Bottom line: a tepid year for business

Construction carries on at the Trinity Town Center in September. Restaurants and shops were to open in 2008, but other than a gift shop, a bank and a Raymond James office, nothing is ready. The developer faces millions of dollars in liens.

Times files

Construction carries on at the Trinity Town Center in September. Restaurants and shops were to open in 2008, but other than a gift shop, a bank and a Raymond James office, nothing is ready. The developer faces millions of dollars in liens.

Not a whole lot of businesses, including those in Pasco County, will cherish memories of 2008.

More bad news from the real estate world, high fuel costs for most of the year, reduced consumer spending: Most of it hurt the bottom line for anyone from major retailers to local restaurateurs.

Much of the new retail in 2008 was in central Pasco. West Pasco saw a couple of big openings in 2008, including a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Bayonet Point and Kelly Volkswagen, the only Volkswagen dealership on the North Suncoast, in Holiday.

On the industrial and office front, the Pasco Economic Development Council reported seven new projects in 2008 totaling about 150,800 square feet and $24.3-million in capital investment. Six companies expanded, adding another $43.9-million in investment.

But the brightest spot for those pushing for industries that would bring higher paying jobs to the county? The possibility that T. Rowe Price is on its way.

In November, Pasco County commissioners approved their half of a $14.5-million package of county and state incentives to lure the Baltimore-based investment firm to Land O'Lakes.

T. Rowe Price is considering moving its 435 Tampa employees to Pasco in 2012. Up to 1,215 jobs would be created as the company expands.

If the move happens, county taxpayers would cover up to $2.6-million in impact fees on new construction and permits for up to three 150,000-square-foot buildings in the Long Lake Ranch development, off State Road 54 east of the Suncoast Parkway. The remaining incentives include matching shares for the state incentives, and a $2.5-million cash payment.

Florida officials are finishing the state's share of the offer, which includes at least $6.9-million in road construction money and tax refunds.

Meanwhile, over in Trinity, the $60-million project hailed as the area's "Main Street" ran into major problems in 2008.

Dozens of subcontractors filed millions of dollars in liens against the project, saying the Trinity Town Center developer had not paid their bills.

It turned out that Bill Planes, the man behind Trinity Town Center, had financial disputes over the years, including on projects in Pinellas County. He also served time in federal prison in the mid 1980s for embezzling money from a Hollywood, Fla., mortgage company.

Planes and his lieutenants had said the upscale restaurants and shops at Trinity Town Center would open in 2008. So far, the development has only a gift shop called Halles, an Old Harbor Bank and Raymond James Financial office. Nothing else is ready, and some tenants are trying to get out of their leases.

In the stranger real estate news of 2008, a shadowy group calling itself the 818 Land Trust tried to make a buck in a controversial way: It bought tax deeds to three properties then asked nearby residents to pay inflated prices or risk unappealing prospects, including turning a Zephyrhills road into a drag strip and an Aloha Gardens property into a homeless encampment.

Only one group of neighbors — those in Zephyrhills, who feared they might lose control of the road to their homes — decided the price was right. They paid $4,000 for the land trust to get lost.

The land trust, whose anonymous members — or member? — speak only on the phone through a relay operator, marketed 818 Land Trust hats and T-shirts on its Web site for a while. Now the Web site has disappeared.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Bottom line: a tepid year for business 12/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 4:49pm]

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