BOB CROSLIN/ST. PETERSBURG TIMES PHOTOS
Nancy Boczon and Bill Tolford relax on the Briny Breezes house that sits next to the Atlantic Ocean and 600 yards of private beach that belong the the mobile home community.
This sounds like a great deal but it's not. Could this be the future of New Orleans?
Published Sunday, December 17, 2006
Town May Sell Itself Out
Developer Could Turn Some Residents Into Millionaires
By ELIOT KLEINBERG & MEGHAN MEYER
Cox News Service
A link to South Florida's past saw the future Tuesday: It's big and splashy and comes with a lot of zeroes.
And, if shareholders in this oceanfront mobile home park give their blessing, a Boca Raton developer they already had spurned once will buy their town down to the last boardwalk, bench and bicycle rack as early as March 2009. It would end an era.
Directors have unanimously approved and signed a contract for the sale of Briny Breezes to Boca Raton-based Ocean Land Investments for $510 million. Briny is a corporation whose residents own shares weighted by the location and size of lots; a vote equal to two thirds of shares is required to ratify the deal. The vote is set for Jan. 10.
Ocean Land founder Jean Francois Roy said in a news release that tentative plans call for various residences, including high-end condominiums, townhomes, a boutique condo-hotel resort and a marina, as well as retail and commercial space, restaurants and parks.
And "the name Briny Breezes would still be in there somehow," Ocean Land Senior Vice President Mark Issenman said.
Ocean Land will team with the Related Group and Catalfumo Construction. Ocean Land and Related also are partners in several luxury projects in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and Related helped build CityPlace and is building a nearby condominium. Catalfumo is building the planned new city hall complex in West Palm Beach and the proposed Ocean Mall redevelopment project in Riviera Beach.
Ocean Land said the project will take 10 to 15 years, but the first residences would be ready six years after the 2009 closing.
"We understand we're changing the lives of a lot of people," Roy said at midday Tuesday outside the auditorium that more than 300 residents packed to hear the announcement. The meeting was closed to the public and media.
"All right. We're doing a deal," shouted Lori McCall of Philadelphia as she left the meeting. She bought a unit two years ago for $66,000.
Retired art teacher and advertising executive John Sideris said, "I've got to find something to take its place. Waterfront property is very, very expensive. We have a few years to think about it."
Over the last few years, the residents' relative age has dropped as children of residents inherit homes and other young and middle-aged couples moved in. One was John Connolly.
"I'm still confused. I'm sitting on the fence," he said.
"In the last year we met many residents. We understand the lifestyle here. It cannot be replaced," Roy said. "It's sad. But if you have a hurricane, you cannot replace it anyhow."
It was the onslaught of three hurricanes in two years that helped turned the minds of many Briny residents.
The park drew "tin can tourists" as early as the 1920s, was bought out by its residents in 1958 and incorporated as a municipality in 1963.
For decades, developers had courted the 43-acre park near Boynton Beach and its 600 feet of oceanfront and 1,100 feet along the Intracoastal Waterway. Residents had always waved them away, insisting no amount of money would be worth losing the unique lifestyle that had vanished from so much of South Florida. Then Roy came along in October 2005 and offered the park a staggering half-billion dollars.
The town and Roy later parted ways when the town said it wanted to shop around. "They were looking to try to get the best offer," Roy said. "I don't blame them."
Ocean Land said it never stopped talking to Briny Breezes.
When the park solicited bids in May, demanding a nonrefundable $20,000 deposit and a minimum bid equal to Ocean Lands' original $500 million offer, four developers qualified. The Duane Morris law firm, hired by Briny, then negotiated with the four before deciding on Ocean Land about a month ago. Lawyers said the other three will not be revealed because of confidentiality agreements.
In the end, Roy ponied up only $10 million more than his initial offer.
But lawyers said the difference between the October 2005 offer and the deal struck Tuesday, and what gave Ocean Land the nod, was its agreement to do a "reverse merger." That meant Ocean Land was buying the corporation rather than the land, and residents should be facing only about 15 percent in capital gains taxes. The amount could have been as much as 40 percent for a difference of as much as $200 million.
At $32,478 a share, the deal would, on average, make instant millionaires of the park's 488 mobile-home owners, most of them retirees from the North and Midwest. Because units account for different amounts of shares, some will get more, some less.
The Palm Beach County property appraiser has said the deal likely would set a record for the county.
All the residents would be paid on the same day soon after the 2009 closing.
The town is also a municipality. Lawyers for Ocean Land said there are no plans to dissolve the government. Mayor Jack Lee said of the proposed deal, "I have a good feeling about it."
The deal must pass local and state hurdles before any shovel is turned.
While the town government would be responsible for writing a new comprehensive plan and development rules, the changes in traffic patterns caused by the new development would have to meet county standards, said Barbara Alterman, executive director of county planning, zoning and building.
Ocean Land did not want to hold any discussions with county zoning officials until the deal was made, Logan Pierson, Ocean Land's vice president of acquisitions, said Tuesday evening.
But he said the firm has researched the issue and is confident it can get the proper zoning as well as the blessing of adjoining towns.
"We also are not reaching to build a miniature Manhattan either," Pierson said. "We're not looking for something that the neighbors are going to be aghast with."
Pierson also said the developer is confident its planned community will more than pay for its investment. In nearby Highland Beach, developers of Toscana built three 420-unit towers on 17.3 acres, a footprint less than half of that Briny Breezes.
The current residents would have to be out around the time of the March 10, 2009, closing. But Joseph Aronica of Duane Morris told Tuesday's meeting, "We don't expect a bulldozer coming in the next day."
Residents cheered Roy when he entered. Residents stuck around for more than two hours, peppering directors with who, what, where and when.
"It gives you a couple more seasons," Aronica told the crowd, "a few more seasons to determine what you want to do," And as they straggled out, not all were as unanimous as their board had been.
"I've got to go home and think about it," Henry Dombroski, a resident since 1957, said, clutching in his hand a fact sheet that had been handed to residents. "There's quite a bit here on the plate."
Tom Byrne had no such qualms. He wore a big white button with blue ink reading, "Save Briny. Vote no."
"I don't need the money," Byrne, who moved 20 years ago, said outside the meeting. "I admit it's an attractive proposition. But that's what you save your whole life for. A lifetime you can enjoy."
© 2006 VANESSA BYERS, Vanessa: Unplugged
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