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Robert Trigaux

Florida's growing nightmare: Crumbling foreclosures in legal limbo, ignored by banks


Want to live next door? A house in FishHawk Ranch in Lithia stands vacant and in disrepair, with open windows and a rancid pool. The home's been vacant for a year and went into foreclosure in 2008. But no auction has gone forward. (Tampa Bay Times photo: Daniel Wallace.)

Wake up and good morning. Two major Florida newspapers this past weekend point out that banks increasingly are repeatedly canceling the sales of foreclosed homes on the courthouse steps and, by so doing, are ignoring the upkeep on those properties for months if not years. The result? Deteriorating homes across Florida neighborhoods, devaluing properties and eroding Floridians' already taxed confidence.

Tampa Bay Times real estate reporter Mark Puente chronicled the plight in this region with this story of growing eyesores in FishHawk Ranch. Writes Puente: "The houses sit idle as banks have been slow to seize them in the final stage of the foreclosure process, the public auction." Read more here. …

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Once financial bane to MarineMax, Florida economy now fuels boat retailer recovery


It's been nearly two years since MarineMax shares have topped $11. Is this brief euphoria from the company's earnings this week or a sign that the casual boating industry in Florida is finally showing signs of life?

mikemclambcfomarinemax.jpgWake up and good morning. Here's a comment from the chief financial officer of Clearwater-based MarineMax, the recreational boat retailing giant, that should warm your heart. CFO Mike McLamb (left) remarked to analysts Thursday about the economic state of Florida, which has been a long, long drag on MarineMax's recovery:

"Florida has been becoming an assets for us again for the last several quarters. And I would say that we had stronger growth out of Florida incrementally than we did out of the rest of the country."

williammcgillceomarinemax.jpgWith comments like that and MarineMax's improved quarterly earnings report Thursday -- where same-store sales rose 26 percent -- no wonder MarineMax's shares (ticker HZO) jumped nearly 25 percent yesterday. Will it last? "This year," admits company CEO Bill McGill (right), "has been more fun than what has been in previous years." …

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St. Petersburg company hits No. 3 in ranking of fastest-growing, woman-led businesses

rhondashear.jpgWake up and good morning. St. Petersburg's intimate apparel retailer and wholesaler, Shear Enterprises Inc., ranks No. 3 nationwide in an annual nationwide listing of the 50 fastest growing women-led companies. The ranking, which will be made public shortly, cites executive Rhonda Shear (left), for founding the business in 2003 and achieving $73 million in revenues in 2011. The ranking are done annually by the Women Presidents' Organization, a global membership group based in New York, that will announce the complete list at its annual conference this week. The top ten names, including Shear, are reported in the Wall Street Journal here. To be eligible, companies must be private held, women-owned or led, and generated at least $500,000 in revenue in 2007 and at least $2 million in 2011, among other criteria. The Journal reports that 350 companies competed in the rankings. …

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Thanks to boom of ex-Outbackers, restaurant start-ups are awesomely blossoming here

Wake up and good morning. The alumni of the Outback Steakhouse empire just can seem to get restaurants start-ups out of their system. That's good for Tampa Bay and our taste buds. Let's catch up with those from the Outback crew of old are out there launching new restaurant concepts.

redelephantcafecarl_sahlsteinexcarrabbasskiporourke.jpgFirst up is the Red Elephant Cafe, which opens in South Tampa next week under the eye of by ex-Carrabba's Italian Grill chief Carl Sahlsten (left).The 8-store chain was founded by former Tallahassee Outback store manager John Schrowang. This version, opening Monday at 111 S. Dale Mabry in Tampa, is the first "fast-casual" version with half the space (80 seats) and half the start-up costs. Read more by Tampa Bay Times staff writer Mark Albright here. (Photo by Skip O'Rourke of the Tampa Bay Times.) …

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When it comes to potential mortgage fraud, Hillsborough County - alas - is tops


Maybe it's time for less talk and more action against high rates of mortgage fraud in the Tampa Bay area? (AP photo.)

Wake up and good morning. Florida and Tampa Bay are hardly strangers to mortgage fraud. But the latest federal report on mortgage fraud suggests Hillsborough County leads the way nationwide in potential mortgage fraud, a disturbing No. 1 status given the hype and promise from mortgage fraud "task forces" that claim to be cracking down locally.

The data, out this week from the U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, says Hillsborough County was tops on a per capita basis (but 8th in total volume) among larger counties in the United States for mortgage loan fraud (MLF) suspicious activity reports (SARs) in the fourth quarter of 2011. That's the latest data available from the feds.

