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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


Blog: Hot Spots

  1. Fashion designer Michael Kors building home on Longboat Key

    Real Estate

    LONGBOAT KEY — There are Michael Kors stores in Tampa, Ellenton and Sarasota.

    Now west-central Florida is getting a Michael Kors house.

    One of the world's best-known fashion designers, Kors is building a 6,306-square-foot home on the Gulf of Mexico at the north end of Longboat Key in Manatee County. Just a mile from the bridge to Anna Maria Island, the two-story contemporary house will feature mahogany "privacy panels," retractable insect screens and a pool measuring 70 feet by 20 feet....

    Michael Kors, 55, and his husband plan spacious quarters for staff in the 6,306-square-foot home.
  2. Downtown St. Petersburg office tower acquired, will get renovation

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — At its groundbreaking in the early 1980s, the new office tower at 360 Central Ave. was hailed as a turnaround for what everyone conceded was a dead downtown.

    Three decades later, downtown is booming and what began as the Florida Federal Savings & Loan tower is getting new owners and a $10 million facelift.

    In a vote of confidence in downtown's resurgence, Larry Feldman announced this week that a joint venture of his Feldman Equities and two other companies has acquired the 17-story, 250,000-square-foot building at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street....

    The 17-story First Central Tower, shown being struck by lightning in 2012, was hailed as the start of a turnaround for the sleepy city center when it opened in the early 1980s. Now it is part of a resurgent and bustling downtown scene.
  3. Tampa Bay single-family home sales jumped 21 percent in October

    Real Estate

    Whether due to pent-up demand or just crisp fall weather, sales of single-family homes jumped 21 percent in October in the Tampa Bay area.

    That's by far the biggest percentage gain in three months and especially impressive for one of the traditionally quieter periods in residential real estate.

    "We had an awesome October,'' Bonnie Davis, managing broker of Re/Max Metro, said Thursday. "We just did not see a slowdown at all.''...

    Home sales rose 21 percent across the bay area in October, with Pinellas up 30 percent and Hillsborough up 12.
  4. 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 for which he was collecting rent.

    Banks had gone to court that morning for a pretrail hearing on an 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
  5. 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....

    Patrick Jay Banks recently started renovating this 2,500-square-foot home in Venetian Isles, though it’s in foreclosure.
  6. 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....

  7. 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. ...

    Patrick Jay Banks, 50, recently obtained power of attorney to handle all matters related to a bayfront home worth nearly $1 million in St. Petersburg’s  Venetian Isles community. Banks, a convicted robber and forger, is awaiting trail on felony fraud charges stemming from a halfway house venture he once was involved with.
  8. Taste test of new McCafe pastries


    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. ...

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


    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....

    Ideal Image aims to be the “Nordstrom of the cosmetic medical services industry.”
  10. Clearwater McDonald's nation's first with a McCafé for coffee drinkers



    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....

    Times At the McCafé counter in the new McDonald’s, employees serve up specialty coffee drinks, along with freshly baked blueberry muffins, pastries and cakes. The store is one of only a few McDonald’s across the country to test-market the items.
  11. 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.
  12. Publix buying several shopping centers it anchors in Tampa Bay area


    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....

  13. 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. ...

    A Fort Lauderdale developer hopes to restart the ambitious New Port Tampa Bay project in south Tampa, off south Gandy Boulevard and west of Westshore Boulevard. The property includes waterfront that was once a marina. This photo of the property was taken looking southwest from Bridge Street at W McElroy Street south of Gandy. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]
  14. More than 100 Sears and Kmart stores to close, report says


    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]
  15. Wood Fired Pizza in downtown St. Petersburg closes


    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]