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Trigaux: On new Forbes 400 list of U.S. billionaires, 35 now call Florida their home

By Robert Trigaux
Edward DeBartolo, Jr., shopping center developer and former San Francisco 49ers Owner, posed with his bronze bust last year during the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in Canton, Ohio. DeBartolo remains the wealthiest person in Tampa Bay according to the Forbes 400 list released Tuesday. [Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images]

The latest Forbes 400 richest people in America was unveiled Tuesday, with 35 billionaires on that list calling Florida home. That’s actually down from 40 Florida billionaires listed last year when a full 10 percent listed declared they were Floridians by residence.

No surprise — given the soaring stock market with today’s Dow briefly topping 23,000 Tuesday — most billionaires got richer in the past year. Florida‘s richest billionaire, Thomas Peterffy of Palm Beach, saw his net worth top $15 billion this year, rising more than $2.5 billion in just the past year.

In the process, making the Forbes 400 in the first place got even tougher. Says Forbes: "It was another record year for the wealthiest people in America, as the price of admission to the country’s most exclusive club jumped nearly 18 percent to $2 billion."

For the 24th year in a row, Bill Gates topped the Forbes 400 with $89 billion, followed by fast-rising Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with $81.5 billion.

Twenty-two newcomers made the list. As Forbes noted, the most notable loser was President Donald Trump, whose fortune fell $600 million to $3.1 billion. That knocked him down from No. 156 a year ago to No. 248 now.

LAST YEAR’S COVERAGE: Among Forbes 400 billionaires, Florida gaining favor as a place to call home.

Tampa Bay’s billionaire roster remained steady but modest at four residents.

Two Tampa billionaires made the list, including shopping center developer Edward DeBartolo Jr., 70, with $2.8 billion, and Feld Entertainment chairman Kenneth Feld, 68, with $2.5 billion. DeBartolo’s wealth dropped from an estimated $3.2 billion on last year’s Forbes list. Feld’s wealth also slipped from last year’s $2.7 billion.

St. Petersburg’s Ashley Furniture magnate, Ron Wanek, and Clearwater’s Vogue hair products executive, Todd Christopher, are listed this year with $2.1 billion apiece. Wanek was listed last year with the same amount while Christopher, new to the list in 2016, is up slightly from an even $2 billion.

If Florida boasted 40 of the Forbes 400 billionaires last year and only 35 this year, where are the missing five?

They are no longer residents of Florida. Or their wealth dropped below the threshold to qualify as one of the 400 riches in America. Or, possible but unlikely, Forbes missed some who should be on their own list.

The five Florida billionaires listed last year who are not on this year’s list include:

• Wilbur Ross, who is now Secretary of Commerce in the Trump administration, reported a decline of $1 billion and fell off the list.

• Eddie Lampert, a Miami Beach hedge fund manager, bet big on Sears and has lost billions in the process. He’s still rich with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion. But that’s no longer enough to make the Forbes 400.

• Robert Duggan, an entrepreneur who sold a pharmaceutical business for billions, last year landed in Clearwater and on the Forbes list for the first time. He has given hundreds of millions of dollars to the Church of Scientology and is not listed on the Forbes 400 this year.

• Bharat Desai and his wife, Neerja Sethi Desai, made last year’s Florida list as residents of elite Fisher Island in South Florida. Neither are on this year’s list, presumably because their wealth — tied closely to their IT company Syntel — has dropped below that required to make the cut-off.

• Carol Jenkins Barnett, daughter of Publix Super Markets founder George W. Jenkins, was listed at No. 395 on last year’s Forbes 400 and likely failed to make the minimum wealth requirement of this year’s list.

Fear not. Barnett and others are not alone. A record 169 billionaires were too "poor" — think, perhaps, of Tom James of Raymond James Financial or possibly Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik — to make the cut in 2017.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.com.