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In all corners of Florida, economic tales span the spectrum

Four snapshots of Florida's changing economic culture, from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach, and from the Panhandle to Miami.

4. In St. Petersburg, the groundwork for a new home for a University of South Florida business school is finally in the works. It looks like a site, a likely design and at least initial funding are coming together. The school rented space near campus for years, then planned to claim the old Salvador Dalí museum building. That didn't happen, so the college became a business school without a home. Now a new on-campus building is planned — despite the state gutting university funding — with help from private fundraising. A Sept. 20 fundraiser to honor longtime supporter Gus Stavros will get the dough rolling for USF St. Petersburg College of Business dean Maling Ebrahimpour, staff and students.

3. In Daytona Beach vs. Tampa, some headquarters are more equal than others. Fast-growing insurance firm Brown & Brown has always insisted it had dual east and west coast Florida headquarters. That stemmed in part from the company's past merger with Bill Poe's Tampa insurance business, back when the company was called Poe & Brown. Now the company's called Brown & Brown. And company chief and east coasters Hyatt Brown and wife Cici just decided to donate the Brown Collection of Florida Art, along with $13 million for a new building, to the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach. The collection of 2,000-plus oil and watercolor paintings, says Daytona Beach's News-Journal, is "arguably the most important and valuable collection of Florida-based art in the world." Too bad the Tampa HQ lacked the clout to attract such a remarkable addition to Tampa Bay's fine arts scene.

2. On the Panhandle, a giant developer rethinks its strategy. Still boasting more than 500,000 acres of Florida land, Panhandle-based St. Joe Co.'s upscale projects of secondary homes were bludgeoned by the economic recession and the housing bubble. The company's stock that once traded at over $50 a share now hovers under $17. The company's major investor and now chairman, Bruce Berko­witz, brought in new managers led by CEO Park Brady and a host of more recent executives. At St. Joe's annual meeting this month, Brady said the company needs more time to get where it wants to go. But he still sees the Panhandle getting its share of the 50 million people planning to retire in the next 30 years. Look for St. Joe to focus more on first (not second) homes and development of Port St. Joe as more of a commercial shipping enterprise than residential village.

1. In Miami, South Florida's about to get its own Bonfire tale. Master satirist Tom Wolfe both impaled and thrilled Wall Street in his 1980s' "masters of the universe" novel called Bonfire of the Vanities. And he skewered the Atlanta real estate barons in the 1990s with his novel A Man in Full — a book whose scene of bankers squeezing an overstretched developer behind on his loans is legendary. Now it's Miami's turn. Wolfe's prowling Miami with the help of Miami Herald journalist and translator Oscar Corral, who has filmed a documentary of Wolfe as he researches his next book.

To suffer the Wolfe's bite? Now Miami really has made it.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

In all corners of Florida, economic tales span the spectrum 05/28/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 8:44pm]

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