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CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Greetings from Indianapolis South

January 22, 2007

NAPLES, Fla.-Here I am more than 1,000 miles from Indianapolis and yet feeling right at home.

Seems like everywhere I turn, there are signs of the city.

The first night I was here, I ate dinner at a restaurant where six Indianapolis people I know were sitting at the table next to ours.

During the course of my stay so far, American United Life Insurance Co. held a board retreat here and the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation threw a fund-raiser at the Naples Ritz Carlton. They had televisions set up so attendees could watch the Indianapolis Colts beat the Baltimore Ravens.

A few years ago, DePauw University's board held its winter retreat here as well. I ran into a bunch of the board members piling off a bus to attend a play at the Naples Philharmonic Hall.

For years, several of my family's friends and businesspeople I know have vacationed in Naples and its immediate environs, drawn by the area's white, sandy beaches and its usually dependable sunshiny weather.

Indianapolis businesses have staked big claims down here, as well.

Simon Property Group Inc. has opened a huge mall in the Naples area, and the other day I drove by a sign for Kite Realty Group in front of a new project. There are many others, and the list of Indy companies doing business in Collier County continues to grow.

Obviously, there is big money to be made in southwest Florida, one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation.

It has struck me this year, however, that traffic is lighter than usual. We've been talking about it for days, and this morning's Naples Daily News confirmed our anecdotal observations and finally shed a little light on the subject.

Under the headline "Northern retirees choosing shorter winter stays in Fla.," an article quoted local tourism executives as saying numbers are down for two Januaries in a row.

"Rental rates have risen to keep up with spiraling property insurance rates from recent hurricanes, pricing some retirees out of the market," the story noted. A local real estate agent reported her bookings for February and March at 98 percent, but only 75 percent for January.

That's something I can understand. Our condominium building sustained damage last year from Hurricane Wilma, and now our homeowner's group is facing an insurance hike of nearly a quarter-million dollars.

Condo owners in our building have been given an ultimatum: Either install heavier doors and windows or put up hurricane shutters.

In addition to higher rental rates, high gasoline prices and rising medical costs are keeping retirees away from Florida, or at least shortening their stays, according to sources quoted in the article.

One source also suggested that "snowbirds"-the euphemism for northerners who fly south for at least part of the winter-may be suffering from Florida fatigue and heading to other vacation destinations.

That's a condition I don't see myself ever succumbing to. I'm still happy to be spending time down here, and to be truthful, the decrease in traffic is a plus for those of us who are here. So, it's OK with me if everybody else stays away.

Vanderjagt revisited

Last year in this space, I wrote about Colts place-kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who lives here part of the year, and his restaurant/bar Vandy's on the Edge on Marco Island, just a short drive from Naples.

Perfect name, I thought at the time, for a cocky little guy who is an excellent field goal kicker and appears to live on the edge.

Well, it's funny how things change in a year, isn't it? At the moment, Vanderjagt is out of work, and the Colts have a new place-kicker who-at least so far-has made quite a name for himself this year in the playoffs.

I'm guessing Vandy's on the Edge is no longer a haven for Colts fans in this area, even though the proprietor has more time to spend running a restaurant than he did a year ago.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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