Businesspeople of the Year

By Hannah Wallace June 30, 2004

We only had to look skyward to choose the 2004 Businesspeople of the Year, the men and women who have most affected the region this year. A forest of construction cranes made the choice obvious: Sarasota's downtown developers. With their vision and willingness to take big risks, they are, virtually overnight, changing our community forever.

A growing downtown with new buildings, new residents and new businesses and services means expanded opportunities for the local economy. Not everyone likes so much change so fast, of course; growth brings serious questions, including whether we can handle the resulting traffic, whether all the new buildings will find tenants and buyers, and whether we're creating an enclave for the wealthy rather than for the mix of ages, professions and cultures that make a city truly world class. But whatever the answers prove to be, in terms of impact, the major downtown developers you'll meet on these pages are unquestionably Sarasota/Manatee Business' Businesspeople of the Year.

Our list is not comprehensive; huge developments such as WCI's The Tower Residences of the Ritz-Carlton were completed more than 12 months ago, but had tremendous impact-in fact, were a catalyst for further development. Several smaller projects are also under way, as are six Golden Gate Point condominium buildings.

Will these bold visionaries succeed? Only time can tell, but most of our developers say Sarasota's time-tested attractions and ever-increasing numbers of well-heeled new residents and investors will make their projects work. We salute their eagerness to back up that belief with ambitious and creative development, and to play a role in shaping the city to come. 

Gilbert Alvarez and Mark Miller

Mark Miller and Gilbert Alvarez met just as each had changed paths. Alvarez, a Miami international banker, moved to Sarasota after Hurricane Andrew in 1991 to find a better place to raise his children. Miller left college where he was considering medical school to start his luxury home-building business Westwater Construction Inc.; Alvarez was one of his first clients. The pair became friends and eventually partnered with Terry Conti of Westwater and Chad Bratzke, a former defensive end for the Indianapolis Colts, to build the 23 Italian-style villas with a lavish garden courtyard near Burns Court.

Company: Burns Court Development, LLC

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: Burns Court Villas, 23 two- and three-story townhouses

Cost: $20 million

Price of condos: $780,000 to $927,000

Timeline: July 2004-September 2005

Liz Breuer

Former broadcast journalist and PriceWaterhouseCooper CPA, Liz Breuer, president of P. Wallenberg Co., understands stress. She faced plenty 18 months ago when she lost all her Savoy sales after nearby Burns Court residents sued to block construction. Breuer prevailed, and immediately sold 15 of The Savoy's 24 units. "I knew Palm Avenue was ready to go," says Breuer, adding that legendary architect and planner Oscar Newman, before his recent death, told her Sarasota is "poised for greatness." Next: urban-style lofts, ranging from $200,000 to $500,000 off East Avenue and First Street.

Company: Floria, LLC, a joint venture between managing partner P. Wallenberg Development Co., Inc. and Placida Properties, Inc.

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: The Savoy on Palm Avenue, 11 stories, 24 condo units

Cost: $36 million

Price of condos: $1,045,000 to $3,550,000

Timeline: April 2004-July 2005

Other notable projects: Placida Harbour Club, Inc., Placida; Centre Shops of Longboat Key, Arbor Greene 1,300 master planned community in New Tampa

Chris Brown

Although Chris Brown of Delray Beach has developed a single-family subdivision in Palmer Ranch and custom homes in The Oaks and Laurel Oak Country Club, his specialty for the last 10 years has been downtown building. In three or four years, Brown predicts, Sarasota will be completely different in its building heights, pedestrian traffic and entertainment. "You have a very deep housing market," he says, with many affluent buyers who maintain second homes here or retire here. "Very powerful. Prices aren't dropping that much from the beach."

Company: Sarasota Main Street LLC

Headquarters: Jacksonville and Boca Raton

Project: 1350 Main, across from Sarasota News & Books, 17-story, 134-unit mixed-use project with 6,200 square feet of retail

Cost: $35 million

Price of condos: $280,000 to $1.2 million

Timeline: fall 2004-spring 2006

Other notable projects: Palmetto Place, a mixed-use project of 25 condo in downtown Boca Raton and Highland Beach Club in Highland Beach, converting apartments into condos

Chris Cobbs

Before Alinari developer Chris Cobbs joined the Wynnton Group in 1998 (the developer of Alinari's sister project, The Renaissance of Sarasota), he lived in the world of institutional real estate investment-big-fund real estate companies that invest on a global scale. Until a few years ago, Sarasota was not on their radar screen, he says. Since then, our new upscale developments and year-round residents with money have attracted these types of investors to Sarasota. The upshot? Even more national investors with deeper pockets who view Sarasota "as a good spot for real estate development."

