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Susan Taylor Martin, Times Staff Writer

Susan Taylor Martin

For someone who doesn't particularly care to fly, Tampa Bay Times senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin has logged a lot of hours in the air — in the past decade she has traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and China. She covered the invasion of Iraq, the war in Kosovo and the war against terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan. On 9/11, she and two other Times staffers got in Martin's aging car and drove 24 hours nonstop from Tampa Bay to New York City, her hometown. Among the other breaking stories Susan has covered were the death and funeral of Princess Diana, the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein and the handover of Hong Kong to China. There have been lighter moments, too. Martin has written about a restaurant in Jerusalem dedicated to Elvis Presley's memory; a Scottish hamlet that finally got TV and hated it; and the gay and transvestite scene in Turkey, a conservative Muslim country. Her hobbies include figure skating, antiquing, flea-marketing, and rooting for the Blue Devils basketball team of Duke University (her alma mater).

Martin has won numerous state and national journalism awards, including the 2007 Paul Hansell Award presented by the Florida Society of News Editors for distinguished writing and reporting.

Phone: (727) 893-8642

Email: susan@tampabay.com

Blog: Hot Spots

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  1. Convicted robber who took over Venetian Isles home arrested

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — One thing you can say about Patrick "Pastor'' Banks — he shows up for court.

    That proved his downfall, however, when he was arrested inside a Pinellas County courtroom Thursday on fraud charges stemming from his recent takeover of a $700,000 bayfront Venetian Isles home and another house that he was collecting rent on.

    Banks had gone to court that morning for a pre-trail hearing on a pending, unrelated fraud charge from 2013. Expecting he would be there, St. Petersburg Police detective Nancy Pillucere was in the courtroom, too. She arrested Banks on the new charges after the hearing, during which he claimed he had no assets and couldn't afford an attorney. ...

    "Pastor" Patrick Jay Banks has been arrested on fraud charges in connection with the take-over of this bayfront home in Venetian Isles in St. Petersburg. SCOTT  KEELER | TIMES
  2. Police investigating multiple complaints about convicted robber who took over bayfront home

    Real Estate

    St. Petersburg police said Friday they are investigating "multiple incidents'' involving convicted felon Patrick Jay Banks, a day after a Tampa Bay Times story tied him to a suspicious land deal on a bayfront home in Venetian Isles.

    "Our economic crimes unit is looking into his activity,'' police spokesman Michael Puetz said Friday.

    Police were unaware of the Venetian Isles case before the story appeared, Puetz said, but already were investigating "similar complaints'' involving other transactions....

    Banks claims that he is in control of about 18 homes, according to one of his tenants.
  3. Tampa Bay home sales up, but prices plunge

    Real Estate

    Sales of single-family homes in the Tampa Bay area rose in the three months ended in September, but don't go looking to take the Grand Tour of Europe on the proceeds.

    Of the state's 20 metropolitan statistical areas, only three had a lower median sales price than Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, the trade group Florida Realtors reported Thursday.

    While Tampa Bay sales rose 4.4 percent over the same period a year ago, the median price of $145,000 was 9.3 percent lower....

  4. Convicted robber and forger takes over Venetian Isles bayfront home

    Real Estate

    To neighbors, it seemed odd that the bayfront home in St. Petersburg's upscale Venetian Isles had been vacant for more than two years.

    But that was nothing compared to a series of peculiar real estate transactions that began Aug. 23.

    That's when the owners, a married couple, deeded the house to a company called B.I.G — Believe in God — Real Estate Holdings.

    On Sept. 15, it deeded the house to Famous Properties Inc. of St. Petersburg. The same day, a man named P. Jay Banks got power of attorney to handle all matters involving the 2,500-square-foot home. ...

    Boyd Rhodes, a lawyer in Memphis, supposedly notarized this power of attorney form giving Patrick Jay Banks control of a St. Petersburg house. Rhodes called it an “obvious fabrication.”
  5. Taste test of new McCafe pastries

    Retail

    CLEARWATER — Will McDonald's customers take to a new line of muffins, pastries and mini bunt cakes being test-marketed at a just-opened store at 2871 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd.?

    Yes, judging from the reaction of customers like Jason Hellwege and Melissa Diaz.

    Shortly before 8 a.m. Friday, on the store's second day of business, Hellwege stepped up to the separate McCafé counter and bought a blueberry muffin and Mocha Frappe. He pronounced both "excellent," commenting that the muffin was better and less sugary than the Dunkin' Donuts version and that the frappe, while chocolate-y, wasn't overwhelmingly so. ...

  6. Tampa's laser hair removal company Ideal Image having an image problem

    Business

    Ideal Image Development, a Tampa company that calls itself an "industry leader" in laser hair removal, is being nicked on two flanks — by an aggressive competitor and by the consumer columnist of one of the nation's largest newspapers.

    In a new lawsuit, Ideal Image says it has been the target of "false and/or misleading" statements by a New York-based rival that claims to be better, cheaper and faster in removing unwanted hair....

    Bruce Fabel, Ideal Image’s CEO, blamed negative reviews on one disgruntled employee.
  7. Clearwater McDonald's nation's first with a McCafé for coffee drinkers

    Business

    CLEARWATER

    While working for a Los Angeles bank in the 1980s, Juan Vazquez put together a commercial lending program for McDonald's restaurant owners. He liked McDonald's so much that he left the banking business and bought a franchise himself.

    "I loved it because I was dealing with people," he says.

