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Around the Bay

Business news from around Tampa Bay

By Times Staff
Published November 12, 2007


Port Richey

No big money, just a big letdown

Carol Johnson would have thrown out the automotive tent sale circular. But her husband scratched off the gold-colored prize box to reveal this message: "Congratulations! You are the cash prize winner!" The cash prize winner? How much? It looked like $5,000. The winning message was below a "Scratch and see if you win one of these prizes" and to the left of a list of the six prizes, which included a four-wheeler, a Jet Ski and "Win $5,000 cash!" No purchase necessary, it said. But when a worker looked at her circular, she told her to look at the small print. Johnson kept looking at the flier and finally asked the worker to show her the fine print. The very fine print. And there it was: "up to" just above the dollar sign. The mailer only allowed her to draw a winning envelope - from $1 to $5,000 - from a bin. "It was a typographical error," said Jeff Lasher, general manager of the Plantation-based Crabtree dealership. The "up to" should have been against the lighter yellow background rather than in the red graphic on which "Win $5,000 cash" was written. "I apologize they didn't see it," Lasher said.

St. Petersburg

The BayWalk 'scene' is part of the deal

News that BayWalk is for sale barely fazed regular patrons of the entertainment center that brought downtown to life.

"This place will be here forever," said Eric Masters, 29, who likes to meet women at the BayWalk bars. "Everyone comes here."

Since BayWalk opened in 2000, it has become as much a part of St. Petersburg as RibFest or the Devil Rays or Mayor Rick Baker's "it's a great day" speeches.

The shopping center was built for $40-million - and the developer would not reveal an asking price - but whoever buys the 150,000-square-foot plaza will own more than a plot of real estate.

More than 3-million people visit the shopping complex every year to people-watch, catch a movie, drink, grab dessert, meet other singles, pick up a birthday gift, go on a first date and buy furniture.

Activists protest the war in Iraq and President Bush. Teenagers with nothing better to do congregate near the escalator. On Saturday nights, the bold learn to salsa in the courtyard.

Masters goes to BayWalk to scope out groups of women at the Martini Bar. When one of them goes to the restroom or the bar, he will casually find his way across the room until he is standing next to her and can easily make small talk. It's too hard to hit on a woman when she's sitting with her friends, he explained.

"There is a pack mentality," he said. "They treat you like you're a piece of meat."

St. Pete Beach

Tourism leaders want support for their efforts to expand

Leaders of the largest industry in Pinellas County are upset that they cannot reinvest to grow their business and further feed the economy. For the most part, tourism operators blame themselves.

"I don't think our industry has done a good job of putting what we do in somebody's living room," said Tony Satterfield, chairman of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce and also manager of the Alden Beach Resort.

Satterfield and others are anxious about public apathy to the $6.4-billion annual effect tourism has on the county's economy.

They want to continue to generate 5 to 10 percent of that economy, but fear ignorance about tourism, including among elected officials, will stymie them.

In particular, they worry about municipalities not enabling a new county ordinance that grants added hotel density to spur reinvestment.

Hoteliers say they need the extra density to make reinvestment viable. Without more rooms to fund new or revamped hotels, economic pressures - rising property taxes, higher insurance rates, a waterfront real estate market that will return - will disable the industry and convert the beaches to sterile condo canyons instead of diversified communities.

"With current densities, it's not financially feasible to build a hotel," said D.T. Minich, head of the county's Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is starting a public education campaign about tourism's importance. "Some of these hotels have not even had the chance to upgrade in 20 years."

Indian Rocks Beach

This firm's future is in video learning

When Jeffrey Nichols graduated from high school last year, his parents were told the 23-year-old autistic man was unemployable.

Now he has a job, earns money and is developing social skills no one ever thought he could.

"At Jeffrey's level of autism, it's a phenomenal occurrence," said Jeffrey's mother, Dayna Nichols, who is a special-education teacher in Pinellas. "Jeffrey's proven them wrong. The self-esteem and the positives are amazing."

Jeffrey gained his shot at employment with Alsco, a linen supply business, through application of video-learning technology by newly formed Florida Learning Curve. Founder Dave Bliesner has been using video as a self-training tool for businesses through Delphi Analytical Services but started the new company to branch into special-needs education.

"When I met Dave, I said you guys have an incredible tool here," Nichols said.

Bliesner takes a process as simple as baking bread or as complicated as manufacturing pharmaceuticals and videotapes the subject performing the necessary tasks. He then creates a segmented, computerized video the trainee can use to learn and relearn the task.

"A picture is worth 1,000 words and a video is worth a million, but a video of yourself doing something is incalculable," Bliesner said of his patent-pending process.

"We've tapped into some fundamental learning principles nobody's ever been into."

[Last modified November 9, 2007, 23:18:48]

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