Damson Automotive Group marks 50 years in business

Jerry Damson 50th Anniversary

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama Jerry Damson opened his own pre-owned car business on July 28, 1961, on a 300-by-400-foot lot on Meridian Street, using $20,000 his father, Harry Damson, gave him.

At 22, he’d been selling cars for Arthur Cole, a Ford, Chevrolet and Pontiac dealer in Huntsville, and found a job he loved.

“I don’t think you can be successful with anything if you don’t truly love what you’re doing,” Damson said last week before a celebration of the dealership’s 50th anniversary. Founded as Jerry Damson Motors, the business – now called Damson Automotive Group – is still family-owned and operates five automobile dealerships in North Alabama: Jerry Damson Honda on Bob Wallace Avenue and Jerry Damson Acura on Leeman Ferry Road in Huntsville, Honda of Decatur and Jerry Damson Honda and Jerry Damson Nissan in Florence.

When Damson first started the business, he was selling about 150 cars a year, said his son, Deke Damson, who now runs the business with his brother-in-law Bruce Park. “Now we sell in excess of 7,000″ in retail sales alone across the five locations. There are close to 300 employees in all.

Jerry Damson, who said he hasn’t sold a car in some 30 years, still has a small ownership stake in the Huntsville Honda store since his retirement a dozen years ago, while other owners of the dealerships are Deke Damson; Jerry Damson’s daughter, Susan Park; and son-in-law, Bruce Park.

“God has been with me,” said Damson when asked how the business has survived through the ups and downs of the automobile industry. “And we’ve been blessed to have had good people for a long time.

“Your people are No. 1. If your people aren’t happy, they won’t make your customers happy.”

Damson stayed at the Meridian Street location for 13 1/2 years before moving to the corner of Cook Avenue and Memorial Parkway.

In 1979, he bought Philip Bentley Sr.’s share of Lee-Bentley Chrysler, Plymouth, Honda GMC, which became Lee-Damson Chrysler, Plymouth Honda GMC at that same location on Bob Wallace Avenue. The Chrysler and Plymouth lines were dropped in 1981, and a year later, Damson bought out Louis Lee Jr.

The GMC franchise was sold to the Bentley Automotive Group in 1999.

The Acura franchise had been added in 1989, and the Acura store was on University Drive before its moved to Leeman Ferry Road. The used-car operation was recently expanded at that site.

In the auto industry, Jerry Damson said, “you have to change constantly to improve and keep up with the times.”

Deke Damson recalled that when his father bought into the Bob Wallace dealership, his mother, Butch Damson, using the name “Betty Green,” would make a follow-up call to customers the day after their visit to the service department.

The family is looking to continue Jerry Damson’s legacy.

Deke Damson’s oldest child, Brandon, a senior in college, plans to join the dealership next year, marking the third generation to be involved in the business.

During the 50th-anniversary celebration last week, Deke Damson said his father built a solid reputation here by “satisfying the customer, satisfying his employees, and surrounding himself with good people, people who believed in his philosophy.”

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2011/07/damson_automotive_group_marks.html

In the forest, paper remains strong and lumber weak

International Paper.JPGView full sizeInternational Paper’s containerboard mill at Yellow Bluff, Ala., in Wilcox County. (Courtesy International Paper Co.)

If you’re cutting down trees, turn them into cardboard boxes, not boards.

While International Paper Co. reported healthy profits for the second quarter, building products maker Louisiana-Pacific Corp. swung back into the red, and Weyerhaeuser Co. fell short of profit targets.

The differing results point to the relative health of the paper sector versus continued pain for wood products firms that rely on homebuilding.

International Paper posted a $224 million profit for 2011′s second quarter, or 52 cents per share, more than double the $93 million, or 21 cents per share, a year earlier, the Memphis, Tenn.-based company said Thursday.

Excluding the loss on the sale of a business and other one-time items, the company earned 80 cents per share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had forecast 67 cents per share.

The company’s total sales rose 8.6 percent to $6.65 billion.

International Paper has about 140 employees at a box plant in Bay Minette, 370 employees at a containerboard mill in the Wilcox County town of Yellow Bluff, and 480 workers and 100 contractors at a containerboard and paper mill north of Pensacola.

Things were much more downcast at Louisiana-Pacific, which owns a shuttered oriented strand board mill south of Thomasville.

