St. Cloud dealer answers call for trucks for Haiti

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An earlier version of this column contained the incorrect number of trucks donated by Roger Penske. President Bill Clinton made a plea for Haiti last month in front of the world's richest and most well-connected business and political minds gathered in Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum.

"If there's anybody here who knows where I can get some — not big trucks, not semis — pickup trucks or slightly bigger, I need 100 yesterday," he told the crowd.

It was a businessman in St. Cloud, however, who answered that appeal.

On his way to work the morning after the speech, Walker Starling, general manager of Starling Chevrolet in St. Cloud, noticed a Twitter message from Huffington Post and later read a news story about Clinton's request.

"I didn't think I could do 100, but I could probably do one or two," said Starling, 29.

He made hours of phone calls to figure out whom, exactly, to donate the trucks to and came up with more questions than answers.

Then he recalled that the daughter of a colleague works for the Clinton Foundation and made one more call. With that, he inadvertently kicked off the effort for all 100 trucks.

Starling volunteered his local attorney to work with the foundation on how to turn the titles over for the donated vehicles and got the National Automobile Dealers Association on board.

Starling's father, Alan Starling, owns three local dealerships and is a past president of the national association.

NADA used its daily e-mail to 30,000 dealers and industry professionals to ask for additional donations.

Roger Penske's group agreed to give 40 trucks. General Motors said it could provide 30. Dealers in Tennessee, Virginia and other states pledged another 30 or so.

"A week and a half later, it's pretty amazing," Starling said. "We think we'll get to 100 pretty quickly."

The trucks are expected to be delivered to Haiti next week and will be used to distribute food and other supplies.

The icing on the cake for Starling came when Clinton and former President George W. Bush were in Orlando last week for a speaking engagement at a TD Ameritrade conference. Clinton's people invited Starling and his wife to meet the two former presidents, who are heading a fund to help rebuild Haiti.

"That was pretty great," he said. "It's not every day you get to meet the two past presidents."

Valencia to pay half price for Lake Nona land

Valencia Community College has 25 acres under contract for $5 million — or about half price — from Lake Nona, the developer of the southeast Orlando community of the same name.

Valencia Vice President of Administrative Services Keith Houck said "preliminary information" shows that the property is actually valued at about $10 million, or $400,000 an acre.

The difference between the purchase price and appraised value of the land, as agreed upon by both the buyer and the seller, will be considered a donation to the college, according to an outline of the contract. That would put the donation from Lake Nona owner Tavistock Group at about $5 million.

Valencia President Sandy Shugart said the campus will likely open by spring of 2012.

"I think it's a very good deal for the taxpayers," Shugart said. "It's fair to say the folks at Tavistock and Lake Nona really have a grasp on the value we may add to the community they're trying to build."

The deal, scheduled to close in June, appears to reflect the downturn in real estate values.

The property is next to Lake Nona High School, about four miles by car from the heart of the developer's planned "medical city," where two years ago the Nemours Foundation and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid considerably more.

Nemours paid $37.5 million for 60 acres, or $625,000 per acre, in 2008 for land to build a children's hospital. That same year, the federal government paid $34 million for 56 acres, or $608,000 per acre, to build a VA hospital and Tavistock donated an additional 10 acres.

Beth Kassab can be reached at bkassab@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5448. Read her blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/thebottomline.
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