a full stratification of pricing and products — from apartments and single-family homes for first-time buyers to higher-priced estate homes and everything in between.”

Forecast: TRADE

Carlos Buqueras, Executive Director
Port Manatee, Palmetto

“Building upon another record year in 2019, Port Manatee anticipates sustained growth through 2020 and beyond. Not only did the port in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2019, top 10 million tons of total throughput for the first time in its 50-year history, but a year-over-year increase of nearly 50% was achieved for containerized cargo. Burgeoning cross-Gulf of Mexico service with Mexico of Port Manatee-based World Direct Shipping and Latin American banana and pineapple imports of longtime tenant Del Monte Fresh Produce are keys to dynamic container activity. At the same time, the port’s liquid bulk volume, including petroleum products and juice concentrates, remains on the upswing, and dry bulk activity is surging, too, powered by rising granite and limestone tonnage.”


Tony DiBenedetto, Founder / Former CEO
Tribridge, Tampa

“I tend to view the world through a tech lens. I think most of the companies I’m on the board of or I consult with, they are typically selling in a broad or global market. I do think those broad things that are happening with China and economic conditions in other countries, tend to have an impact. It feels like lots of things are pointing to a negative future, but we continue to outperform in the short term. And so it’s a little confusing, I think. I read the data and go: ‘Well, something bad seems like it’s coming’ — but I thought that a year ago. I’m comfortable with the short term. Obviously, the long term just seems uncertain to me. I’m concerned for all of my companies. Even though they serve different sectors, I think they’re affected by all the global indicators.”


Scott Curtis, President Private Client Group
Raymond James Financial, St. Petersburg

“There is a lot of money now flowing into shorter-term investment vehicles that offer yield but some certainty of principal. What we’ve seen, I would say, is a bit of a pullback in money flowing into investments that are more at risk. People are, I think, interested in a greater amount of certainty given economic uncertainty.”


Tim Bogott, CEO
TradeWinds Island Resort, Treasure Island

Bogott is overseeing the sale of the 800-room, 1,100-employee property to 1754 Properties for at least $81 million.

“In terms of the economy overall, there are a lot of positive signs right now — unemployment, etc. — and lots of concerning signs. It’s a mixed bag. What really does concern me, though, is we are 11 years into our recovery, so there’s this expectation that we have to have some sort of pullback, and I think that may be one of the most probable reasons that there will be some pull back. It’s just expectations.”

Researchers from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Eckerd College estimate there are about 4 billion particles of plastic floating in Tampa Bay. The tiny particles are typically fragments of larger plastic items, such as plastic bottles and bags, that are deteriorating after being discarded in the bay. Scientists are planning to study the impact the particles have on the health of fish, manatees and other marine life.

St. Petersburg’s Edge District, located west of downtown along Central Avenue, is getting a mixed-use project called the Edge Collective, which will include a 161-room Marriott Moxy hotel, a 16,500-sq.-ft. co-working space and a 12,000-sq.-ft. food hall. The project, being developed by PTM Partners of Miami, should be completed by 2022.

Tampa / Hillsborough County

Issues ...

  • Transportation Tax: In 2018, Hillsborough County voters approved a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements. The tax is expected to raise $280 million a year for road projects, with some of the money targeted to public transit and bike and pedestrian trails. But the tax has yet to gain traction amid legal challenges from opponents — including Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White — who say the tax is unconstitutional because it takes decision-making power away from the county commission. As the county awaits a final decision from the Florida Supreme Court, Tampa commuters got some good news about one of the city’s worst junctions, the maze of congested roads and ramps that connect the Howard Frankland Bridge, I-275, West Shore Boulevard, Tampa International Airport and the Veterans Expressway. Gov. Ron DeSantis committed $1.4 billion in state funds to help rebuild the West Shore interchange area.
  • New Leadership: In her first year on the job, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has created citizen advisory teams to help her address some of the city’s biggest challenges, including transportation, affordable housing, workforce development, sustainability and streamlining the city’s permitting process. The teams are made up of city staff as well as residents and illustrate Castor’s collaborative leadership style. Meanwhile, Tampa’s city council passed a hike in water and sewer rates that will generate some $2.9 billion to help the city pay for water and sewer line improvements.
  • Consolidating USF: Last summer, after replacing President Judy Genshaft, Steve Currall began creating a plan to consolidate the university’s three campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota/Manatee. After an initial proposal to shift much of the decision-making power to the main campus in Tampa was met with resistance from both students and faculty, Currall came up with a more popular proposal, allowing the regional chancellors of each campus to continue to oversee academic, budget and hiring decisions. Talks continue, with the final consolidation plan scheduled to be completed by this summer.

St. Petersburg / Pinellas County

Scott Curtis

  • Rays Win and Lose: Last season, the Tampa Bay Rays won 96 games, finishing second in the American League east division. All in all, it was a good year for a team with Major League Baseball’s lowest payroll of $53.5 million. Off the field, it’s a different story for the Rays, who drew only 1.1 million to St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, which ranked second-to-last in baseball, beating only the Miami Marlins’ 811,302. Mayor Rick Kriseman has rejected a radical plan by the Rays to split the home season between St. Petersburg and Montreal.
  • Ownership Watch: The future of Tech Data, a technology buyer and reseller that employs 2,000 people in Pinellas County and 14,000 worldwide, should come into better focus this year. The company, which is Florida’s second-largest and is ranked 88th on the Fortune 500 list of the nation’s biggest public companies, has a $6-billion buyout offer from Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm based in New York. Neither side will comment. Meanwhile, across the bay, Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands, which operates Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s and other restaurant chains, announced that it’s looking into putting itself up for sale.
  • Land Grab: The efforts to transform Clearwater’s sleepy downtown into a lively destination is making little progress. The city’s Imagine Clearwater plan, which would bring more restaurants, retail and a 4,000-seat amphitheater, envisions a walkable shopping and entertainment district with water views, but the plan is up against the reality that the Church of Scientology owns much of the area. During the last three years, in fact, members of the church — often at odds with city officials — have spent $103 million buying downtown real estate. Of 33 buildings along Cleveland Street, downtown’s main drag, 22 are connected to Scientologists.