The company, based in Nashville, Tenn., said prices for OSB fell, and customers bought less. Louisiana-Pacific lost $33 million, or 24 cents per share, in the April-to-June period. That compares to profit of $24 million, or 17 cents per share, in the same three months of 2010.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a loss of 17 cents a share.

Sales fell 19 percent to $362 million.

“Demand continues to be weak,” Chief Executive Rick Frost said in a statement. “Jobs, consumer confidence, inventory of vacant homes for sale and the overall state of the economy continue to have a downward pull on housing.”

Weyerhaeuser Co., which owns shuttered lumber mills in Yellow Bluff and Castleberry, saw profits dip in 2011′s second quarter to $10 million, or 2 cents per share, compared to $14 million, or 7 cents a share in the same three months of 2010.

While other units of the Federal Way, Wash., firm were profitable, its lumber and oriented strand board unit lost $52 million, as lumber prices fell while log costs rose.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2011/07/post_57.html

On the record: Peggy Clarke, director of AWARE in Birmingham

Peggy Clarke, the director of the AWARE program for Positive Maturity in Birmingham, has been called a ‘tireless advocate’ for the unemployed. (The Birmingham News/Tamika Moore)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — For more than 30 years, Peggy Clarke has built a reputation as a strong advocate for folks aged 50 and above needing help finding jobs.

Even before she joined Birmingham nonprofit Positive Maturity as head of its AWARE — short for Aging Workers Are Reliable Employees — program seven years ago, Clarke says she made helping older workers a part of her job running Dunhill Staffing, a Birmingham recruitment firm she operated for nearly 20 years before closing the office in 2003.

Last week, Positive Maturity highlighted Clarke’s contributions at a 69th birthday celebration held at Adridge Gardens in Hoover, a fund-raising event that drew one former Clarke client from Arkansas. One of the organizers, Gerriann Fagan of the Prism Group, described Clarke as “a tireless advocate” for older workers.

“If you’re out of a job, you need her,” said Fagan, a human resources consultant. “Peggy moves mountains to help her clients, friends and colleagues find jobs.”

In an interview, Clarke talked about her passion for assisting older workers in their job search. She also gave her thoughts on the current challenging job market, and why she feels aging workers are having such a tough time in the current economy.

Q. How did it feel to see so many friends celebrate your contributions to older workers last Saturday at your birthday event?

It was really overwhelming to me. I was not expecting it to be like that. It was one of the few times in my life that I’ve been speechless.

Q. What led to your passion for helping folks find jobs?

I was recruited into the industry by a recruiter. Before I joined Dunhill, I was a credit manager for a wholesale company.

Even before I went into the recruiting business, I was always finding my friends jobs. Back then all we had were want ads, and I’d call friends and urge them to apply for certain jobs.

One friend is still working for a pharmaceutical company I told him about 40 years ago.

Q. We all know that the recent economic downturn caused lots of folks to lose jobs. How have older workers been affected?

Older workers have probably been affected more than any other age group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 60,000 more people aged 55 and older were unemployed in June than in May.

The unemployment rate for this age group is still more than double the rate it was in 2007 when the recession began. The bureau says the average person aged 50 and older has been looking for a job for 53 weeks. We work with some people at AWARE who have been looking for work over two years.

Older people have a tough time dealing with unemployment. They were taught that if you don’t work, you’re not making a contribution to society.

Q. Give me your take on the current job market.

It’s tough out there. Even though the state says the unemployment rate in Birmingham is 9.8 percent, that is not the full picture because it only counts people drawing unemployment.

There are hundreds of thousands of people in Alabama who have used up all of their jobless benefits and aren’t reflected in the state unemployment numbers.

Q. What are some of the advantages older workers bring to the work force?

A better work ethic. A lot of younger people don’t want to work hard, come in late and are often tied up at work doing something not related to their job — texting, listening to their iPod.

That type of activity in the past would have gotten you fired. Older workers bring so much to the table — good skills, and they are loyal.

A lot of companies today don’t give someone over age 50 a chance because of the cost of their health insurance and fear that they won’t stay long. They’d rather hire someone much younger who will work for much cheaper pay.

Q. How does what you do at Positive Maturity compare to when you were in the staffing industry?

It’s very difficult today. In staffing, we put them mostly in temporary jobs and though I do some of that, a lot of our people need full-time jobs.

I do a lot of the same things that I used to. In staffing, a business would call and tell me what type person they needed and we built a data base matching them with people. We have a database here and make job calls on behalf of client and send companies’ their resumes.