SARs are funny things. Suspicious activity reports do not mean a crime was actually committed but that banks and lenders filed SAR reports indicating a suspicion of fraud of someone seeking a mortgage. Ranked per capita, Hillsborough County ranked No. 1 for the fourth quarter of 2011 and 8th for all of 2011. …

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Best and worst of the big banks trying to serve Floridians: Bank of America woes


Nationwide and in Florida, Bank of America ranks well below average and often last among big banks in customer satisfaction. What is the bank really doing about that? (AP photo.)

Wake up and good morning. Whether it's from excessive account fees or sloppy if not downright fraudulent foreclosure processing, banks have been taking bad publicity for years now. The good news is J.D. Power recently looked at banks and surveyed their customers to see if some banks seem to be doing a better jobs than others. Here's the J.D. Power survey.

In Florida, according to J.D. Power's recent retail satisfaction survey, the best bank (surveying bigger banks only) out there is PNC. And the worst.... wait for it.... come on, you know what it will be... is Bank of America. Also getting sub par ratings is Wells Fargo (which took over Wachovia not long ago).

The sad message is that Bank of America and Wells Fargo -- the two biggest banks operating in Florida -- are the worst ranked, suggesting greater familiarity breeds greater customer dissatisfaction. Well done, banking industry! …

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Questions, questions: Who will buy Trib? Who bought Knology? A 'Tampa' name in St. Pete?


For debt-strapped Media General, parent of the Tampa Tribune, it's been an especially rough stock ride these past five years. Most newspaper companies are under pressure.

Wake up and good morning. Five things you should know to start your Tampa Bay business day.

5. Anybody want to bid to buy the Tampa Tribune? Somebody's going to buy the paper which has been slashing staff (165 in the last round) to reduce costs and, as an optimistic Trib publisher Bill Barker told his own newspaper said Wednesday, things should only improve. Parent company Media General on Wednesday said it lost a whopping $34 million in the first quarter and is looking for ways to trim a heavy $658 million debt load. Read more from the company-owned Richmond Times-Dispatch. Media General said it's receiving "numerous inquiries" for its newspapers, either in bulk or individually. Stay tuned. …

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Housing buzz: Rising short sales, below-cost appraisals and a chance for another bubble


Are we building too many new homes if so many are appraised for less than the cost of constructing them? Photo: Maurice Rivenbark, Tampa Bay Times

Wake up and good morning. Some mixed signals on the housing front. Feels like one step forward and one step back, But you decide.

The Good News: The number of U.S. home short sales surpassed foreclosure deals for the first time as banks became more agreeable to selling houses for less than the amount owed on their mortgages. So says a report from Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services as reported here by Bloomberg News. That signals new flexibility by banks -- including a greater willingness to take a financial hit --  and assures swifter resolution of housing problems. …

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10 things you ought to know about Tampa Bay, Florida business scene today

Wake up and good morning. It's a big news buffet today, so here are 10 things to know about Tampa Bay and Florida business this morning.

10. More than 4,000 people have applied so far for 400 positions opening at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Read more in the Tampa Tribune here and the Tampa Bay Times video report here.

9. Gambling interests that wanted Las Vegas-style destination gambling in South Florida but could not get it through the Florida Legislature are now trying to take their pitch directly to Florida voters with a "New Jobs and Revenue for Florida" campaign, says the South Florida Sun Sentinel here.

8. Adding insult to injury, Spain wants treasure hunters Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa to pay about $4 million in legal costs in the court fight that resulted in Spain recovering the rich treasures Odyssey unearthed from the Black Swan shipwreck. Not amused, Odyssey argues here that's going over the legal line. …

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Clearwater tech investor Satish Sanan puts famous Ocala horse farm Padua Stables up for auction


Interested in a little ol' horse farm? Ocala's Padua Stables is up for auction by a former Clearwater tech entrepreneur.

satishsananimrglobalpaduastablespstimesphoto.jpgWake up and good morning. Satish Sanan, the tech entrepreneur turned face horse breeder, made a fortune building then selling the IMR Global computer outsourcing business in Clearwater in the 1990s and early 2000s. Now he is putting his famous Ocala horse farm -- Padua Stables -- up for auction on May 31. The property has been on the traditional real estate market for three years.

According to the Ocala Star Banner, Sanan (left, who lives in Clearwater) poured millions into the 760-acre facility in the 1990s but decided in 2007 that the Florida market could not sustain the commercial side of the racehorse breeding market and moved his operation to Kentucky. Satish and Anne Sanan purchased in 1998 what was then called Silverleaf Farm in Ocala for $7.5 million and expanded its facilities. In 2007, just as the recession arrived, the property was listed at $35 million but the price was later reduced to $24.9 million. …

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Tampa Best Buy to close, latest victim of retail chain's financial, management woes



Best Buy shares have dropped by more than 50 percent in the past two years.