Company: Sarasota Renaissance Limited Partnership

Headquarters: Sarasota; Columbus, GA; and Atlanta, GA

Project: Alinari at The Renaissance of Sarasota, 17-story condominium, 205 residences

Cost: $85 million

Price of condos: $350,000 to $1 million-plus

Timeline: summer 2004-January 2006

Other notable projects: Renaissance Condominium I; Bayshore Apartments, Tampa

Casey Cummings, Mitchell and Susie Rice

Broadway Promenade partners Casey Cunningham, president of Ram Development in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and husband-and-wife team Mitchell and Suzie Rice of Tampa's RMC (one of Florida's biggest commercial real estate firms) have been friendly competitors for years. The Rices, searching for a new home for Publix on the North Trail, say they found a site at Tenth Street with beautiful views that called for something different from the typical center. Cummings calls Sarasota a rare coastal town with "a Bohemian feel, real streets and neighborhoods that connect to other places-and real jobs and real commerce."

Company: Ram Development and RMC Property Group

Headquarters: Ram is based in Palm Beach Gardens; RMC is based in Tampa

Project: Broadway Promenade, mixed-use project of two buildings, 187 condos, 21,000 square feet of retail, 3,200 square feet of office

Cost: $50 million

Price of condos: high $100,000s to $600,000-plus

Timeline: June 2004-Publix will be completed in April 2005, condominiums in April 2006

Other notable projects: Ram: Martin Down, 2,600-acre master-planned community in Martin County; manages or owns 4,600 apartments and 2.5 million square feet of retail space. RMC: builder of 91 Walgreen stores, currently building seven Publix markets

Ali Ebrahimi

After several years and two failed attempts, the vacant one-acre parcel at Five Points has found a savior in understated Ali Ebrahimi, founder of Houston-based Ersa Grae Corp., developer of offices, shopping centers, homes and master-planned communities. Ebrahimi fled his native Iran in 1979 after Ayatollah Khomeini took power. In 2002, he bought the property at the advice of friend Fred Pezeshkan from Naples-based Kraft Construction. Ebrahimi's proposed Plaza Verdi behind the Sarasota Opera will surpass The Plaza at Five Points in size.

Company: Ersa Grae Corp.

Headquarters: Houston, Texas

Project: The Plaza at Five Points, 16-story, mixed-use project of 50 condo units, 90,000 square feet of office and 15,000 square feet of retail

Cost: $75 million

Price of condos: $600,000 to $1 million, $1.5 million to $2.5 million for penthouses

Timeline: November 2003 - May 2005

Other notable projects: Parklane Plaza, 34-story condo in Houston; Ocean Park Plaza office park in Santa Monica

Charles Githler

Friendly, well-connected Charles Githler, who moved to Sarasota when he was in middle school, runs InterShow, Inc., which produces investment and trade shows around the world, and does development, too. Creating the sleek, modern condo tower Beau Ciel with brothers Stanley and Daniel Kane, Tom Brown, Jay Tallman and Marianne Siegal was almost a no-brainer, he says; Tessera and Sarabande proved people wanted to live downtown, and then the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota residences sold out in a day. "You won't recognize Sarasota five years from now," he says. "But I think you'll like it."

Company: Githler & Associates

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: Beau Ciel, 18 stories, 44 units

Cost: $62 million

Price of condos: $778,000 - $4,900,000

Timeline: completed September 2003

Other notable projects: Hyatt Sarasota renovations: $13 million, Half Moon Beach Club Resort, The Palm Towers and 1543 Second Street office building - 1987, other retail buildings on lower Main Street, Epicure/"Jolly" building

Sam Hamad

In 1988, Sam Hamad retired to Sarasota after a globetrotting career running the international division of Bristol-Myers Squibb. He jumped into development with Marquee en Ville, upscale townhomes going up at Fruitville and Cocoanut. Now he's planning a 15-unit condo tower at Main Street and Gulf Stream Avenue with partner Gary Hoyt. Hamad, who says development is cyclical and downtown won't stay hot forever, is betting he's timed the market correctly. And he's having fun. "It beats waking up every day and wondering which golf course I'm going to play."

