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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Jul. 15, 2005 16 years ago

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana)

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We aren't Kansas: Federal Aviation Administration officials say Wichita, Kansas, was wrong to make revenue guarantees to AirTran Airways, calling the subsidies "unjust economic discrimination."Fifth Third outreach: Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp has hired a Latina to direct its Florida bank's efforts to do more business with Hispanic clients.Awash in tourism, beer: There is a menagerie of figures useful in measuring the local economy and the strength of the tourism market, but Coffee Talk thinks it has found one of its favorites - local beer sales.Secret settlement: Some nasty litigation between retired Tampa criminal defense attorney Anthony F. Gonzalez and Alabama-based Colonial BancGroup Inc.'s Colonial Bank unit has come to a merciful conclusion.
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana)

We aren't Kansas

Federal Aviation Administration officials say Wichita, Kansas, was wrong to make revenue guarantees to AirTran Airways, calling the subsidies "unjust economic discrimination." But Sarasota Bradenton International Airport President/CEO Fred Piccolo says the local subsidy given to AirTran isn't a problem.

The FAA says Wichita violated a rule in its Airport Improvement Program funding pact with the federal government when it offered revenue guarantees only to the discount airline. Delta Air Lines, which requested the federal inquiry, argued that the subsidies should be applied equally. In further protest of the city's decision, Delta cut seven of its daily flights from Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

Asked about the ongoing issue, Piccolo says the Wichita case can't be compared to SRQ's $4 million subsidy to AirTran.

"One of the biggest issues relates to the way the airport authority is structured," Piccolo says. "Their city council also meets as the airport authority. According to the (grant) revenue diversion rules, the airport (authority) can't give subsidies, except for things like marketing. But it's perfectly OK for the city itself to give subsidies. Delta is saying if it looks like an (airport) council and talks like a council, it's a council. Sarasota has a totally separate board."

In addition, Piccolo says Sarasota-Bradenton's airport authority obtained funding for the subsidies from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Small Community Air Service Development Program, which he says allows that type of airline incentive. Piccolo says the airport also has a history of offering incentives to other startup airlines.

The addition of AirTran flights at the local airport has significantly improved business. For the first half of the year, travel numbers were up by about 124,239 (19.5%) passengers compared to the same period in 2004, which equates to about 686 new passengers a day. The Boyd Group Inc., an aviation consulting and forecasting group, projected that SRQ airport would be the third fastest growing airport in the nation, behind Boston and Bangor, chiefly because of the addition of AirTran.

Fifth Third outreach

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp has hired a Latina to direct its Florida bank's efforts to do more business with Hispanic clients.

Jadira Hoptry will get the title of Latino affairs director and work from Fifth Third's Naples office. Fifth Third expanded its Florida presence earlier this year by taking over Naples-based First National Bank of Florida.

Hoptry comes to Southwest Florida from Indianapolis, where she was an assistant vice president for business development at Fifth Third. She received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Florida.

Awash in tourism, beer

There is a menagerie of figures useful in measuring the local economy and the strength of the tourism market, but Coffee Talk thinks it has found one of its favorites - local beer sales.

John Saputo, president and owner of Sarasota and Manatee counties' Anheuser Busch distributorship Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, says he is amazed at how good business has been.

In June, Gold Coast Eagle sales were up by 27,000 cases (about 6%) compared to the same month last year bringing its sales for the month to more than 521,000 cases.

"We are a very mature business so a 1% increase is really wonderful," Saputo says. "This increase is just huge. It's four or five times larger than the average yearly increase we shoot for."

Saputo attributes the increase to three main factors: special coupon price promotions, the success of the Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix Boat Race & Festival and a sharp uptick in year-round tourism.

"It really looks like tourism is at an all time high from all the business we are doing at restaurants and bars," Saputo says. "The weekends are very strong. I really think we are getting a lot more instate vacationers stopping here to visit our beaches. Usually this is the time of year when all the businesses just hunker down waiting for the tourists to come back, but not this year."

Secret settlement

Some nasty litigation between retired Tampa criminal defense attorney Anthony F. Gonzalez and Alabama-based Colonial BancGroup Inc.'s Colonial Bank unit has come to a merciful conclusion.

Gonzalez, 59, filed suit in federal and state courts two years ago against Colonial, which earlier had bought a Tampa bank that he helped to found. Gonzalez, who became Colonial's Tampa Bay area chairman, claimed he was fired for telling the home office that regional chief executive Joseph V. Chillura was competing against Colonial on the side.

Chillura, 38, closed a finance company that he and another local Colonial banker operated within days of Gonzalez's disclosure to their bosses in Alabama.

But Colonial backed Chillura, who contended the dismissal was because Gonzalez was plotting to jump to a revitalized competitor for Bay area business. Gonzalez later became chairman of the rival Bank of St. Petersburg.

Pre-trial discovery in the lawsuits put much of the recent behind-the-scenes machinations in Colonial's local executive suites in the public record. It also detailed how Gonzalez found his way to Bank of St. Petersburg, which had been acquired by Tampa investor Robert Rothman.

Only one lawyer in the case contacted by Coffee Talk was willing to offer any comment on last month's joint dismissal of the lawsuits. "The matter is resolved and we are pleased," says Ben H. Harris III of Miller Hamilton Snider & Odom LLC in Mobile, Ala., the lead attorney for Colonial.

Harris declined to say whether financial considerations figured in the settlement.

Etc...

• Sarasota Mayor Mary Anne Servian is attending the three-week Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University. We sure hope the food is good. Servian is paying a $10,300 program fee, which includes food, housing and course materials.

• Mark it up to good advertising, but the sponsor for one of the main events at the Desoto Super Speedway in Bradenton earlier this month caught our eye. Q Auto & Injury Attorneys sponsored the Open Wheel Modifieds 100 laps stock car race. Chalk it up either to effective targeted marketing or wishful thinking.

Two communities developed by WCI - Sun City Center near Tampa and Venetian Golf & River Club in Venice - made their way onto Where To Retire's prestigious 100 Best Places to Retire list.

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