Once a month, we have seminars for our clients, where we teach them things like how to market yourself, and how to dress for success.

We also provide computer training and seminars on networking. We are holding a job fair in Blount County on Sept. 15 and are planning to hold one in Shelby County in October.

Q. How is the current job market vs. other economic downturns you’ve worked in during your career?

I remember how bad it was in 1981 when the Birmingham steel industry went down. It was bad, and there have been other recessions, but I’ve never experienced anything as widespread as this.

To me, it’s like a depression. I’ve heard of people living in their homes without the AC on because they can’t afford the power bills. Some of the people who come to our senior citizens center say it’s the only good meal they get each day.

Q. Is age discrimination still a problem in the workplace despite laws in place to protect workers?

Absolutely, though it’s very hard to prove. If you look at EEOC statistics, you’ll see the number of claims related to age discrimination have grown by over 100 percent over the last three to four years during the recession.

I’ve heard about people being let go and replaced by a younger person willing to work for much less. The days of a person like my father staying with one company long enough to earn a gold watch are long gone.

Q. What advice do you have for older workers trying to find jobs?

The hardest job you’ll ever have is looking for a job. You have to do something every day, whether it’s looking on the computer at home or going to the library to do research.

A lot of people don’t know where to turn for help. That’s where we come in. We want to help and our services are free.

We placed just over 475 people in jobs last year. I feel fortunate to work with an agency like Positive Maturity, people who are selfless in the way they are always thinking of how to help the clients we serve.

Q. How much longer do you think you will keep doing this before retiring?

I’ll keep doing this for as long as the good Lord gives me the strength to come to work every day.

Join the conversation by clicking to comment or email Williams at rwilliams@bhamnews.com.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/07/on_the_record_peggy_clarke_dir.html

Reporter’s notebook: Commercial property deals in Birmingham market shows improving real estate

Anderson-Farms-auction-0731-11.jpgA creek runs through a portion of the 600-acre Anderson Farms property being sold to the highest bidder in Huntsville on Aug. 16. (Special)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Graham Co. brokers point to $18.8 million in commercial property sales in the second quarter as a sign that the Birmingham real estate market is on an upswing.

Mike Graham, president of Graham Co., said pent-up demand combined with ample inventory and low interest rates have provided continued lift to the local commercial real estate market.

Where were the nearly $20 million in deals? Turns out they were all over.

Graham represented the buyer of a 10,400-square-foot office-warehouse at Academy Drive in Bessemer. Southpace Properties Inc. represented the seller.

Other deals included:

• Alabama Telco Credit Union’s purchase of the 57,000-square-foot, 65-acre former Harbert Corp. headquarters in Hoover’s Riverchase. Graham represented Alabama Telco while Harbert Realty represented the seller.

• A three-parcel investment package with properties in Hoover, Calera and Moody that included two developed subdivisions and the former Holiday Inn site in Hoover at Interstate 65 and U.S. 31.

• A 21,500-square-foot office-warehouse on 10 acres at 1401 Georgia Road in Birmingham.

• A 25,330-square-foot equipment shop and corporate offices on 7½ acres at 2536 Commerce Circle in Tarrant.

• A 12,400-square-foot fully conditioned printing facility at 4700 Birmingham St. The buyer was represented by EGS Commercial Real Estate.

• A 36,000-square-foot, three-building industrial complex on 9.6 acres at 3309 U.S. 31 South in Calera.

• A 22,682-square-foot, multi-purpose building at 400 Valley Ave. formerly known as the Scottish Rite Temple.

• A historical 3,872-square-foot office building at 1314 Cobb Lane.

The quarter wasn’t without some notable industrial leasing deals, according to Graham.

Graham Co.’s development at the Jefferson Metropolitan Park McCalla landed what may have been the biggest new lease of the quarter with Caterpillar Logistics’ 160,160-square-foot lease for an automotive client. Other notable new leases:

• A tire distributor has leased 218,000 square feet of the former Meadowcraft Distribution Center in Pinson.

• Jones Plumbing leased 78,000 square feet at Moody Commerce Park.

Graham noted that some of the quarter’s leasing activity was, unfortunately, the result of the April 27 tornadoes.

600 acres of Rocket City land up for auction

These days, when large swaths of land in Huntsville are talked about, it’s usually in conjunction with chatter about another automotive plant looking at the state.

But the 600 acres going up for sale on Aug. 16 will be for the highest bidder.