Company: Enterprise Associates of Sarasota LLC

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: Marquee en Ville, 4-story gated enclave of 29 townhomes with rooftop terraces

Cost: $20 to 25 million

Price of condos: high $700,000s to $815,000

Timeline: May 2004-May 2005

Other notable projects: State Street office building

Brett Hutchens

Ten years ago, at 44, Brett Hutchens sold his South Carolina commercial development company and moved to Sarasota. His plan? "I didn't have one." Today he is president of Casto Lifestyle Properties, developing Whole Foods and One Hundred Central, which sold its last unit in April. Hutchens bought one, too-his big Landings home and yard aren't as appealing since his kids moved out. The new Ringling Bridge and the Duany plan convinced Whole Foods the timing was right, and it didn't hurt that the city approved a $6.65-million subsidy.

Company: Casto Lifestyle Properties

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: One Hundred Central and Whole Foods, 11-story, mixed-use project of 95 condo units with retail, and a national-brand organic supermarket

Cost: $55 million

Price of condos: $278,000 to $1.65 million (average: $500,000)

Timeline: Fall 2003-Whole Foods will be completed Nov. 1, 2004; retail completed December 2004; and condominiums completed spring/summer 2005

Other notable projects: Winter Park Village, Orlando, Fla.; Deerfield Town Center, Cincinnati, Ohio; projects in Charlottesville and Raleigh, N.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico

Harvey Kaltsas

After decades of herbs and acupuncture needles, alternative medicine pioneer Dr. Harvey Kaltsas is building a 14-story, eco-friendly condo tower with non-toxic materials and meditative labyrinths in quaint Laurel Park, just south of Main Street. More than half the units have sold before breaking ground-most to year-round residents. "I'd love to talk to the other developers about our healthy technologies," he says. "It's not more expensive." But if local developers aren't listening, others are: Kaltsas is discussing the development of Kanaya-like communities with a national spa developer.

Company: Kanaya LLC

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: Kanaya, 14-story, 35-unit condominium

Cost: $38 million

Price of condos: $575,000-$1.5 million

Timeline: June 2004-November to December 2005

Other notable projects: Kanaya is his first

Dr. Mark Kauffman

Retired orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Kauffman seems to have the Midas touch. His latest project is the modernistic, mixed-use Cityscape at Courthouse Centre across from his Hollywood 20. Many skeptics wondered when he announced plans for upscale condo lofts on the top two floors along busy U.S. 301 across from the courthouse. But he's already sold out and given the formerly ho-hum block a jolt of urban energy. Next: a redo of the Glauser building on Osprey Avenue just north of Mound Street, and a strip center on University Boulevard near Honore Avenue.

Company: Courthouse Associates

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: Cityscape at Courthouse Centre, 10 stories, 19 condo lofts, 80,000 square feet of office/retail space, five levels of parking

Cost: undisclosed

Price of condos: $375,000 to $750,000 (sold out)

Tenants: Mediterraneo, Jolly's, Melting Pot, law firm of Dunlap and Moran, CPA firm Kerkering Barberio, high-end audio company Synergy,

Timeline: July 2003-December to February 2005

Other notable projects: Hollywood 20, Links Plaza

Patrick Kelly

Affable Irishman Patrick "Paddy" Kelly blasted onto the scene big-time when he bought the Quay for $60 million in January 2004 and announced plans for a $1-billion mega development at the site of the moribund pink commercial complex between the Hyatt Sarasota and the Ritz. While some exclaim it's too large-Kelly initially proposed five towers, each 27 stories and filled with hotel rooms, condo residences, office and retail-his grand vision has forced us to look at downtown Sarasota through new-and bigger-eyes.

Company: Irish American Management Services, Ltd. and Redquartz Development Ltd.

Headquarters: Dublin, Ireland

Project: Sarasota Harbor Place, hotel, condos, stores, offices, parking, maybe conference space on 10.5 acres.

Cost: $750 million to $1 billion

Price of condos: $500,000 to $1 million

Timeline: TBD

Other notable projects: Smithfield, Gallery Quay Condos, 278 waterfront condos; National College of Ireland-all in Dublin

Gilbert Alvarez and Mark Miller

Mark Miller and Gilbert Alvarez met just as each had changed paths. Alvarez, a Miami international banker, moved to Sarasota after Hurricane Andrew in 1991 to find a better place to raise his children. Miller left college where he was considering medical school to start his luxury home-building business Westwater Construction Inc.; Alvarez was one of his first clients. The pair became friends and eventually partnered with Terry Conti of Westwater and Chad Bratzke, a former defensive end for the Indianapolis Colts, to build the 23 Italian-style villas with a lavish garden courtyard near Burns Court.

