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Continued: Inside Track: Bank of Naples in Florida still has ties to Minnesota

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 26, 2012 - 5:21 PM

Several affluent Minnesotans have taken a bath on the troubled Bank of Naples that they launched in the Florida retirement community 12 years ago.

The once-booming community real estate lender blamed the boom-to-bust real estate market.

The Bank of Naples, with $147 million in loans and other assets, was sold this month to the larger Central Bank, owned by longtime Minnesota banker John Morrison, a Naples resident who was one of the original investors in Bank of Naples but who is no longer on that board.

The Bank of Naples lost more than $35 million from 2008 to 2011, got in hot water with federal bank regulators amid losses and had to hire a bank consultant to run it. The bank also had to add capital and was severely restricted under a 2011 consent order it reached with Florida and federal banking authorities.

"I'm very happy to be out of the banking business," said Elliot Kaplan, a Minneapolis attorney and a founder and the last chairman of Bank of Naples. "Most of the community banks in southwest Florida are gone or still struggling."

The other two board members at the end were Gene Frey, a retired St. Paul businessman and philanthropist, and Ken Murray, a retired Wells Fargo executive. Retired Minneapolis banker Bill Reiling also was a founder, along with several other Minnesota investors who have Gulf Coast vacation places.

Kaplan said last week that the remaining director/owners had been holding on for a turnaround in real estate values that would allow them to start reversing some of the loss provisions they had taken against properties. Instead, they opted to sell to Morrison, whose Stillwater-based Central Banks has been buying troubled banks since 1988.

Larry Albert -- CEO of Central Bank, which operates a branch in nearby Fort Myers -- said, "I can't talk about the structure of the deal, but we felt it was a viable long-term deal and we're trying to develop a presence in the area. We think southwest Florida will come around."

LOCOMOTIVE TO GET A NEW HEAD OF STEAM

A railroad group and the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota have designs on what they are calling "the world's first carbon-neutral, high-speed locomotive." Instead of coal, the engine will burn a clean "biocoal" developed at the university. Engineering prowess will come from the nonprofit Sustainable Rail International.

The goal of the newly formed Coalition for Sustainable Rail aims to create the world's cleanest powerful passenger locomotive that can reach speeds of up to 130 miles per hour on a clean fuel. Down the road, the hope is that biocoal can also fuel electric power plants.

The $5 million project will involve a number of yet-unspecified corporate, institutional and individual partners.

Sustainable Rail has completed a cosmetic restoration of idled Locomotive 3463 in Topeka, Kan, made in 1937. The locomotive will be moved to Minneapolis this year for engineering and overhaul so it can run on fuel pellets made of waste wood, crop residue of other cellulosic biomass that has been developed at the U of M . Supporters say biocoal is as potent as coal but produces far less pollution, ash, smoke and gases.

The partners aim to prove their research conclusions that the test locomotive will cost less to maintain and to fuel and will exhibit greater train handling performance and better horsepower at speed than today's diesel-electric locomotives. Then, they hope to commercialize the prototype through the railroad industry.

"It's also about developing an easy-to-maintain, easy to use boiler-and-electrical mechanical systems for a small town in Minnesota or Africa that can use crop waste or woody biomass for fuel," Davidson Ward, president of Sustainable Rail International, a U architect who works as a railroad consultant.

More information is at: www.csrail.org.

SOLVE OFF TO A GOOD START

John Colasanti worked at Carmichael Lynch for 15 years through 2009, during which time he says the agency tripled in revenue to $50 million and the staff doubled to 280. Colasanti is getting traction with his new agency -- Solve -- which he expects to employ 20, including some old partners, by year's end and to generate revenue of around $2 million.

"We're off to a good start and excited to be working with ambitious clients, including Organic Valley, Orbea Bicycles, Best Buy, Medifast, Autoweek and Optum Health Pro Cycling," he said.

"After working in senior positions at leading agencies on some of the world's most iconic brands, my partners and I decided there's a better model. Rather than force clients into a traditional agency structure ... a collection of departments and disciplines, with a standard cookie-cutter process ... the Solve model shapes itself around client problems,'' he said.

SHORT TAKES

•Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest just raised $700,000, 23 percent more than last year, at its fundraiser to support its business-education programs. Hats off to volunteers from CliftonAllenLarson, Allianz Life, U.S. Bank, Ernst & Young and others. Retired Wells Fargo Minnesota President Jim Campbell will be honored May 30 for his leadership in establishing J.A.'s BizTown, where students get real-world experience.

• Gary Fink, more audacious than ever at 77, has written "The Power of Positive Phynque-ing," an irreverent review of the life of a New York City kid who went on to Minnesota success in insurance sales with Prudential, his own company, the joys of philanthropy and his battle with cancer. It's a testament to tenacity, relationships and the power of (often-ribald) humor. More info at: www.garyfinkbook.com

•Hats off to Unitron of Plymouth and its growing, five-year relationship with Lifeworks Services, which provides training and contract jobs for people with disabilities. Unitron CEO Rodney Schutt said 136 Lifeworks clients have worked on everything from building kits to programming hearing aids, preparing marketing kits, recycling and other jobs that used to pull production people off their regular jobs.

The Lifeworks crews, whether on the job, in the cafeteria or at company events, makes Unitron a better outfit, Schutt said.

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