Gadsden’s National Auction Group Inc. is selling the Anderson Farms property on Mooresville Road at absolute auction, meaning whatever the highest bid is determines the sales price.

The property is near the intersection of Interstate 565 and Interstate 65 and in the Huntsville city limits. A single buyer can buy the whole thing or the property can be broken into as many as 13 pieces ranging in size from 14 to 168 acres. The property has one mile of frontage on Mooresville Road and there is a creek that meanders through the site.

“For anyone looking for land with terrific development potential in a great location, this auction represents an incredible opportunity,” said National Auction Group president William Bone. “Bidders can choose their price and quite possibly walk away with a great buy.”

Bidders will be required to pay 10 percent down on auction day and must have $50,000 in the form of a personal check, business check or certified funds if they intend to bid on the entire property, or $10,000 per individual tract.

They auction will take place at the property at 10905 Mooresville Road.

More information can be found at NationalAuctionGroup.com.

Michael Tomberlin covers economic development, commercial real estate, construction, media and advertising for The Birmingham News. Contact him at 325-3436 or mtomberlin@bhamnews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MAJ_Chicken.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/07/reporters_notebook_commercial.html

Alabama’s pre-recession 4% jobless levels may lock in at about 8% by 2015

731LABOR chart.jpg[Click here to download a PDF of this chart.]

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — If you are unlucky enough to be out looking for work these days, you have probably bumped into today’s harsh reality — job searches are taking longer, there is intense competition for openings and companies are running lean, with few actually hiring.

The New Normal, as it’s being called, is brutal on the job seeker. Worse, the new era shows no signs of passing.

Some experts say metro Birmingham’s labor market has reset to levels of unemployment that many had thought gone forever.

Double-digit territory.

In June, experts were caught off guard when the jobless rate in metro Birmingham spiked to 9.8 percent from 8.8 percent a month earlier and 8.4 percent in April. Four metro area counties — Jefferson at 10.2 percent, Chilton at 10.4, Walker at 11.2 percent and Bibb at 12.4 percent — re-entered the double-digit zone.

Alabama’s rate, meanwhile, has climbed four straight months, from 9.2 percent in March to 9.9 percent in June, its highest level in over a year.

“I believe we will never see the unemployment rate in the 4 percent range that used to be considered normal,” said Ed Savela, president of SSC Group, a Birmingham-based business consulting company. “There will be a ‘new normal’ out there; maybe 7 to 8 percent or even higher.”

Many Birmingham labor market experts say the days of jobless rates at 2.4 percent in the Birmingham-Hoover area, as seen in April 2007, are gone for good, and that many of the jobs lost in the recession that began in December 2007 won’t ever return.

Ahmad Ijaz, an economist for the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, says Alabama lost more than 200,000 jobs during the recession. Though some of those jobs have returned, the state remains 143,200 below the peak, he said.

“At current rate it could be three or four more years before the payrolls get to pre-recession levels, but with new people entering the labor force and population increases, that could keep the unemployment rate relatively high for a while unless we see a very rapid job growth, which is unlikely with the current conditions the way they are,” Ijaz said.

At best, Alabama might see unemployment rate “fall back down to around 7 to 8 percent by 2015,” but he says that doesn’t account for technological advances, increased productivity, and other forces that caused many businesses not to hire back workers they previously let go.

“Currently, with larger available pool of available workers and uncertain demand conditions, most firms are already reluctant to take on additional workers,” he said.

Job seekers need to have more realistic expectations in today’s labor environment.

Job searches now tend to take longer and there is far more competition for open positions, said Art Cara, owner of Outplacement Consulting Services on Oxmoor Road in Homewood.

“I’m working with clients in the health care, banking and IT industries, and they are finding it takes longer and they have to be willing in many cases to relocate out of state,” Cara said. “If you want to stay local, you have to consider taking a lower salary or switch careers.”

Savela, a former corporate financial executive and 20-year recruiting expert who founded Savela Associates and Sunbelt Search Partners before selling them, said the employment outlook is especially tough for new college grads.

“There are lots of good jobs for younger, new grads, but in a relatively small band of fields: nursing, accounting, engineers,” Savela said.

“They should be prepared to take a job outside their field or a step down and then work their way up,” he said. “I also highly recommend entrepeneuring. If you do something well, consider starting your own business. A business associate of mine started a small business years ago while he was at Auburn. He didn’t have any money. He worked hard at it. Today many years later, he is running that same business and is probably worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Savela said older employees who find themselves out of work need to be prepared to take a step or two back.