    Now, long since relocated to the Tampa Bay area, Vazquez and his son Raphael are opening their ninth McDonald's and the first in the United States to feature a "store within a store" — a McCafé, with pastries and more coffee drinks than on the regular menu. Java lovers who don't want to wait in line behind folks ordering enough burgers for a football team can grab a Caramel Mocha or mini bundt cake at a separate counter and relax in their own seating area....

    The new McDonald’s that Raphael Vazquez and his father built in Clearwater has a tropical vibe and an international flair to appeal to tourists.
  8. Sale of Tampa office building one of biggest in Florida history

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — In one of the largest commercial office transactions in Florida history, the 38-story One Tampa City Center has sold for $128.13 million.

    "It's got to be in the top five or 10," said Mike Davis, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield, which represented the seller. "It's the largest square-footage deal that's ever happened in downtown Tampa, that's for sure."

    Davis called the purchase by Alliance Partners, part of a Pennsylvania commercial real estate firm, "a real vote of confidence" in downtown and predicted it could lead to further sales. Also on the market is the 22-story Wells Fargo Center....

    The sale of the 38-story One Tampa City Center, also known as the PNC Bank Building, is one of the largest transactions in state history.
  9. Publix buying several shopping centers it anchors in Tampa Bay area

    Retail

    While its customers are buying groceries, Publix is buying shopping centers.

    The Lakeland-based chain has become a "significant player" in Florida's retail investment market, according to a new report by commercial real estate brokerage Colliers International.

    So far this year, Publix Supermarkets has bought seven of the 18 shopping centers it anchors in the Tampa Bay area and southwest Florida. Among its recent purchases were Tampa's Terrace Ridge Shopping Center on E Fowler Avenue for $14.7 million and Cross Creek Commons for $11.5 million....

  10. Developer acquires once-hyped Tampa condo project, New Port Tampa Bay

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — After being mired for years in lawsuits and foreclosure proceedings, one of the bay area's most ambitious marina and condo projects — New Port Tampa Bay — may soon be getting a new lease on life.

    A Fort Lauderdale development company, BTI Partners, said it has acquired title to 51 waterfront acres once planned for 1,250 luxury condo units at the east end of the Gandy Bridge. Convenient to St. Petersburg, downtown Tampa and the West Shore district, the site is one of the most desirable undeveloped tracts in the entire bay region. ...

    Developer Ed Oelschlaeger, president of EcoGroup, announced New Port Tampa Bay with great fanfare in 2005 at the height of the real estate boom.  [Times (2005)]
  11. More than 100 Sears and Kmart stores to close, report says

    Retail

    Struggling retail giant Sears Holdings Corp. will lay off at least 5,457 employees and close more than 100 Sears and Kmart stores, many before Christmas, an online report revealed Thursday.

    Seeking Alpha, a financial news and analysis service, listed a Kmart with 68 employees in Zephyrhills among the stores already in the liquidation process.

    No other stores in the Tampa Bay area appear on the report's "exclusive," but incomplete, list of stores slated for closing. ...

    In this May 14, 2012 file photo, shoppers walk into Sears in Peabody, Mass. The struggling retail giant Sears Holdings Corp. will lay off at least 5,457 employees and close more than 100 Sears and Kmart stores, many before Christmas, an online report said Thursday. [Associated Press]
  12. Wood Fired Pizza in downtown St. Petersburg closes

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG — As downtown St. Petersburg's dining scene continues to expand, the restaurant row along First Avenue S is about to get a new look and new menu offerings.

    Wood Fired Pizza abruptly closed Sunday and the establishments on each side of it — World of Beer and the Avenue hamburger restaurant — are exploring a "lot more collaboration on the block," one of the principals said Thursday....

    Wood Fired Pizza in downtown St. Petersburg has closed. [CHRIS TISCH]
  13. South Pasadena Shopping Center sold for $21.1 million

    Real Estate

    South Pasadena

    Shopping center sold for $21.1M

    The South Pasadena Shopping Center, whose tenants include a Walmart Neighborhood Market, has been sold for $21.1 million.

    Plaza Advisors, which brokered the deal, said there were more than 20 offers for the 165,886-square-foot center at 6800 Gulfport Boulevard.

    It "fits the mold for what many retail investors are looking for in this environment: grocery anchored, value add and good real estate,'' said Jim Michalak, Plaza Advisors managing partner....

  14. Convergent Capital Partners pays $10.5 million for St. Pete office space

    Real Estate

    Convergent Capital Partners confirmed Tuesday that it paid $10.5 million for the former headquarters of bankrupt Universal Health Care in downtown St. Petersburg.

    The seller was the state of Florida, which became the receiver for Universal's assets last year after the Medicare provider collapsed amid allegations of fraud and gross mismanagement.

    Convergent, a private Tampa-based real estate equity firm, bought the bottom two floors of the building at 100 Central Ave. ...

  15. Tampa Bay home sales and prices climbed in September

    Real Estate

    Planning to sell a house? Now might be the time.

    Sales of single-family homes in the Tampa Bay area in September jumped nearly 11 percent over the same period last year. The median sales price rose 3.2 percent to $159,900.

    "I see the month of October being the same, and … I don't see any slowdown," Terry Burkot, a Tampa Realtor, said Tuesday. "It's a sellers' market."

    The news was even better statewide, with sales soaring 13.5 percent and the median sales price reaching $180,000, up 5.9 percent from the previous year....

    Single-family home sales were up nearly 11 percent over the same period last year.