With BP oil well capped, Florida looks for business to rebound

In June, Sean Snaith ran the numbers and concluded the Gulf oil crisis might cost Florida's economy $11 billion. This week, the University of Central Florida economist dialed back that nightmare scenario and says the damage will probably be about 80 percent less.

"Now that the well appears to be capped, so has the economic impact," Snaith said by e-mail Thursday that put the new worst-case financial damage closer to $2 billion for the Sunshine State.

Snaith's revised math may be an academic exercise. But it also reflects a hope across the Gulf Coast that the coming weeks will bring a brighter outlook for a battered economy.

On Thursday, BP announced that 14 weeks after its underwater well ruptured on the Gulf floor, workers finally sealed the gusher with cement. While completion of a second relief well would mark the official end to the operation, the announcement was hailed as a milestone in the worst oil crisis in the country's history.

But the sealing comes three weeks after BP said it dramatically cut the flow of oil into the Gulf with a temporary cap installed July 15. Some businesses said that established a turning point in the crisis, with travelers and customers less spooked by the oil threat.

"Now that it has been capped, we're seeing buyers creep back into the market," said Mary Anne Windes, a real estate broker in Destin who also helps run her family's charter fishing business. But there's still a "perception that this place has been ruined forever."

Oily tar balls first washed up on Florida shores during the start of the Panhandle's summer vacation season the first week of June. While cleanup workers bolstered hotel bookings, they did not boost the rental vacation homes that form the backbone of the tourism industry in Pensacola Beach, Destin and other Panhandle destinations.

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