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Gold Bank polishes up its reputation

Just a year ago, Gold Bank's reputation was a bit tarnished, to say the least.

The CEO of the Kansas bank, Michael Gullion, was embroiled in an embezzlement scandal, stepping down after it was discovered that million of dollars had been diverted from the bank into his personal accounts. Regulators cracked down, giving the bank six months to improve its management or potentially be forced to sell some lines of business.

Fast forward to today and the shine is coming back. A national trade publication, American Banker, praised the bank's "turnaround" under Gullion's replacement, Malcolm "Mick" Aslin, in a front-page article last week.

Gold executives hope that this quarter the Federal Reserve will reinstate the bank's "well-managed" distinction, which regulators stripped after Gullion's exploits became public. Howe Barnes Investments of Chicago has named Gold one of its top three bank stock picks for 2004 even though the bank's stock has nearly doubled the past nine months.

The $4.1-billion bank, which has identified Florida as a top growth market, has two branches in Tampa along with a larger, growing presence in Sarasota. Charles Britton, Gold Bank's community bank president in Tampa, said he is in negotiations with a developer to open a third Tampa location.

Britton said several large loan requests in the pipeline should push the bank to more than $100-million in bay area assets. He jokes that he has more loan packages than he can handle. "But I will get to them," he says. "Not to worry."

_ JEFF HARRINGTON

The shifting pattern of mall visitors

International Plaza continued to grow as a shopper magnet in 2003, surging to the top of the customer traffic list among major shopping centers in the Tampa Bay area.

That's according to Scarborough Reports. The marketing research company said 26 percent of Tampa Bay area shoppers visited the upscale mall next to Tampa International Airport at least once during the three months of summer. That was up sharply from 17 percent in same period of 2002.

The figures don't document actual sales or tourist traffic, but shopping traffic patterns clearly continued to change during International Plaza's second summer in the market.

Among other findings:

+ Westfield Shoppingtown Brandon was the second most visited at 24 percent of bay area shoppers, but declined a percentage point.

+ The old Clearwater Mall was leveled 5 miles away, but Westfield Shoppingtown Countryside saw its traffic drop 5 percentage points to 21 percent.

+ WestShore Plaza added a Sears, but its traffic still slipped 5 percentage points to 20 percent.

+ Westfield Shoppingtown Citrus Park, the region's second newest mall, saw its traffic slide 6 percentage points to 20 percent.

+ BayWalk in St. Petersburg outdrew Centro Ybor in Tampa, 11 percent to 7 percent, while Old Hyde Park Village saw its traffic dip 2 percentage points to 5 percent.

+ More Tampa Bay shoppers drove out of the region (13 percent) to shop at the Prime Outlets Ellenton in Manatee County than went to BayWalk, Centro Ybor or Hyde Park.

_ MARK ALBRIGHT

Competition in the City of Brotherly Love

Ready to book that flight to Philadelphia on the newest airline to fly into the City of Brotherly Love? Cool your jets until February.

Southwest Airlines makes its much-anticipated debut in Philly on May 9. Although you can buy a ticket for any other Southwest destination through June 11, the airline won't sell seats on Philadelphia flights _ or even disclose the fares _ until sometime next month.

It's standard procedure for Southwest to wait as long as possible before letting competitors know its fares or flight frequencies in new cities. That's usually about 90 days before the first flights, chief financial officer Gary Kelly told analysts last week.

Once the news is out, expect Southwest to unleash a marketing blitz in Philadelphia and, to a lesser degree, in the first five cities with nonstop service there, including Tampa. The airline signed sponsorship deals this month with three local teams _ the 76ers, Phillies and Flyers _ and has or will run a few image ads on the teams' game broadcasts.

Southwest's move has put a scare into US Airways, the dominant carrier at Philadelphia International and on the Philly-Tampa route, with six daily nonstops.

And with good reason. Southwest ran US Airways out of California and out of Baltimore-Washington International. Unlike come-and-go carriers, Southwest has pulled out of only four airports in its history.

Although Southwest is starting with a modest schedule of 14 daily departures, the airline is leasing four gates, enough to operate as many as 35 flights.

_ STEVE HUETTEL

Scripps news brings back memories

Scripps Research Institute is a world-renowned scientific powerhouse, with more than a quarter-million dollars in federal research funds annually. Elizabeth Brink, 88, of New Port Richey, remembers when it was a considerably more modest undertaking, though no less impressive.

In 1937, Brink was fresh out of Michigan State University with a degree in science when she headed west to work as an intern at Scripps Metabolic Clinic.

The private oceanfront hospital in La Jolla, Calif., had been opened 13 years earlier by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. It was run by Dr. James Sherrill, a physician widely known for his work on diabetes. As a dietitian in training, Brink said she was thrilled to work closely with Sherrill as he explored alternatives to the high-fat diet that was then the accepted treatment for diabetics.

"It was a wonderful experience," said Brink, who spent three months at the clinic as an unpaid intern and another three months as a paid staffer, receiving $40 a month. "At that time, Scripps was way ahead of everybody else."

With only 30 beds, the clinic catered to an exclusive clientele of royalty and Hollywood stars, Brink said. She recalls caring for Edward G. Robinson among others. "He was a great storyteller," she said of the actor best known for his gangster roles.

Seven decades later, long after retiring from a career as a hospital dietitian and after Scripps spun off its research from its hospital operations and relocated to the Torrey Pines Mesa north of La Jolla, Brink has one lingering memory of that long-ago experience.

With patients' beds on the second floor and the kitchen on the first, the staff had to hand-deliver meals three times a day. Brink, a middle-class girl from Michigan, was stunned to see that all utensils and plates were silver-plated and the trays had hot-water reservoirs to keep the food warm.

"Your wrists ached after delivering meals," she said. "Boy, were they heavy."

_ KRIS HUNDLEY

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