Company: Burns Court Development, LLC

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: Burns Court Villas, 23 two- and three-story townhouses

Cost: $20 million

Price of condos: $780,000 to $927,000

Timeline: July 2004-September 2005

Wayne Morehead

For decades, courtly Atlantan Wayne Morehead ran assisted living facilities in 11 states. He visited Sarasota in the late '90s with thoughts of managing one more. The facility wasn't right, but "Sarasota was stunning," he says. Morehead found property at Boulevard of the Arts and Cocoanut Avenue to develop The Boulevard, another mixed-use project pushing development north of the city. "I'm hoping I'll get to do another mixed-use project in the area where The Boulevard is," he says.

Company: Khason Development

Headquarters: Atlanta

Project: The Boulevard, 8-story, mixed-use development with 35 condominium units and 4,000 square feet of retail

Cost: $20 million

Price of condos: $490,000 to $1.1 million

Timeline: summer 2004-fall 2005

Other notable projects: The Boulevard is Khason Development's first

Jim Moynihan

A former New Jersey developer, boyish-looking Jim Moynihan fell in love with Sarasota three years ago on vacation and decided he could develop large projects in both states. But soon he sold his New Jersey holdings and moved here. He's also developed the land for the residential Enclave at Ashton, is looking at South Trail motels for another mixed-use project and is on the board of Sarasota Home Builders Association. "This is home," he says. "It's a great place to live, work and raise your children."

Company: JM Communities, LLC

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: San Marco, 6 stories, 23 units, 5,000 square feet of first-floor retail, 2,300 square feet of executive office suites with a community conference room

Cost: $17 million

Price of condos: $400,000s to $1.1 million

Timeline: May 2004 - July 2005

Other notable projects: 85 single-family and condo residences at Shannon Estates in Burlington County, N.J.; Trellis Green, 121-unit condominium in Burlington

New York Times Company

Newspapers belong in the heart of a city, says Sarasota Herald-Tribune publisher Diane McFarlin, who convinced the brass at The New York Times Co. to buy a Main Street location instead of building its new headquarters-designed by Miami's trend-setting Arquitectonica-on 30 acres it owned on Fruitville Road near the interstate. It helped when Sarasota provided $768,131 in TIF financing. "I vacillate between excitement and trepidation," she says about Sarasota's growth. "I hope we can experience healthy, productive growth without trampling on the very characteristics that have made this such an appealing place to live."

Company: Sarasota Herald-Tribune, a New York Times Company

Headquarters: New York

Downtown project: Sarasota Herald-Tribune headquarters, three-story, 71,250-square-foot building for newspaper and SNN

Cost: $30.6 million

Timeline: May 2004-Sept. 2005

Piero Rivolta

Italian-born Piero Rivolta manufactures cars and boats, loves music, writes poetry and-what else would you expect in Sarasota-develops residential real estate, including his new Rivo at Ringling, a 15-story condo tower at the corner of Ringling Boulevard and Osprey Avenue that Rivolta will surround with retail, a bank and office space. This world traveler says Sarasota is becoming more cosmopolitan, but, so far, not too big. Warning about following Duany's plan too rigorously, he says, "a city has to grow with the mentality and life of the people."

Company: Rivolta Group

Headquarters: Sarasota

Project: Rivo At Ringling, 15-story condominium, 106 units

Cost: $63 million for the condo; $12 million for the commercial parcels

Price of condos: $380,000s to $1.4 million

Timeline: September 2004-March 2005

Other notable projects: The Oaks, Longwood Run

Richard Zipes

Richard Zipes is an optimist. The 64-year-old developer of The Metropolitan became a father for the fifth time last February and is developing downtown's priciest condo project, a $150-million, 18-story high rise at the corner of Gulf Stream Avenue and U.S. 41. Though some question whether the luxury condo market is flooded, "Sarasota is undersupplied," asserts Zipes, who reviews marketing analyses and says, "I go by the seat of my pants." Florida's population will exceed New York's by 2020, he says. Plus, "We have a good balance sheet and patience."

Company: Metropolitan Sarasota, LTD

Headquarters: Fort Lauderdale

Project: The Metropolitan, 18-story condominium with 124 residences

Cost: $150-plus million

Price of condos: $1.8 to $5.5 million

Timeline: December 2004 at the earliest-December 2006

Other notable projects: four hotels in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando; largest is the $200 million, 42-story Las Olas River House in Fort Lauderdale

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