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The Biz: An inside look at business newsmakers

Al Hoffman, right, founder and former CEO of WCI Communities, accompanies Navy Vice Adm. John Stufflebeem, commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, and former President George Bush while Hoffman was an ambassador in Portugal.

Special to the Times

Al Hoffman, right, founder and former CEO of WCI Communities, accompanies Navy Vice Adm. John Stufflebeem, commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, and former President George Bush while Hoffman was an ambassador in Portugal.

WCI founder forecasts post-election recovery for Florida housing

Al Hoffman is a founder and former chairman and CEO of WCI Communities, the luxury builder on Florida's Gulf Coast that recently declared bankruptcy. Hoffman was long gone by then. He is a two-time finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, former Jeb Bush finance chairman and a major GOP fundraiser who cut short his ambassadorship in Portugal to return to help John McCain in his pursuit of the White House. We recently caught up with Hoffman via e-mail in Fort Myers, where he now operates a business called Hoffman Partners. Here are some highlights of that exchange:

Are you still a major shareholder in WCI?

No; sold it all in '95.

Do you have any comment on the bankruptcy filing?

A shame, but necessary to get interest debt relief.

When do you think the real estate market in Florida will begin to improve?

Don't know, but it has to happen soon. Prices are now down to about replacement cost, and when that happens — as demonstrated in previous cycles — these become the clearing prices. The consumer realizes that there will not be any cheaper prices and starts to move. My prediction is that the housing industry will rebound with vigor right after the election.

Bay area stalwarts vie for Atlanta GM plant makeover

Two names familiar to the Tampa Bay development world are among the four finalists vying to redevelop the recently closed 165-acre Doraville General Motors assembly plant in suburban Atlanta. One is Hines Interests, which recently lost its bid to redevelop Tropicana Field. The other is St. Petersburg-based Sembler Co., a prolific shopping center developer that's making a name for itself with mixed-use projects and fell short in a bid to redevelop Toytown landfill for Pinellas County. "We're excited," said Greg Sembler, chief executive officer. "GM is one of the last big pieces in the middle" of metro Atlanta.

Expect another wild time in court for Joe Francis

As founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" franchise, Joe Francis has often been accused of duping women into doing things they wish they had not, especially baring their breasts in front of a video camera. This time, it is Francis who says he was fooled — not by a cameraman, but by his accountant. The veracity of his claim is likely to be decided in September, reports the New York Times, when Francis will be tried in Los Angeles on federal charges that he deducted $20-million in fraudulent expenses on the corporate tax returns filed by his company, Mantra Films Inc. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. Even if he is acquitted, the IRS could still seek back taxes, plus penalties and interest. Francis recently spent 11 months in jail on charges originally arising from filming girls younger than 18 without their clothes in Florida. Last week, he said he was filing suit to rescind a settlement agreement reached with three girls after he was jailed by the federal judge in Florida.

Times Staff Writer

The Biz: An inside look at business newsmakers 08/23/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 24, 2008 9:55am]
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