Make us your home page
Instagram

Second suitor woos U.S. Sugar

A Nashville company is trying to buy out U.S. Sugar before the state can get its hands on the land, but for far less than what Gov. Charlie Crist is willing to pay.

The Lawrence Group says it would be happy to sell the state whatever land it needs for restoring the Everglades — and meanwhile keep on operating U.S. Sugar for years to come.

The offer threw a new wrinkle into negotiations for the state's buyout of the nation's largest sugar company, a process that has already had more twists than a pretzel.

The Lawrence Group, which ranks among the country's largest owners of farmland, announced Thursday that it wants to buy U.S. Sugar by offering shareholders a bid of $300 per share — cash.

That translates to about $588-million, far less than the $1.34-billion that Crist announced last week that the state is prepared to pay for 181,000 acres of sugar land to use for Everglades restoration.

But in its appeal to the shareholders, the Lawrence Group contended its offer was better than the state's because it's in cash and it's immediate. The state buyout wouldn't happen for at least seven years and could be deferred longer.

Shareholders could put that $300 per share into investment-grade corporate bonds, the company contended, and it would yield more than $500 per share seven years from now. The state's offer would equal only $365 a share by 2016, the company said.

Although the Lawrence Group did not say just how much land it would resell to the state for the Everglades, a letter to state officials said, "Our offer contemplates selling you the land needed to accomplish this worthy undertaking at a huge savings to the taxpayers when compared to the current U.S. Sugar proposal."

In a carefully worded statement, U.S. Sugar vice president Bob Coker said that, technically, the Lawrence Group hasn't put an actual offer on the table, but simply expressed interest in buying the company. The sugar company's board will now "request the Lawrence Group to provide specific details to enable it to evaluate the proposal," he said.

State officials were being equally circumspect, even though they have known for a month that the Lawrence Group was interested in beating them at their own game.

The South Florida Water Management District, the state agency in charge of the buyout, met a month ago with Lawrence Group representatives, according to spokesman Gabe Margasak, but the state agency is "not involved in any discussions between U.S. Sugar and the Lawrence Group."

Sugar farming south of Lake Okeechobee has long been considered a major obstacle to the $10-billion plan for restoring the Everglades. Restoring the long-lost link between the lake and Everglades National Park seemed impossible as long as sugar cane grew there.

Then environmental groups sued to challenge the sugar companies' practice of back-pumping farm runoff containing phosphorus, pesticides and other chemicals into the lake. After a judge ruled for the environmental groups, the water district board voted in August 2007 to end the practice.

U.S. Sugar dispatched lobbyists to ask Crist for help. Instead, he proposed the state buy all the company's assets: 187,000 acres of land, plus its sugar mill, citrus operation and railroad.

When he announced the proposed buyout in June, Crist won raves from environmental groups. But his proposal ran into a wall of criticism from lawmakers concerned about the loss of jobs for the sugar company's 1,700 employees. Meanwhile, the Wall Street meltdown put the squeeze on the state's ability to borrow the $1.75-billion that had been set as the top amount the state would pay.

So last week Crist announced a new deal in which the state would pay $1.34-billion to acquire 181,000 acres, leaving the rest in operation. A day later, though, the state's financial adviser said the land alone is worth only $930-million — a judgment that sugar company officials have sharply questioned.

The Lawrence Group has tried before to buy U.S. Sugar. Headed by Gaylon Lawrence Sr. and son Gaylon Lawrence Jr., the company offered U.S. Sugar $293 a share. Both bids, one in 2005 and again in 2007, were rejected by the company's board.

So this time the company went straight to the shareholders with its offer. While its letters lacked some crucial details, the company promised it would continue operating U.S. Sugar "as a going concern for years to come."

Second suitor woos U.S. Sugar 11/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 3:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa International Airport morphing into a mini-city unto itself

    Airlines

    TAMPA — By the end of the 2026, Joe Lopano wants Tampa International Airport to function as its own little city.

    Artist rendering of phase two of the $1 billion construction expansion of Tampa International Airport. The airport is transforming 17 acres of airport property that will include at least one hotel, retail and office space and a gas station, among other things.
[Courtesy of Tampa International Airport]
  2. Lost Highway: As FHP struggles to recruit, speeding tickets plummet

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The number of speeding tickets written by Florida state troopers has plunged three straight years as the agency grapples with a personnel shortage and high turnover.

    A Florida Highway Patrol Academy class in the late 1980s. Typically, graduating classes had about 80 recruits. But the most recent class has less than half that as the agency continues to struggle to fill vacancies. [

Florida: Highway Patrol]
  3. Kidpreneurs — and adults — capitalize on gooey, squishy Slime craze

    Retail

    Aletheia Venator and Berlyn Perdomo demonstrate the stretchiness of their slime. - Berlyn Perdomo and her friend, Aletheia Venator, both 13, make and sell slime which can be seen on their instagram site @the.real.slimeshadyy [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  4. The last farmer of Florida's prized Zellwood corn is thinking of packing it in

    Consumer

    MOUNT DORA — Hank Scott steps out of his pickup between the long rows and snaps off an ear that grows about bellybutton-high on the forehead-high stalks.

    Hank Scott, co-owner of Long and Scott Farms, shucks an ear of corn on the farm in Mount Dora, Fla., on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The farm specializes in Scott's Zellwood Triple-Sweet Gourmet Corn. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  5. Law firm's Russia ties prove nothing about Trump

    Business

    The statement

    "Law firm @POTUS used to show he has no ties to Russia was named Russia Law Firm of the Year for their extensive ties to Russia. Unreal."

    Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., stands during a media availability on Capitol Hill, Monday, June 20, 2016 in Washington. A divided Senate blocked rival election-year plans to curb guns on Monday, eight days after the horror of Orlando's mass shooting intensified pressure on lawmakers to act but knotted them in gridlock anyway — even over restricting firearms for terrorists. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)