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Some banks expected to open on Y2K Day

So much for banker's hours.

When it comes to reassuring customers fretful over Y2K, even bankers are willing to give up a holiday to make a point.

Some banks in Florida are considering opening their doors at least part of the day on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2000, to prove that their computer systems will have no trouble turning over from 1999 to 2000.

It is a message the banks are desperate to get out to avoid a run on deposits before the end of the year.

The Florida Bankers Association won't name names of the Y2K-Day banks yet. But spokeswoman Kathy Bartlett expects one of the five biggest banks in the state to be among them.

"It's a great PR move to say, "Come in and touch your money that day. It's okay,' " Bartlett said.

_ JEFF HARRINGTON

At least we aren't 29th

The messages aren't exactly catchy and they don't reach companies that might consider moving here, but at least the billboards are free.

The Tampa Bay Partnership boasts that starting today, it will be putting up billboards promoting the Tampa Bay area _ but only in the Tampa Bay area. Since the partnership is an economic development group, the billboards will feature economic statistics to ponder.

One of the first will offer this memorable message: "Did you know . . . If Tampa Bay was a state, we'd have the nation's 28th largest economy." Another proclaims: "Did you know . . . Tampa Bay ranked as the top Southern new job market for a 2nd straight year."

Eller Media is donating advertising space throughout the bay area. The first two billboards will appear on Fowler Avenue near Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County and at Ulmerton Road and U.S. 19 in Pinellas County.

"It's a great way to provide quick facts to people who can help carry the message both near and far about the strength of our region," said Stuart L. Rogel, partnership president.

_ HELEN HUNTLEY

More see Florida as vacation destination

Increased domestic travel helped Florida's $41-billion tourist industry offset deep declines in international markets this year. That trend should continue, according to the National Travel Monitor.

The booming national economy has Americans in a traveling mood and, as usual, Florida is the No. 1 destination people say they plan to visit in the next two years. More important, interest in a Florida vacation is rising, according to the lifestyle survey of 2,500 families compiled by Yankelovich Partners and an Orlando advertising agency, Yesawich Pepperdine & Brown.

Combine that with decreased interest in California, which tied Florida for the lead last year, and Washington, D.C., and you can see why Florida hoteliers are smiling as their Canadian and Brazilian markets tank.

As far as Americans' lifelong dream vacation, however, the survey found Florida lags well behind the allure and prices of Hawaii.

_ MARK ALBRIGHT

VACATION TIME

Where Americans plan to vacation in the next two years:

1998 1999

Florida 33 percent 37 percent

California 33 percent 31 percent

Colorado 14 percent 17 percent

Arizona 14 percent 16 percent

New York 12 percent 15 percent

Hawaii 12 percent 15 percent

Washington, D.C. 12 percent 11 percent

Alaska 9 percent 11 percent

AMERICANS' DREAM VACATION (1999)

Hawaii 72 percent

Honolulu 69 percent

National Parks System 67 percent

Florida Keys 55 percent

Orlando 53 percent

SOURCE: Yankelovich/YP&B National Travel Monitor

Rough sailing for RMS Titanic

Since cruising out of St. Petersburg's Florida International Museum, the Titanic exhibit has slowed to half-speed.

Net income for RMS Titanic, the publicly traded company that salvaged the sunken Titanic artifacts and shows them to the public, dropped to $427,000 in the quarter ended May 31 from $1.3-million a year ago.

That decline will be a topic of discussion today at RMS Titanic's annual meeting in New York. The stock has hovered near $2 a share in recent weeks.

The St. Petersburg museum drew more than 800,000 visitors in the Titanic exhibit's six-month run that ended June 1, 1998. Of course, it was darn lucky in its timing, riding the momentum when the movie Titanic became the Hollywood blockbuster of all time.

This spring, portions of the Titanic artifacts were exhibited in Minnesota, Switzerland, California and Japan. But attendance was down and costs were up. Now the company is showing artifacts in this country in only two spots: Atlantic City, N.J., and Orlando.

The Orlando exhibit is permanent, part of a deal cut by RMS Titanic and an arm of SFX Entertainment Inc. SFX has agreed to pay RMS Titanic at least $8.5-million a year for the exclusive worldwide licensing rights.

RMS Titanic hopes it can rekindle revenues and consumer interest in the ship _ and its coal. The company sells pieces of coal, the only items from the sunken ocean liner offered for sale. Sales of pieces of coal are down 88 percent from last year.

_ ROBERT TRIGAUX

Say hello to higher goodbye fee

Dare walk out on us, First Union bank is telling its Florida customers, and you will pay big.

The bank is tripling the charge for closing an account within six months of opening it from $10 to $30.

The Charlotte, N.C., bank says the increase, mentioned in a new fee schedule going into effect throughout Florida on Sept. 1, is intended to deter fraud. Yet First Union, which operates in 12 states and the District of Columbia, is imposing the crackdown only in Florida, where it is the second-largest bank.

"We saw a need for it more in Florida," First Union spokeswoman Sarah Holden said. "I think we had some cases . . . of people opening accounts and closing them right away."

Like other banks, First Union said it has been stung by customers that use short-term accounts to pass bad checks or otherwise defraud them.

Nevertheless, the timing for the fee hike is interesting. It comes as the bank is battling to shore up its customer base after losing nearly 20 percent of the accounts it picked up by acquiring CoreStates Financial Services of Philadelphia.

And it certainly doesn't help the bank shed the hated nickname bestowed by consumer groups: Fee Union.

_ JEFF HARRINGTON

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