“It is tough for someone in their 50′s or 60′s to replace that highly paid executive job they once had,” he said. “They should seek out some professional help, especially if they have been in the same job for a long time and unemployment is new to them. Things have changed dramatically. The suggestion of becoming an entrepreneur applies to them as well.”

The current labor market appears to be eerily similar to the pre-recession market, said John Norris, managing director of Oakworth Capital Bank in Birmingham.

“The economy is creating a significant number of lower-paying, lower-skilled jobs as opposed to higher paying careers,” he said. “The difference these days is we just aren’t creating enough of any type of job.”

He added: “It is going to be a very long time before we see pre-recession levels again, perhaps decades.”

Cara, the outplacement consultant, said the real unemployment crisis appears to be among employees earning $50,000 and less. With state and local governments suffering from declining revenue, they were among the first to be downsized, he said.

“The layoffs in Jefferson County, for instance, are reflective of what’s happening across the country,” Cara said.

Join the conversation by clicking to comment or email Williams at rwilliams@bhamnews.com.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/07/alabamas_pre-recession_4_joble.html

Condos sell in bulk; thrift store, Shell spend big bucks

 

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GULF SHORES, Ala. – An investor paid $2.28 million total for 34 bank-owned condominium units and at Enclave at Oak Hill on Regency Road off Fort Morgan Road in Gulf Shores, plus 10 adjacent acres, according to Ken Crabtree of REMAX of Gulf Shores, who represented the buyer. Jimmy Junkins and Bobby Hill of Century 21 Meyer Real Estate worked for the seller. The buyer has priced the units for sale at $68,000 for a one-bedroom unit, $105,000 for two-bedrooms and $116,000 for three-bedroom units, Crabtree said.

America’s Thrift Stores paid $2.85 million for the former Walmart store building at 5441 U.S. 90 W. in Tillman’s Corner, according to Grubb Ellis/Peebles Cameron, which represented the buyer. America’s Thrift has been leasing half of the 106,747-square-foot building, and NCO Group, a call center, leases the other half. Aaron Solomon of The Shopping Center Group worked for the seller. Charlie Gray of Surety Land Title handled the closing.

Shell Chemical LP paid $1.75 million for 22 acres adjacent to its existing property on Blakeley Island in Mobile, according to court records. Terrie Streed and Kimberly Whitehurst of Rels Title in Mobile handled the closing transaction.

Local investors paid $100,000 for a four-plex apartment building at 9330 Pinewood Ave., off Baldwin County 20, in Elberta, according to Tim Herrington of Herrington Realty, who worked for the buyer. The two-bedroom, one-bath units are 825 square feet. Brooks DeLaney of Gleason Associates represented the seller.

Twenty lots in Long Pines Estates off Baldwin County 48 in Fairhope were purchased by local investors for $373,000, according to Nathan Cox of Bellator Real Estate Development. The existing homes are priced in the low $200s.

Curves, a women’s fitness center, has leased 1,200 square feet in the Winn Dixie Shopping Center at 2502 S. Schillinger Road, according to Angela McArthur of Prudential Cooper Co. commercial division, who worked for the landlord. Jill Meeks of John Toomey Co. represented the tenant.

Nicole Barnes Antiques will open next month in 1,400 square feet in the Mobile Popcorn building at 1710 Dauphin St., according to Angela Tunstall of McAleer Tunstall Co.

The Ogletree Law Firm has leased 2,400 square feet at 1365 Government St., according to Jay Roberds of Roberds Commercial Realty Group, who represented the landlord, Langan Development Co.

SouthernLINC Wireless and Raging Shears Hair Salon have each opened in 1,200 square feet in Dauphin Square on Dauphin Street at Interstate 65, according to Matt Cummings of Cummings Associates.

Divine Consign, a consignment shop for ladies clothing and accessories, has leased 1,400 square feet at 221½ Dauphin St., downtown, and will open Monday, according to Nancy Stone of White-Spunner Associates.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2011/07/condos_sell_in_bulk_thrift_sto.html

Luxury RV’s called condos on wheels

RV Heritage.jpgRV lot sales have jumped at Heritage Motor Coach Resort and Marina in Orange Beach. RV sales agents say RV users are coming back to the beach. (Photo from Heritage Motor Coach Resort)

GULF SHORES, Ala. – People are coming back to the beach, and a lot of them are driving high-end recreational vehicles.

