In the Region Bankruptcy court allows Bethlehem to pay...

BUSINESS DIGEST

February 15, 2002

In the Region

Bankruptcy court allows Bethlehem to pay bonuses

Bethlehem Steel Corp. said yesterday that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York City has approved its bid to pay up to $9 million in retention bonuses to key employees who otherwise might leave the company, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in October.

The court said the steel maker can give the payments to about 200 whose jobs are critical, instead of the 87 high-level employees originally targeted.

The bonuses also will generally be 30 percent of the employees' salaries, instead of the 30 percent to 80 percent Bethlehem sought. Payments are to be made in three equal installments over two years beginning July 1.

Comcast scrambles to repair e-mail problem

Hitting yet another snag in its nascent Internet service, Comcast Corp. said yesterday that it was scrambling to repair an e-mail failure that had left as many as 300,000 customers unable to receive messages.

Starting at 10 p.m. Wednesday, customers were able to receive e-mail messages intermittently, but by noon yesterday they were unable to receive them at all, said Dave Watson, executive vice president for marketing at Comcast. Watson said the company hoped to restore full e-mail service by late last night, but, if not, would "work around the clock" to do so.

Watson said the problem affected only users who relied on a Comcast e-mail account, and that subscribers who relied on a different service, such as a residual one from @Home Corp., were unaffected.

MAMSI board approves larger share buyback

Mid Atlantic Medical Services Inc. said yesterday that its board has approved buying back an additional $12 million in the company's stock.

The Rockville health insurer said the addition brings the total amount authorized for the share repurchase plan to $30 million.

MAMSI operates in the District of Columbia and six mid-Atlantic states. Its largest HMOs are Optimum Choice and MD-Individual Practice Association, Inc.

BB&T bank firm shifts 17 employees downtown

BB&T Corp. said yesterday that it has moved the 17 employees in its regional commercial and private banking team to Baltimore's Harborplace Towers in a move designed to build the bank's presence in the city.

The bank has 3,000 square feet of office space in the building at 111 S. Calvert St.

Twelve staff members and the bank's other services, including small business lending, residential mortgage and insurance, remain in the former Bank of Maryland office in Towson. BB&T, of Winston-Salem, N.C., acquired the Bank of Maryland in 1999 through its merger with Mason-Dixon Bancshares Inc.

Nonprofit wins right to drug it hopes will cure Chagas

Celera Genomics Group said yesterday that it gave away the rights to its experimental drug CRA-3316 so it could be developed to treat Chagas' disease, which kills up to 50,000 people a year in South and Central America.

Celera gave the Institute for OneWorld Health, a nonprofit, exclusive rights to develop the drug for parasitic infections in humans, free of royalties or cash payments. The institute and the National Institutes of Health have begun developing the drug to treat Chagas' disease.

Those afflicted with the disease primarily are low-income, rural people. Rockville-based Celera would have been unlikely to find a pharmaceutical company willing to help it develop the drug.

Gotham Golf to buy REIT for cash and debt

First Union Real Estate Equity and Mortgage Investments said a closely held golf course company controlled by its chairman agreed to buy the real estate investment trust for $126 million in cash and assumed debt.

Gotham Golf Corp. will pay $2.55 for each First Union share, a 6.3 percent premium to the closing share price of $2.40 on Wednesday. Gotham also will assume $37.3 million in debt and preferred stock, said William Ackman, chairman of New York-based First Union. Shareholders can also choose to receive $2.20 a share in cash, plus a pro-rata share of a loan backed by real estate assets.

Gotham Golf, of Hershey, Pa., operates 25 golf courses, most of them in the mid-Atlantic states, including seven in Maryland. The two companies have been planning to combine since July.

Ackman's New York investment firm, Gotham Partners LP, controls Gotham Golf and has about a 17 percent stake in First Union.

Convention association wins three first prizes

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association has taken the top prize in three categories in the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus contest that recognizes the best ideas in destination marketing and bureau management.

The local association won first place in bureau and operations management for developing and producing the first roundtable conference to set national standards for customer service, volunteerism and project development.

The group also won in the category of tourism promotion for its integrated leisure marketing campaign and best of show for bureaus with budgets over $3 million.

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