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Around the Bay

Business news from around Tampa Bay

By Times Staff
Published June 4, 2007



Madeira Beach

Call for free; just look at the ads

Advertising is the driving force behind a Philadelphia company expanding into Pinellas County. It wants to entice consumers to read its ads. "We believe advertising is a nuisance, " said Derek Bailey, CEO of Popa Media, which tested a free-phone concept at the Bamboo Beer Garden until the bar closed in April. "That's why we try to bring some redeeming value to it." Popa, which stands for "point of purchase advertising, " sets up Internet-connected kiosks that double as billboards. People are drawn to the kiosk by free phone calls throughout the United States and select countries worldwide. While on the phone, which uses VOIP, or voice over Internet protocol, they inevitably look at the ads. "You get a four-minute impression time, " said Popa Media Tampa Bay chief operating officer Steve Truels. "That's phenomenal. With a billboard, it's maybe three seconds."

Where are all these new banks coming from?

Lately, it seems that a new building rising on a street corner is almost certain to be a bank. This latest trend raises the question: Why are so many new banks coming to the area? "Local needs aren't being met by the big-city banks anymore, " said Todd Shank, finance professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. "The new banks are the ones I've never heard of, so obviously they're new, locally started banks, " said the former federal bank examiner and management consultant.

Banking professionals say the newer, smaller banks like Bay Cities, Bank of St. Petersburg and Freedom Bank are part of a development pattern that recurs every few years. New banks are acquired by larger banks, but the buyers leave the hole Shank described. The larger banks don't serve the old customers as well, so some drop off, creating a market for another small bank.

"The Bank of Americas, the Wachovias, the customers they lose to us, they don't really feel it, " said Barry Miller, director of Old Harbor Bank in Clearwater. "We fill a niche."

Banks don't lose customers because they're bad bankers, experts say, but because they're striving to be good in other ways.

"They expect to lose 20 percent of the customers, but they're willing to do that because they can't grow any other way, " said Dan Hudson, president of Nu Bank, which consults with banks at various stages of development. "It's not profitable for a large bank to do business development in a community, so they buy others. That's the way the monster is fed."


Tampa catches up to the 'build green' movement

The country's architects have been "building green" - buildings are designed specifically with the environment in mind - for more than a decade in cities like New York, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago and Seattle.

Tampa has lagged. But soon, we could see our first glimpses of what some say is the building trend of the future.

In April, the City Council approved the Del Villar, a 33-story mixed-use tower at 858 Channelside Drive. Among residential, retail and office space, the development could house Tampa's first robotic parking garage.

The tall structure could accommodate more cars in less space because there would be no elevators, stairwells or driveways for cars cruising for spaces. The garage would also reduce emissions and conserve the fuel drivers would use in parking their own cars, designers say.

Another environmentally friendly feature at the Del Villar: Windows will be placed on the north and south and set in 4 feet from the building's corners. Designer Urban Studio Architects says the window placement will avoid direct sunlight and reduce air conditioning bills.

The roof will be covered in grass to absorb rainwater before it runs off into a taxed drainage system. It'll also be nicer to look at than concrete.


Wanted: downtown restaurants, and lots of them

Work on turning Clearwater's main downtown street into a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare is still months from wrapping up. But city leaders are now working to lure businesses to Cleveland Street's empty storefronts.

Top of the list for Clearwater officials: Recruiting restaurants, possibly with financial incentives, and refurbishing storefronts. They're working on adopting a marketing brand that highlights the area as a destination.

"It's definitely time, " Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "You don't go talk to retailers and assume they'll open two weeks later. It's a long process ... but I think there's a market here because of the positive investment the city has made in the downtown."

The challenge is a big one. Some businesses, discouraged by the construction from the Cleveland streetscaping project over the past year, have fled. And roughly 40 percent of the street's storefronts sit vacant.

The city, working with a number of downtown organizations, said it has a plan to recruit businesses that fit into a "cafe society, " a concept that focuses on food and entertainment to attract traffic.

[Last modified June 1, 2007, 19:49:06]

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