Six RV lots have sold in Bella Terra of Gulf Shores in the past two months, prompting developers to put the remaining 65 lots up for sale, according to Chuck Smith, a partner in the development off Baldwin County 12. So far, 110 potential buyers have signed up to buy one of the lots, Smith said. Lot prices range from $120,000 to $170,000 for lakefront sites.

Bella Terra and another local development, Heritage Motor Coach Resort and Marina, cater to the Class A motor coaches, which typically cost between $600,000 to $2 million.

The resorts and parks that serve them sell campsites and rent them out when the owners are traveling.

RV lovers may own a million-dollar coach, but they parked the condominium on wheels when the economy slowed and prices at the gas pumps increased, RV sales agents said. Still, sales and rentals were going well last year until the BP oil spill hit in April and “everybody vanished,” Smith said.

But in the last 60 days, sales and interest have increased tremendously, he said.

“People are coming back to the Gulf,” agreed Jim Howard, resort director at Heritage, on Bayou St. John in Orange Beach. “We had an awesome June. We sold 10 resort sites. We have now sold 46 of the 79 sites.”

Heritage sites start at $165,000. A waterfront site with a coach house or guest house can be as high as $409,000. That park includes a private, 42-slip marina.

Owning a half-a million dollar RV is a lifestyle choice, Smith said. “Most of the owners are retired and generally have the means to invest in something they want. They love the resort. It’s a place they can call home when they’re not on the road.”

The final phase of 65 lots in 175-lot Bella Terra will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.

“Many, if not most on the list, have stayed at Bella Terra or heard of us.”

Howard said RV owners are seeing that if they don’t do something now, the lots won’t be there later.

“A lot of our clients come in and rent for a week and get addicted to the place and decide to buy a site,” Howard said.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2011/07/luxury_rvs_called_condos_on_wh.html

The Wharf’s retail space may have buyer

The Wharf.jpgThe retail portion of The Wharf on the Intracoastal Waterway in Orange Beach has drawn offers from several investor groups. (Press-Register/Victor Calhoun)

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – Lender-owned retail spaces at The Wharf in Orange Beach may soon have a new owner as several investor groups vie to purchase the shopping and dining spot on the Intracoastal Waterway.

The deadline to submit offers for the 375,103-square-foot, two-story retail development was Thursday, according to Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Jones Lang LaSalle in Atlanta, which is representing creditor JP Morgan Chase.

Offers will be submitted to the lender for approval, and the selected buyer will be notified, he said. While the highest offer will carry weight, Cooper said, it is also “very important that the buyer have credibility and the cash to close.”

There will be a due diligence period before the sale is final, he said.

Merchants along The Wharf’s retail boulevard say they are ready for a new owner to invest in and maintain the center. They also said they also hope the change brings new tenants for the vacant storefronts.

The retail portion is about 62 percent leased, according to Jones Lang LaSalle

The Wharf opened in 2006, with developers building retail shops, a condominium, 10,000-seat amphitheater and 220-slip marina.

Last October, Regions bought the music venue, marina and 178 undeveloped acres for $18.16 million at foreclosure auctions. Regions had loaned The Wharf developers more than $49 million to buy and build those portions of the 222-acre project.

The marina is reportedly under contract to be purchased.

The city of Orange Beach paid $1.6 million in March to BBVA Compass for the 27,000-square-foot Wharf Conference Center, which they plan to convert to a civic center.

Locally owned Charter Landing is one of the investor groups that has made an offer to buy The Wharf’s retail spaces.

“We’re hopeful,” said Ken Montgomery of Point Clear, a principal at Charter. “The person that gets it and comes in and rents it up will have an awesome investment.”

Charter bought the bank note on 89 condominium units at Levin’s Bend at The Wharf last October. The units were quickly sold at net prices starting at $100 per square foot.

The retail tenants say sales have been good this summer.

“My main fear is that as soon as somebody buys it, they will jack up the rent,” said Roger Butterfield, who owns Tickled Pink with his wife, Tamara. The ladies boutique features jewelry, accessories and gifts.

He would be happy to have Jones Lang LaSalle continue leasing and managing the center. “They made our rent extremely affordable, and what it should have been in the beginning,” he said.

At one point, the merchants met to discuss buying the retail center from the lender, with each business owning its own space, said restaurateur Lane Gilbert.

“I loved the idea,” he said, but unfortunately a number of tenants could not afford to pursue that idea.

