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The cost of long-term care

If you're looking for nursing home care for a loved one, you might want to check out Louisiana, where beds in long-term facilities average just $90 a day.

On the other hand, avoid sending your elderly to Alaska. Spending your final years in a nursing home in the Yukon runs more than $400 daily.

These are just a few of the nuggets unearthed in a recent survey by MetLife, which just happens to sell long-term care insurance to cover the high cost of such care.

Nationwide, the cost of a nursing home bed averages $140 a day. Since the average nursing home stay is 2{ years, that adds up to $127,750 in long-term care costs.

Florida residents have a slight edge. Here, where the supply of nursing home beds is plentiful, average cost is $120 a day. That is less than the national average, but it is also considerably more than what a room at a local mom-and-pop beach motel would cost.

"Only better, 4-diamond hotels would average higher rates," said Drew Toth, vice president of sales and marketing for Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach, which charges more than $120 a night in season. "That probably explains why Marriott has gone into assisted living."

_ KRIS HUNDLEY

Banking, light and magic

Start with the grand theme of a single bank emerging as an oasis in today's confusing financial world. Toss in surreal, electronic wizardry from the special effects shop founded by George Lucas of Star Wars fame. And back the idea nationally with a $100-million-plus ad campaign.

First Union Corp., the second-largest bank in the Tampa Bay area, thought it had the recipe for a blockbuster commercial. "A masterpiece," the Charlotte, N.C., bank crowed in a September news release.

Some experts in the ad business beg to differ.

The campaign ranked as the second worst ad of the year in a recent USA Today poll of 20 ad agency creative directors.

"These commercials scare me," a Los Angeles creative director told the newspaper.

In its end-of-the-year review, the New York Times also panned the spot. "In a year when overblown, overbusy work predominated, a campaign for First Union Corp. was the most likely to be judged the product of minds clouded by bad acid trips," the newspaper said.

In one 60-second spot, the notion of financial risk and uncertainty is conveyed through jarring, jerky images of a someone dangling on a ledge, cars whizzing by and a human face that shatters, releasing currency.

In another, sharks navigate around furniture in a flooded office as the narrator broods about troubled waters.

Both commercials end with the tag line: "Come to the mountain called First Union. Or, if you prefer, the mountain will come to you."

In its next batch of commercials, the megabank promises it will come down from the mountain with less foreboding and more "whimsy."

But Mary Eshet, First Union spokeswoman, said that is not a reaction to negative publicity. The game plan, she said, always called for the campaign to take on a lighter tone as it developed.

Eshet defends the initial ads for "breaking through the clutter. . . . People liked the ad and they remember the ad."

_ JEFF HARRINGTON

Hollow victories for JumboSports

JumboSports of Tampa, which is trying to struggle back to profitability, is hardly the only sporting goods chain suffering these days.

Nationally, sales of licensed sports apparel went south a year ago. Now, sales of sporting goods have followed them.

In the third quarter, sporting goods sales overall dropped 17.2 percent nationally, taking deep dives in eight of the industry's 11 product categories, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Only shooting sports, sports medicine and snow sports products escaped the carnage. Fitness equipment sales slumped 15 percent, explaining why Nordic Track Fitness has decided to lay off 400 employees and close mall kiosks and stores. Could it be that aging baby boomers are finally getting too old? Or have they merely decided they already bought a lifetime supply of home gym and fitness gear?

It's not all bad news, however. Chain Store Age awarded JumboSports two first places in the retail trade journal's annual national store design awards. The new Brandon outlet won for the flashy look of its exterior and as the top sporting goods store prototype.

_ MARK ALBRIGHT

Europa Cruises heads off Times seizure

Yes, that was the St. Petersburg Times that tried Tuesday to seize the casino gambling equipment aboard Europa Cruises Corp.'s Europa Sky at John's Pass.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge David Demers had signed a court order authorizing the Times to seize the day-cruise boat's assets in a dispute over $62,000 in unpaid advertising bills.

Europa responded to the Times' initial claim with arguments that a Europa manager in Madeira Beach who had been placing ads for years actually had no authority to do so. Europa also countersued, alleging it was owed a refund on more than $500,000 it had paid for advertising in the past.

"They didn't object while the advertising was being run," said Tom McGowan, the Times' attorney.

A sheriff's deputy confronted the Europa Sky's watchman at 6 a.m. while a crew began carting the blackjack tables off to a waiting moving van. Before they could get to the slot machines, the watchman summoned the captain, who threatened to sail with McGowan and the deputy on board. The deputy suggested that might subject the captain to arrest.

Europa chairwoman Deborah Vitale, a Washington lawyer who doubles as the company's chief executive and general counsel, agreed by phone to settle the dispute. She had a check delivered to the dock so the Europa Sky's Sea Kruz could make its 10:30 a.m. sailing.

_ MARK ALBRIGHT

Final rites for a mutual fund

When St. Petersburg money manager Samuel J. Beebe died in June, he had just realized his long-time dream of starting his own bank stock mutual fund. Now his Beebe Fund is being laid to rest as well.

The C/Funds Group, which handles the fund's business operations, planned to liquidate it by year-end. Beebe ran the small fund from his St. Petersburg home. After his death, C/Funds of Venice reviewed its options for continuing the fund, but decided folding it was the best choice. The fund, which has been closed to new investors since Beebe's death, fell from a peak of $1.6-million to about $750,0000 in assets as a result of withdrawals and lagging performance.

_ HELEN HUNTLEY

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