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Dirt or no dirt, owners take a bath on this deal

There is an old saying in real estate: You can't get hurt in dirt.

Don't repeat it to the group that bought the 965-acre Cypress Bend property in northwest Hillsborough County in 1984.

The land sold at a foreclosure auction Thursday for about $3,260 per acre.

The land was purchased in 1984 for about $6.5-million, or $6,735 per acre, said Dan Molony, a Tampa lawyer familiar with the property.

Anthony Maniscalco, a Tampa real estate broker, was trying to sell the land for the owners before the foreclosure auction. "You can't get hurt in dirt if you play in it," he said. "It's when you own it."

_ JOHN CRADDOCK

American Ship hits

some choppy waters

George Steinbrenner, chairman of American Ship Building Co. and its biggest shareholder, has said the company's future depends on whether it gets more money from the Navy and Congress.

The company wants millions of dollars for work it says it has done on Navy vessels.

But as negotiations for the cash continue, investors are bailing out.

In the past three months, American Ship's stock tumbled by more than 40 percent, closing at $1.25 on Sept. 30, according to the Wall Street Journal last week. With that steep drop, the company ranked 10th on the Journal's list of the Big Board's 10 Worst Performers.

_ BERNICE STENGLE

He took stock of his

holdings _ and sold

Sell. Sell. Sell.

At least one insider with big holdings in First Florida Banks Inc. thinks it's a darn good time to unload his stock in the Tampa-based banking company.

First Florida is expected to be gobbled up before year's end by Barnett Banks Inc. of Jacksonville. That deal has run up First Florida's stock, and one of the company's biggest investors is cashing in.

First Florida director John T. Mills, president of the men's hosiery maker Ellis Hosiery Mills Inc., in August sold 50,000 shares of First Florida stock at about $50 per share, according to Invest/Net, a Fort Lauderdale-based research firm.

Total sale: about $2.5-million. That's just over a third of the banking company's stock that Mills owns or controls. When Barnett said in May that it would buy the bank, First Florida's stock closed at $31.50.

_ ROBERT TRIGAUX

Did you ever have

one of those years?

St. Petersburg's William P. Wallace and fellow members of the National Association of Casualty and Surety Agents may all be just a little relieved that he's not running for re-election as president of the group.

We're not saying he's responsible, but Wallace's term turned out to be the most disastrous year ever in the property-casualty business, with Hurricane Andrew tearing through South Florida and politicians trying to outdo one another dreaming up new regulations for the industry.

Wallace, deputy chairman of Wallace, Welch & Willingham Inc., makes his final big speech tonight at an association conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The group represents 300 of the country's largest insurance agencies and brokerages.

_ HELEN HUNTLEY

Home builder says profits

have gone with the wind

One would think that Florida's largest home builder would profit handsomely from the giant rebuilding effort that Hurricane Andrew has left behind in South Florida.

But Miami-based Lennar Corp., builder of Lennar homes, last week blamed a drop in its quarterly profits on Hurricane Andrew. The company said its third-quarter profits would have been a record $7.9-million, but because of Andrew the company squeezed out only $3.1-million. A big South Florida builder, Lennar said the storm's destruction means the company delivered 100 to 150 fewer homes than expected this year.

Lennar is active in Tampa Bay, currently building homes at Meadow Pointe near the Pasco-Hillsborough county line.

But Lennar may have a much bigger worry in the aftermath of Andrew. Several of Lennar's homeowners whose houses were severely damaged in the storm have filed a class-action lawsuit against the builder alleging defective work and substandard construction. Other builders have been hit with similar suits.

Lennar officials deny the allegations, saying Andrew's powerful gusts were far above the threshold required in building codes.

_ ROBERT TRIGAUX

Coincidence or political

savvy? You decide

When First Union Corp. offered last month to buy Dominion Bankshares in Virginia, the move was seen as a natural extension of the franchise First Union has built in the South.

The timing was another matter. First Union, based in Charlotte, N.C., has been swallowing banks pretty fast. It agreed to pay $46-million for Winter Haven-based Meritor Savings only a couple of days before the $852-million offer for Dominion.

One bank stock analyst thinks First Union's timing on Dominion is tied to the prospect of Bill Clinton's sitting in the White House.

Brad Johnson, an analyst with Sterne, Agee and Leach in Atlanta, said the price tag for Dominion might have increased with a Clinton victory.

Johnson's theory goes like this:

Clinton is said to favor full interstate banking. Currently, only banks in certain Southern states can buy a bank in Virginia. But if full interstate banking were approved, banks from Ohio and Pennsylvania, eager to expand to a nearby growth market like Virginia, could have entered the bidding contest and driven up the price.

Thus, First Union made its move before Election Day.

_ JOHN CRADDOCK

Just the same, you might

wait for the movie version

We never thought we'd see the day, but mutual fund companies are beginning to put out prospectuses that ordinary investors can actually understand.

A prospectus, filled with fine-printed fund financials and legalese about policies and procedures, is supposed to be distributed to investors thinking about buying shares. Theoretically, it lets them know what they're getting into. Unfortunately, the language it's written in is likely to be incomprehensible.

Boston-based Fidelity Investments has revised its prospectus for the giant Fidelity Magellan Fund. The new version features color graphics, "help" boxes explaining key points and simplified language.

_ HELEN HUNTLEY

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