Gilbert and his wife, Ginny, own three businesses at The Wharf: Ginny Lane Bar Grill, Villaggio Grille and Intra Coastal Bread and Bottle Co.

He is hopeful that the retail purchase goes through, especially since it has drawn so much investor interest.

“I think people are realizing the value of The Wharf,” he said.

H.L. Hood and H20, a women’s apparel store and a swimwear store, have done well at The Wharf, and the owners of the two family-run businesses are optimistic about the retail center’s future.

“My biggest worry is that somebody buys it and cheapens the center with junky stores,” said Heather Hood, one of the owners. “We pride ourselves on being higher-end and specialty stores. We don’t have chains.”

Tickled Pink has had record sales in July, said Butterfield, who has been at The Wharf since it first opened. “I really want to stay. But if the new owners come in raising the rent, we’re gone.”

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2011/07/the_wharfs_retail_space_may_ha.html

Buffalo Soldiers group sees new face of Birmingham

buffalo soldier 110728.jpgMarker in southwest Birmingham’s Shadow Lawn Cemetery of Buffalo soldier grave. (The Birmingham News, Hal Yeager)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Birmingham convention officials are hoping to make a splash with the descendants of the original Buffalo Soldiers, who are holding their national convention in the Magic City this week for the first time.

About 500 members of the group, including some from as far away as Germany, arrived at the Sheraton Birmingham for festivities that conclude Saturday with a parade featuring members dressed in replica Buffalo Soldier uniforms riding on horseback through downtown Birmingham.

Jim Smither, president of the Greater Birmingham Convention Visitors Bureau, said the event is allowing city and business leaders to introduce the group to a side they’ve never seen before. Convention officials have often said their biggest challenge attracting many groups is dispelling their images of 1960s racial unrest in Birmingham.

“It’s always a pleasure to introduce a new gathering such as the Buffalo Soldiers to Birmingham,” Smither said. “They’re impressed with our culinary scene, the beauty of the city, and especially the hospitality of the people. So many of the Buffalo Soldiers are having this agreeable introduction to Birmingham for the first time.”

The Buffalo Soldiers date back to 1866, when Congress authorized the formation of two regiments of cavalry soldiers made up of black men, many of them former slaves. The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments conducted campaigns with the U.S. military against American Indian tribes on the Western Frontier for more than two decades in the late 1800s, including skirmishes against great Indian chiefs such as Geronimo.

Warren Burke, the Alabama chapter president, said the group’s famous name was given by Indians. The Cheyenne Indians said the black soldiers curly hair, dark skin and fierce fighting style reminded Native Americans of their sacred buffaloes.

Burke said the Alabama chapter had a difficult time at first convincing some skeptics to host the national convention in Birmingham. “Some of the older members only remembered Birmingham as ‘Bombingham,’” Burke said. “One 83-year-old asked, ‘Is the police chief white or black? If white, is he like Bull Connor? (the racist former police commissioner in Birmingham who ordered fire-hoses turned on marching black children in the 1960s).”

Burke said having the Buffalo Soldiers convention in Birmingham has been a boost for local businesses. Many of the 500 attendees brought spouses, children and grandchildren. While in town, they’ll be eating in Birmingham area restaurants and spending money in local shopping centers.

“We’re not a big group, but we are taking up nearly 700 room nights in the Sheraton Birmingham,” Burke said.

Since they’ve been here, Burke said, the group has been blown away by the new face of Birmingham. On Friday, the Buffalo Soldiers group will visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Among the events this week are children’s activities educating young folks about the group.

John Bell, a retired soldier and father of Birmingham Mayor William Bell, also will be named an honorary member of the Buffalo Soldiers, Burke said.

Burke hopes Saturday’s Buffalo Soldier parade on horseback educates Birmingham residents about the valuable role of the Buffalo Soldiers whose regiments also built roads and forts, installed telegraph lines and helped protect settlers in stagecoaches and mail runs from outlaws and Indians.

Burke said future black soldiers who served in segregated armies were also referred to as Buffalo Soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers and their relatives carried on the legacy of the group, and in 1967 the first annual reunion was held in Fort Riley, Kan., to mark the 101st anniversary of the group.

Burke, a veterinarian from Eutaw in Greene County, was among six people who formed the Alabama Chapter No. 1 in Alabaster in 2007. He said as original Buffalo Soldiers and their family members died off, membership was opened up to anyone who supports the legacy and ideals of the group.

