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Business today

By Wire services
Published September 20, 2003

CHAMBESRS BLEND STAFFS: The board of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce Friday voted unanimously to negotiate a deal to blend its backroom staff functions with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. Russ Sloan, chief executive of the St. Petersburg chamber, takes over management of the beaches chamber during the four months the details are hammered out. Both chambers plan to maintain separate boards and identities, said Doreen Moore, chairperson of the beaches chamber. Her group has a staff of five employees and 1,100 members and represents 12 beach cities in Pinellas County. The issue arose after Debbie Stambaugh, beach chamber chief executive, resigned to take a job last month with Dover Motorsports, promoters of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

BLOCKBUSTER SKIES ON RUMOR: Shares of Blockbuster Inc. jumped after a report in the Wall Street Journal that the video rental giant is in the early stages of talks about a possible merger with Columbia House, the mail-order music and movie retailer. Citing people familiar with the matter, the Journal reported that the idea of a merger emerged in recent weeks. The report sent Blockbuster shares up 83 cents to close at $22.25 on the New York Stock Exchange.

STRONG CAPITAL HIRES INVESTIGATORS: The founder and chairman of Strong Capital Management Inc. says his firm has hired outsiders for an internal review of the New York attorney general's allegations of improper trading. Richard S. Strong spoke publicly for the first time about allegations that Spitzer, the New York state attorney general, made Sept. 3. Spitzer's complaint, filed against Canary, implicated Strong in allowing Canary to market-time by trading five Strong funds more actively than other shareholders.

DEBT THROUGHOUT NHL: The Tampa Bay Lightning, with operating losses of $27-million in its 2002 fiscal year, has plenty of company in the National Hockey League. According to the Wall Street Journal, a report prepared by the league for its club owners found the NHL's 30 teams posted combined operating losses of nearly $300-million last season. That represents an increase of more than 35 percent from $218-million in losses a year earlier. It's an increase of more than sevenfold from losses of $40-million in 1993-94, when the league had 26 franchises. According to the Journal, the NHL spent 76 percent of $1.93-billion in revenue on player salaries and benefits - a higher percentage than in the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.

UNITED WINS EXTENSION: U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Eugene Wedoff granted United Airlines five more months to submit a plan to get out of bankruptcy. The new deadline is March 6. The extension was the second granted for United, which is slowly regaining financial health but still faces numerous challenges before it can emerge from Chapter 11 as targeted by mid 2004. Chief financial officer Jake Brace said the carrier needs to sort out several issues before it files a restructuring plan, including ensuring it can make billions of dollars in required pension payments over the next five years.

SHELLS GETS OPERATIONS EXEC: Shells Seafood Restaurants has hired Guy Kathman as executive vice president for operations, the Tampa chain said. Kathman, 47, comes to Shells from the Posados Cafe chain in Texas. In his 23-year career, he also has served as director of operations for Darden Restaurants' Red Lobster chain. He will be responsible for operations at all 28 Shells restaurants in Florida.

MOTOROLA CEO RESIGNS: Christopher Galvin resigned Friday as chairman and chief executive of struggling Motorola Inc., ending an often-rocky six years at the helm of the telecommunications giant his grandfather founded 75 years ago. Galvin, 53, cited differences with the board over the progress of the stalled turnaround at the world's No. 2 cell phone manufacturer, which also is a top semiconductor maker. He has agreed to stay on until a successor is named, the company said. The unexpected late afternoon announcement sent Motorola's stock 5 percent higher in after-hours trading following a regular session in which it closed down 4 cents at $11.09 a share on the New York Stock Exchange.

GSA MAY BAR QWEST: The federal government is considering barring Qwest Communications International Inc. from winning future government contracts, the Denver phone giant said. Qwest said the notice by the General Services Administration was prompted by a criminal indictment and civil complaint against former Qwest employees in connection with a transaction with the Arizona School Facilities Board in 2001. The civil complaint, filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, also stemmed from a Qwest transaction with Genuity Inc. in 2000.

CENDANT HEADS TO EUROPE: Cendant Corp., the world's largest franchiser of hotels, plans to franchise as many as 350 properties in Europe under brands such as Days Inn by 2006 after expansion in the United States reached its limit. The New York company will start by adding up to 11 Days Inn hotels and serviced-apartment properties in the United Kingdom and Ireland this year and 20 more next year, Michael Schiff, vice president of international strategy and development at Cendant's hotel division, said in an interview during a hotel conference in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

HAVERTY'S DROPS THOMASVILLE: Furniture Brands International Inc.'s Thomasville line won't be sold by retailer Haverty Furniture Cos. starting next year as sales decline and the companies expand in each other's businesses. Haverty's 113 stores will still carry Furniture Brands' Broyhill and Lane lines, the companies said.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN GOES BIG: Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the world's second-largest cruise line, said it ordered a $720-million ship from Aker Kvaerner ASA of Norway that will be the world's largest passenger ship. The vessel will let Royal Caribbean of Miami regain bragging rights to the largest liner, edging Carnival Corp.'s 150,000-ton Queen Mary 2, which goes into service in 2004.

DISNEY SHUTS BRAZILIAN OFFICE: Walt Disney World has closed its travel office in Brazil, an indication that this once-vibrant market for tourists to Central Florida continues to decline. The office in Sao Paolo had been open since 1996, Disney spokeswoman Rena Callahan said Friday. The theme park resort will rely on Brazilian travel wholesalers and U.S. tour operators to pick up business. Last year, 59,000 Brazilians visited Orlando, a decrease of more than 50 percent from 2001.

MICHIGAN AIDS TAUBMAN: The Michigan Senate passed a bill Thursday that would help protect Taubman Centers from a hostile takeover by a rival mall owner, Simon Property Group. The legislation would undo a federal court decision that favored Simon, delivering a serious blow to the $20-a-share takeover bid by Simon and its partner, Westfield America Trust. All three operate malls in the Tampa Bay area.

[Last modified September 20, 2003, 02:03:01]

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