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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

State-backed insurer seeks new space in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Sept. 23, 2008 – Sen. J.D. Alexander has written the chairman of the state-backed property and casualty insurer, Citizens, wanting answers about a proposed move into office space he says could include a restaurant, gymnasium and concierge.

Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he was concerned about the amenities.

“Given that they rely on tax dollars to pay their losses, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Alexander wrote to Citizens board chairman James Malone. “They would ultimately end up spending a lot of money that they don’t have.”

The lawmaker also said it would be unnecessary to use a broker to negotiate a new 100,000 square-foot-lease for Citizens, suggesting it occupy available state-owned space.

Citizens, the largest property and casualty insurer in Florida with more than 1.1 million policyholders, has 1,100 employees across the state with its largest offices in Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Tampa.

“It is imperative that all of Citizens’ costs, as a government-sponsored entity, remain as low as possible in order to minimize policy costs and assessments to the taxpayers of Florida,” Malone said.

Citizens spokesman John Kuczwanski said the company wants to consolidate its Tallahassee offices in one central facility and was not seeking the amenities Alexander noted.

“Our existing office space leases are set to expire and we are reviewing all of our options,” Kuczwanski said. “We haven’t signed anything yet.”

The company’s leases in Tallahassee expire in the summer of 2010, he said.

Kuczwanski said Citizens signed a lease for office space in Tampa within the past year that does not have either a cafeteria or gym. A workout area in the original Tampa proposal was revised and the space turned into a training area, Kuczwanski said.

Citizens negotiations for new space is being handled by The Staubach Company, a global real estate firm based in Dallas, Texas, Kuczwanski said.

In 2002, the Florida Legislature passed a law that created Citizens to provide insurance to homeowners in high-risk areas and other unable to find coverage in the private insurance market.

Alexander, who chairs the General Government Appropriations Committee, sits on the Banking and Insurance Committee where he is a frequent critic of the state’s involvement in the insurance business.

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