Chambers move forward on merger, form transition teams

By now, just about everyone in the South Shore business community has heard that the Ruskin-SouthShore and Apollo Beach chambers are planning to merge.

The week of May 20 about half of the Apollo Beach chamber’s 200 eligible members voted on the proposed merger, with 93 percent of them approving a move forward through the formation of a transition team. That team will be comprised of five board members: Greg Conley of TSI Inc., president; Jose Alvarez of Alvarez CPA; Ron Seagren of ServiceMaster 24 Hour, Ron Kobosky of Mosaic; and Mike Doherty of Dedicated Transport Solutions Inc., with chamber member Ron Satterfield as alternate.

The Ruskin-SouthShore chamber’s transition team is comprised of the following board members: Patti Thornton of SunTrust Bank, president; Joel Meek of All Bay Insurance; John Smith of H&R Block; Tony Zipperer of Zipperer’s Funeral Home & Crematory; and Ron Simpson of Weichert, Realtors — SouthShore, with the Rev. Charlie Lewis as alternate.

The group began meeting May 25 to resolve and agree on pressing issues before the proposed merger date of July 1, Conley said in his May 22 letter to members announcing the results of the vote. Those issues include staffing, integration of member services, finances, facilities, and board representation, he said.

Apollo Beach attorney Mike Peterson of Commerce Realty Services is legal counsel for the transition team.

Speaking of voting …

The annual Best of South Shore Readers Poll has begun, so if you haven’t already done so, get your ballot in today’sSouth Shore News & Tribune or online at Rules are available on both types of ballot, so check them out and get your votes in.

Paper ballots also will be published in the South Shore News & Tribune on June 8 and 15, which must be returned and postmarked by June 17.

Get your friends, staff, business associates, even your mama to have their say. Who knows? Your business could end up the Best of South Shore.

Congrats all around

Three Weichert, Realtors — SouthShore agents were recently honored by Weichert Real Estate Affiliates and Weichert Florida West Central Broker Council: Carol Newcomb and Susan Detweiler received certificates for their 2010 sales production, and David Madden was honored with the Outstanding Service Award, in recognition of his selfless support to the Apollo Beach office.

Owner and broker Colin Howgill said he was proud of their achievements in a “particularly testing market.”

The trio was recognized among more than 7,000 associates within the Weichert Real Estate Affiliates franchise.

For information, call (813) 649-1002.

Getting to know you

A group of South Shore area business people recently visited seven Ruskin and Sun City Center businesses and nonprofit groups to take an up-close and behind-the-scenes look during the first Tour de SouthShore of 2011.

The group of “tourists” included Ron Simpson of Weichert, Realtors — SouthShore, Robyn Payant of Payant Financial Services Inc., Sherill Shelley of Champion Self Storage, Gary Schumacher of Kaeser & Blair Inc., Connie Huber of the St. Petersburg Times, Kathy Wallin of K&B Travel, Deb Adams of M&I Bank, Betsy Martinez and Danny Cooper of the Suncoast Community Health Center and the Rev. Charlie Lewis of Christ Community Church.

Businesses participating as “stops” were Homewood Residences, Champion Self Storage, Scentsy, the National Weather Service office, South County Career Center, Wilhelm Heating & Air Conditioning and the Big Draw Studio.

The next Tour de SouthShore will be June 24, so if you’re interested in taking the tour and learning more about the community, call the chamber at (813) 645-3808.

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Investors with ties to baseball stadiums buy in Channel District

It may be coincidence, but investment funds affiliated with a Denver man who put together the Colorado Rockies baseball stadium deal have purchased land in downtown Tampa.

In fact, the Channel District land in question came up last year as a potential site for a Tampa Bay Rays stadium.

The new landowners’ advice, though, is don’t jump to conclusions. They have no plans for any Major League Baseball stadium but rather are eyeing the property for parking revenue in the short term and potential multifamily housing in the long term, a manager of the investment funds says.

“We’re really looking at this as a parking play,” said Michael Baker, who runs two limited liability companies called 514 Channelside Properties and Pinnacle Channelside Properties.

In December and January, those two companies bought roughly 7 acres across from the St. Pete Times Forum for about $9.2 million, county property records show.

The property sits between Nebraska Avenue and Caesar Street. One piece fronts Channelside Drive and houses the building that used to be Newk’s Café; the other sits behind it and extends back to a ConAgra Foods manufacturing plant.

What’s notable is the umbrella company behind the two LLCs, a Greenwood Village, Colo., firm called Gold Crown Management. A partner in Gold Crown Management is well-known Denver businessman Raymond Baker, who is the father of the above-mentioned Michael Baker.

Raymond Baker has been involved in Colorado professional sports for years.

He is listed as a senior adviser to the Romani Group, a Denver-area company that manages sports stadium development projects throughout North America. Baker helped Romani Group on projects including the Denver Broncos’ NFL stadium, Invesco Field at Mile High, said company CEO Tim Romani.

Baker also is a longtime chairman of two nonprofit stadium districts, the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District, which owns the Coors Field baseball stadium, and the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which owns Invesco Field.

As chairman of the baseball district, he helped orchestrate public financing for the Rockies’ stadium. Last year, the Tribune interviewed Baker about how Denver was able to get taxpayers from a multicounty region to agree on a stadium tax.

“He was a major player and a major reason why the Rockies were created in Colorado and why Coors Field was built,” Romani told the Tribune on Wednesday.

Given Baker’s history with stadiums, a couple people familiar with downtown Tampa real estate have been wondering about his intentions.

A year ago, a land broker named Claire Clements made a splash locally by trying to tie up land in the same vicinity for a Rays stadium. Her purchase options on the land have expired.

However, Gold Crown Management’s investment funds didn’t buy the Tampa land with a ballpark in mind, Michael Baker said. And no one has contacted the Rays, he said.

The company has been eyeing Tampa real estate because of the huge drop in prices recently. For now, it has contracted with Seven One Seven Parking Enterprises to operate pay lots on its property, and it’s evaluating the land for multifamily housing, he said.

Romani, the Denver stadium project manager, confirmed that Romani Group is not part of the Tampa land purchase and is not part of any Tampa stadium effort. The Rays generally have declined comment on stadium matters and declined comment for this article.

The investment funds appear to be getting the land at a steal, at least compared with previous land prices. The funds paid a little more than $28 a square foot for the land, said Tim Wilmath, director of valuation for the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office. During the boom years, downtown land sometimes fetched more than $100 a square foot, he said.

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