Story Tools

Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Marina envisioned for former Sigma property in Cortez

With the old Sigma property in Cortez finally in their hands, Karen Bell and partners plan now to seek rezoning to allow a marina there.

The partners closed the deal last week to buy the property from Piero Rivolta for $1.865 million. With Bell are her husband, Paul Brugger, who together share one-fourth ownership; Judy Brueggeman, one-fourth; and Eva and Peter Thurell, one-half.

Bell, an executive of the A.P. Bell Fish Co. and owner of Star Fish Co. and its restaurant next door to Bell Fish, said this week that she feels the county will approve changes to allow the marina to go ahead.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection believes the property is a marina already, she said, and "what better thing for Cortez than a working marina and boatyard?"

Some in Cortez who originally opposed Rivolta's plan to develop Cortez Cove Marina continue their opposition. Bell knows it won't be easy, but she is determined to see it through. The approach channel and boat basin are newly dredged by Rivolta to suit a marina operation.

The property is just under three acres with 900 feet of shoreline toward the eastern end of the Cortez waterfront, she said.

Sigma has a long history, some successes and some hard times. It began about 1960 when B.C. Capo and his twin sons moved the old Church of Christ building onto land along the water and went into the fish business. Over the years, the Capos built docks and added to the building.

Capo's twin sons were named Lloyd and Floyd, universally called Big Bubba and Little Bubba, Walter Bell recalled a few years ago. Bell is president of the Bell fish house.

Big Bubba was the businessman, his widow, Martha Jane Masemore, has recounted. The couple ended up running the business, Capo Fisheries Inc. They took in a partner, Chester Bell, and not long afterward Big Bubba died of leukemia in 1970.

His widow and Bell ran the fish house until 1979 when they sold it to Junior Guthrie. He named it Gulf to Bay and developed it into a sizable operation until he ran into other troubles and lost it.

Chester Bell bought it back and 20 years ago sold it to Tony Huang, businessman from Taiwan who named it Sigma. Huang then acquired a bigger plant in St. Petersburg from Red Lobster and concentrated his fish business there. He kept the Cortez plant to ship fish to St. Petersburg for processing, making a big business of mullet roe for the Orient where it was, and is, highly valued.

Huang, too, ran into difficulties, with the U.S. government accusing him of importing shrimp from a country with which trade was prohibited. He went back to Taiwan, from where he continued to operate his businesses. In 1999 he sold the Cortez property to Rivolta.