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SeaWorld reports net loss of $312 million for 2020

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., the Orlando-based parent company of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and several other theme parks across the country, has reported a net loss of $312.3 million for its 2020 fiscal year. SeaWorld's latest financial results report, released on Thursday, also revealed that the company suffered a net loss of $45.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2020. Forced to limit capacity because of the Covid-19 crisis, attendance dropped by 16.3 million in 2020 and 2.5 million in the fourth quarter. However, guests who visited SeaWorld parks last year tended to spend more, with in-park per capita spending up by 5.2 percent to $27.68.

Supreme Court invalidates Hillsborough County transportation surtax

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Hillsborough County’s one-cent transportation surtax, approved by voters in 2018, is unconstitutional. The vote was 4-1, with Justice Jorge Labarga dissenting. The tax initiative was championed by an advocacy group called All For Transportation and was controversial from the start because it called for the creation of an independent body of unelected citizens to decide how funds would be used. That drew the ire of Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, who waged the legal battle that tied up the charter amendment in court and froze approximately $472 million that had been collected since the surtax was implemented.

Regional planning council elects board officers

At its Feb. 8 meeting, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council elected a new slate of board officers for 2021. The leadership reflects the council’s wide geographic reach, with officers hailing from Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano was elected board chair, succeeding Patrick Roff, a Bradenton City Council member. St. Petersburg City Council member Brandi Gabbard won the vote for vice chair and Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh was chosen as secretary-treasurer. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council brings together governments to coordinate planning for the community’s future and provide an opportunity for sharing solutions among the local government jurisdictions in the Tampa Bay region.

Florida Blue named top large employer by influential magazine

Florida Blue, the state’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, has been recognized by Forbes as one of America’s 2021 Best Large Employers. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida Blue employs more than 800 people in Tampa Bay and west Florida, according to spokeswoman Lissette Campos. To determine its rankings, Forbes, partnering with research firm Statista, anonymously surveyed 50,000 people working for U.S. businesses with at least 1,000 employees. Respondents were asked to rate how likely they’d be to recommend their employer to others and to nominate organizations other than their own.

Pinellas County adopts lien forgiveness package

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners has adopted a lien forgiveness resolution and approved amendments to the county code. The measures are designed to encourage code enforcement compliance, streamline the condemnation and demolition of hazardous buildings and structures, and reduce undue delays for reinvestment opportunities, according to a news release. The action authorizes the county's code enforcement department to reduce liens in unincorporated parts of the county. Liens are capped at $20,000 per violation for properties in use as single-family homes and $100,000 per violation for properties such as multi-unit residences and commercial and industrial buildings. A hardship committee can reduce liens for residents facing particularly difficult circumstances once their violations have been resolved. A predictable process for reducing liens is an incentive to prospective property owners or an organization such as Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate properties, county officials said.

Rays announce protocols for fans at spring training games

Tampa Bay Rays spring training ticket sales open to the general public at 10 a.m. on Friday. The team, in a news release, said it will limit capacity for its games at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte by offering tickets for socially distant “pods” of two or four people. Face coverings will be required at all times, except for fans who are eating or drinking while seated in their ticketed seat. For a full list of Rays spring training health and safety protocols, visit the team’s website.

St. Pete insurer plans direct-to-consumer products

United Insurance Holdings Corp., a St. Petersburg-based property and casualty insurance holding company, has formed Skyway Technology, an insurtech subsidiary developing direct-to-consumer products. The new subsidiary will build off of the investments that United Insurance has made in its technology systems over the last several years, Daniel Peed, chairman and CEO, said during a conference call with analysts Wednesday. United Insurance (Nasdaq: UIHC), which does business as UPC Insurance, reported a net loss of $96.5 million, or $2.25 a share, on revenue of $846.7 million for the full year of 2020. During the conference call, Peed cited a record number of named storms last year and said the catastrophe loss masked a significant improvement in the company's underlying portfolio.

iQor names new board members

iQor, a customer support and business solutions company headquartered in St. Petersburg, has announced six new members of the company's board of directors. They are: Gary Praznik, president and CEO of iQor; Christopher Carrington, CEO Omni Interactions and a former executive at Sykes Enterprises; Sue Nokes, a former executive at Asurion and T-Mobile, Ted Russell, an attorney and president of Russell PC and a former executive at Fox Entertainment Group; Satish Raman, chief strategy officer,; and Scott D Vogel, managing member of Vogel Partners. Carrington was elected board chairman. iQor,one of the larger companies based in St. Pete, recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

PSTA extends service for self-driving shuttle

The board of directors of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority agreed to extend service for its autonomous vehicles in St. Petersburg. The PSTA board voted to allow the fare-free, all-electric shuttle to continue operations through March 28. It had been scheduled to end next week. The St. Petersburg City Council is expected to take up its own vote on the extension on March 4. Since launching in November, the shuttle has been "a great success," said Brad Miller, PSTA CEO. The shuttle, dubbed AVA for Autonomous Vehicle Advantage, operates along Bayshore Drive Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

NFL legends Steve Young, Jerry Rice to speak at innovation conference

The Synapse Summit, an annual conference for the Florida’s tech sector that usually takes place in Tampa but is being held virtually this year, has added NFL Hall of Famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice to its lineup of guest speakers, along with Cameo founder Steven Galanis, who recently located from Chicago to Tampa. Quarterback Young — who began his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and wide receiver Rice played together for 12 years as members of the San Francisco 49ers, connecting for 85 touchdowns. They've teamed up again to launch 8 to 80 Zones, an initiative to help youth living in underserved communities in Tampa, Atlanta and Miami gain skills that can lead to careers in technology, e-sports, video games and media. The Synapse Summit takes place March 8-11.

Lightning, Jabil, USF team up on workplace diversity program

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Jabil Inc. have partnered with the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business to offer a free, seven-week certificate program that will focus on ways organizations can create a more diverse workplace as well as address equity issues and foster inclusivity. The program, set to run from March 24 to May 5, will highlight the ways that racial, religious, age, gender and sexual orientation diversity can help companies develop novel business practices, increase revenue and improve performance. The Lightning and Jabil helped recruit guest speakers and develop the curriculum for the course, which is geared toward HR professionals and C-suite executives but welcomes people across all levels of their respective companies and organizations.

Pinellas County extends local state of emergency

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to extend the local state of emergency through March 5. The local state of emergency keeps in effect a county ordinance requiring face coverings while in public places. It also requires restaurants and bars to serve only patrons who are seated. The unanimous board vote followed a presentation by public health officials, including Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. Positive Covid-19 cases are up slightly, with an average of 6.3 percent of tests coming back positive in the past seven days, but hospital capacity remains stable, Choe said. About 132,000 people or 13.4 percent of Pinellas County residents have received one or two doses of the Covid vaccines. As of Tuesday, there was a cumulative total of 65,375 Covid-19 cases reported in Pinellas County and 1,430 deaths.

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