Wake up and good morning. Been a rough week for the Best Buy retail chain. Not only did its CEO resign for matters of personal conduct (read more here) but the company also just identified the 50 Best Buys of its 1,100 stores it will close.

Two are in Florida and one is in Tampa Bay. That one is the Oldsmar Best Buy at 11655 W. Hillsborough. The other store in Florida is in Fort Myers. Most of the stores will close in May. Here is the Wall Street Journal's list of all 50 to close.

"This was not an easy decision to make," Best Buy says in a news release. "We chose these stores carefully." The company says it will try to place its affected workers elsewhere in Best Buy or provide a severance package. Best Buy operates nearly two dozen big box or mobile stores in the greater Tampa Bay area.

Want more detail on what's happened to Best Buy? Check out the Minneapolis Star Tribune coverage of its CEO Brian Dunn and, of special interest, reported concerns of corporate nepotism and too cozy business ties with founder and chairman Richard Schulze and his family.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

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Florida lags many states in knowing whether its tax incentives for jobs are effective: study


Florida Gov. Rick Scott, armed with $3 million in state incentives, in September 2011 welcomed Time Warner and its decision to bring 500 jobs in five years to Hillsborough County. AP photo.

Wake up and good morning. Florida talks a good game about being on the cutting edge and recruiting new businesses, but it lags terribly behind other states that demand accountability about all those tax dollars handed out as business incentives. So says a report out this week from the Pew Center on the States that found Florida is the largest among 25 states that has "not taken the basic steps needed to know whether their incentives are effective."

 I know. This is an old story. Plenty of stories already have ripped Florida government for its shoddy oversight for handing over incentives to businesses that make specific promises to bring jobs (often jobs that are supposed to pay specific, above average wages) but are never checked for meeting those goals. …

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After hitting 2010 bottom and despite $4 gas, visitors on upswing in Tampa/Hillsborough


Tampa's skyline as the city prepares for the high stakes hosting of the Republican National Convention in just four more months.
(Photo: Dirk Shadd, Tampa Bay Times.)

Wake up and good morning. After five straight years of declines, visitor activity in Tampa and Hillsborough County in 2011 got a slight bounce off its bottom in 2010. Visitors numbered 14.49 million last year in Tampa/Hillsborough, up from the low of 13.93 in 2010 after hitting a recent peak of 17.88 million in 2005 prior to the recession.

mark-bonn_floridastatetourism.A visitor update was presented Tuesday to the Tampa Bay & Co. tourism agency by Florida State University professor Mark Bonn. He (photo, right) predicts increasing numbers of visitors in 2012. Here's more of his research  (click on "2011 Research Presentation). …

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Metro branding, USF Poly folly, gobs of lobster: 3 Florida matters to know today

jacksonvillelogisticssign.jpgWake up and good morning. Every metro area strives -- often vaguely -- to give itself an identity that resonates with its residents and hopefully those that visit there. Tampa Bay's still working on that regional theme. Tampa's trying to present itself as the business capital of this area. St. Petersburg's trying to be more art and culture driven. Clearwater's got the beach and, well, let's say the rest is yet to be determined.

Now comes Jacksonville that's so sure of its identity that it's been posting it on area interstate road signs for the past three years. America's Logistics Center. Zippy it is not. Sexy it is not. I hesitate to ask people on the street what "logistics" even means. It's not a broadly used word. But Jacksonville's chamber of commerce went with it anyway, and the University of North Florida says people are drawn to its logistics programs. If Tampa followed suit it would post signs saying "Third Party Customer Service Management Capital" for its call center cluster. Snappy, eh? Read more in the Jacksonville newspaper story here. Keep trying.

** …

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Outback Steakhouse parent now known as Bloomin' Brands seeks $300 million IPO

bloominbrandslogo.jpgBloomin' Brands, the name of the Tampa parent of the Outback Steakhouse restaurant and such other chains as Carrabba's Italian Grill and Bonefish Grill, said it will seek to raise $300 million in an initial public offering the company says will be used to pay down part of its $2.1 billion in highly leveraged debt. The restaurant company, founded by Chris Sullivan, 64, Bob Basham, 64, and Tim Gannon, was public but then went private in 2010 in a $3.2 billion takeover by Bain Capital (yes, Mitt Romney's old firm), Catterton Management and Outback's founders.

Now it's going public again, according to a prospectus just out by the company. The prospectus basically says the company, under recent CEO Liz Smith, 48, is busy remodeling the aging Outback chain look with an emphasis on foreign expansion, testing new looks for Carrabba's and sees the potential to double the size of the Bonefish Grill chain. …

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