Bradenton / Sarasota

Issues ...

  • Sarasota Bay: While they nixed a $92-million expansion plan for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, saying it was out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood, Sarasota officials have embraced another plan that aims to transform Sarasota’s bayfront, just a few miles away from Selby. Work is underway on The Bay, located west of Tamiami Trail along Sarasota Bay and by the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Plans call for waterfront walking trails, kayak launches, a natural shoreline, park space and a curving boardwalk built over Sarasota Bay.
  • Public Safety: In Manatee County, there were 601 opioid overdoses and 61 deaths during the first 10 months of last year, more than twice as many deaths compared to the same period in 2018. Meanwhile, opioid overdoses are up 20% in Sarasota county, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department.

Fort Myers / Naples

Issues ...

  • Red Tide Watch: After suffering through the last major outbreak of red tide, which lasted more than a year, Southwest Florida is on red tide watch again, as high concentrations of the fish-killing algae bloom were measured off Collier and Lee counties last fall.
  • Higher Ed: Florida Gulf Coast University is moving toward choosing a new executive vice president and provost, the university’s top academic officer. FGCU has had an interim provost since 2017 — James L. Llorens has the job now — but the 15,000-student university plans to hire a permanent provost by this summer. Ron Toll, who had been provost for eight years, was removed from the job three months after Mike Martin become FGCU’s president in 2017. Martin replaced former President Wilson Bradshaw, who retired. Martin says the next provost will play an important role, since the executive will likely be on the job after Martin, who is 72, retires.



  • Nuco Citrus has plans to purchase 193 acres in east DeSoto County, where it will process pectin from citrus peels and other leftovers from the juice-making process.


  • The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction in downtown St. Petersburg, had been scheduled to open last December, but museum officials now say the $90-million, 137,000-sq.-ft. facility won’t be ready until later this year. The museum will have 20,000 objects, including furniture, pottery, glass, tiles and arts and crafts lighting.
  • Charlotte County will host the 2020 USA BMX Sunshine State Nationals in October. The three-day event is expected to attract more than 600 riders.
  • During fiscal year 2018-19, 841,424 people visited the Florida Aquarium, 5% above the year before, and the highest since 1995, the aquarium’s opening year.


  • Tampa-based Oracle Elevator, which Jeff Vinik has a stake in, has purchased Miami-based Duncan Entrance Systems, which makes automated doors. Terms were not released.
  • The Naples Yacht Club, the oldest private club in Naples, has spent $10 million to renovate and expand its clubhouse.


  • Amid concerns over low salaries and few health and other benefits, adjunct faculty at St. Petersburg College have voted to unionize. The college employs 865 adjunct teachers.
  • To augment its STEM-focused curriculum, Florida Polytechnic University has created an applied liberal studies certificate to make sure students graduate with what the university calls the “soft skills” such as communication and social skills.


  • St. Petersburg-based Raymond James Financial is considering building a campus in Pasco County, where it filed a site plan that includes five office buildings on a 65-acre site near the Shops at Wiregrass mall.
  • The BRP Group, a Tampa-based insurance distribution firm, has become a public company.


  • The Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, located in Fort Myers, and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg have agreed to give providers at both hospitals privileges to admit and treat patients at either hospital. “Location should never be a barrier to finding the best health care for your child, and this relationship not only helps to expand care for young patients across the west coast of Florida, but also builds upon the pediatric research underway to find cures for childhood diseases,” says Thomas D. Kmetz, All Children’s president.
  • Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has created a training program to help law enforcement officers understand and better respond to emergencies involving people on the autism spectrum. The program is being funded by a $95,000 grant from the Cigna Foundation.
  • Tampa General Hospital has opened a 10,000-sq.-ft. diagnostic center in the rural Hillsborough County community of Wimauma. The center has an urgent care clinic, a primary care practice, diagnostic imaging facilities and a laboratory.
  • Moffitt Cancer Center is partnering with the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in Pinellas County and James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa to expand its clinical research to include veterans being treated at either of the Tampa Bay-area VA hospitals.


  • The Tampa Bay Wave’s 20th cohort includes nine early-stage tech companies, including Medzoomer, an on-demand prescription delivery service, and SoleVenture, which provides back-office support infrastructure for small businesses.
  • Meanwhile, seven Tampa Bay startups have been selected to be part of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s 2019 Accelerator cohort. Those companies include Bulk Nano, a composites and materials maker, and GIVVN, which uses artificial intelligence to help non-profits solicit donations.


  • The Cross-Bay Ferry has resumed service between the Tampa Convention Center and the St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Yacht Basin. The ferry is adding trips to accommodate Pinellas County residents wanting to take the ferry to attend Tampa Bay Lightning games.
  • Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport has a new cell phone parking lot, allowing motorists to park free as they wait to pick up arriving passengers.


  • A 40-story apartment building, to be called Seasons Apartments, has been proposed for a parcel near downtown Tampa. The tower would have 487 apartments. Meanwhile, a 27-story apartment tower, which would have 54 units, has been proposed nearby.
  • A proposal to build 90 homes on a 20-acre driving range site in Spring Hill was nixed after the Hernando County Commission refused to zone the land from recreation to residential.


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