Black soldiers and veterans can become full members, while those like Burke who aren’t in the military or descendants of Buffalo soldiers can become associate members. Burke said his group meets monthly at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Join the conversation by clicking to comment or email Williams at rwilliams@bhamnews.com.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/07/buffalo_soldiers_group_sees_ne.html

Securities and Exchange Commission event draws experts from across U.S.

 The focus is not necessarily on Jefferson County’s municipal bond problems, but on a variety of issues facing the market.

Among those scheduled to speak on a panel is Joseph Borg, director of the Alabama Securities Commission. Borg said he sees the need for more disclosure to bond investors by municipalities.

“I think there is room for improvement in not only the quality and quantity of initial disclosures, but the timely continuality of disclosures,” he said.

The size of the municipal bond market has grown from less than $20 billion in outstanding municipal debt in 1945 to about $2.8 trillion held by investors today, according to the SEC.

HEARING ON STATE OF MUNICIPAL SECURITIES MARKET

(View live webcast beginning at 8:30 a.m., a taped version available afterward)

SEC OFFICIALS

The Honorable Elisse B. Walter, Commissioner and chair of the field hearing

Robert W. Cook, Director, Division of Trading and Markets

Opening remarks: 8:30 – 9 am

The Honorable Spencer T. Bachus, III, Representative, 6th Congressional District of Alabama

The Honorable Elisse B. Walter

Distressed Communities: 9 – 10 am

Moderator: Dave Sanchez, Attorney-Fellow, Office of Municipal Securities, Division of Trading and Markets

Robert E. Brooks, Ph.D., Wallace D. Malone, Jr. Endowed Chair of Financial Management, University of Alabama

J. Foster Clark, Partner, Balch Bingham LLP

Philip Dotts, President, Public FA, Inc.

William C. Fallon, President and Chief Operating Officer, MBIA, Inc

James E. Spiotto, Partner, Chapman and Cutler LLP

Short Break 10 – 10:15 am

Small Issuers: 10:15 – 11:15 am

Moderator: Dave Sanchez

Scott Beardsley, Executive Managing Director, Crews Associates, Inc.

William P. Henderson, Managing Director, Public Finance Investment Banking, Piper Jaffray Co.

Alexandra M. MacLennan, Partner, Squire Sanders and Dempsey LLP

J. Hobson “Hobby” Presley, Jr., Attorney, Presley Burton Collier, LLC

Robert B. Scott, Assistant City Manager and Chief Financial Officer, Carrollton, Texas

Looking at Disclosures: Issuer and Investor Perspectives: 11:15 am – 12:30 pm

Moderator: Amy Starr, Chief, Office of Capital Market Trends, Division of Corporation Finance

Joseph P. Borg, Director, Alabama Securities Commission

Charles M. Duggan, Jr., City Manager, Auburn, Alabama

Jennifer L. Johnston, Vice President and Research Analyst, Franklin Templeton Investments

Edward “Ned” Mudd, Jr., Investor, Birmingham, Alabama

Paul Nolan, Senior Municipal Analyst, Asset Preservation Advisors

J. Ben Watkins, III, Director of the Division of Bond Finance, State of Florida

Lunch break 12:30 – 2:00 pm

Derivatives Use in Municipal Finance: 2 – 3 pm

Moderator: Amy Starr

Robert E. Brooks, Ph.D., Wallace D. Malone, Jr. Endowed Chair of Financial Management, University of Alabama

Mary-Margaret Collier, Director of State and Local Finance, State of Tennessee

Andrew Kalotay, Ph.D., President, Andrew Kalotay Associates, Inc.

Paul E. McElroy, Chief Financial Officer, JEA

Steven I. Turner, Partner, Hawkins Delafield Wood LLP

Pre-trade Price Transparency: 3 – 4 pm

Moderator: Alicia F. Goldin, Special Counsel, Office of Chief Counsel, Division of Trading and Markets

Jon K. Barasch, Senior Manager, Municipal Evaluation Quality Assurance, Interactive Data Pricing and Reference Data, Inc.

Ernesto A. Lanza, Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel, Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board

Johnny Lessley, Managing Director of Municipal Trading, Duncan-Williams, Inc.

John J. Lynch, Jr., Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Hartfield, Titus Donnelly, LLC

Richard Y. Roberts, Principal, Roberts, Raheb Gradler LLC

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/07/securities_and_exchange_commis.html