Top 10 Developers

By Hannah Wallace February 28, 2007

1. Benderson Development in Florida

Managing director: Randy Benderson

Established in Sarasota-Manatee in 1995; national headquarters moved to Sarasota in 2003; about 150 employees in Florida; 8441 Cooper Creek Blvd., University Park, FL 34201; (941) 359-8303;

Current projects: A $183 million retail/residential development University Town Center on 130 acres at University Parkway and I-75 (Phase One's SuperTarget opened last summer), with an expected $500 million in annual retail sales.

Siesta Pointe, an upscale, mixed-use project with a hotel, retail and housing on 25 acres at the corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41, the former site of the Pine Shores Trailer Park.

Renovation of the 131,000-square-foot Ellis Building, 1605 Main St. in downtown Sarasota, with a second tower for a 337-room hotel, 168 residential units, retail and a restaurant. Construction should begin fall 2007.

Sarasota-Bradenton Commerce Center, Whitfield Avenue and 15th Street East. Its 679,900 square feet of office/warehouse and light industrial space is 98 percent leased.

North Port Consumer Square, developed in partnership with Pat Neal, at Toledo Blade Boulevard and I-75, will include 339,000 square feet of retail, 2,388 residential units, medical park, and elementary and middle school sites. Phase One residential units are under construction.

In brief: Natural beauty drew company founder Nathan Benderson to live here, but population growth and the consumer demographic drove the retail giant to relocate its headquarters to Sarasota in 2003. Benderson plans to construct up to 6 million square feet of office parks and retail/residential mixed use from Ellenton to North Port. In 2004, the firm sold 110 of its retail properties to Cleveland's Developers Diversified Realty Corp for $2.25 billion while retaining ownership of 650 retail and commercial properties encompassing 35 million square feet, making it one of the largest privately owned development companies in North America.

Media-shy Randy Benderson, Nathan's son, is described as an unassuming, hard-working dealmaker whose "word is solid gold," says partner Pat Neal. Sarasota County Commissioner Shannon Staub, who has witnessed Benderson's amicable approach to county requests and changes, says he's not your flashy Florida developer. "When he gets up at the dais, he's almost humble," says Staub.

2. Corvus International

CEO: Tim Morris

Established in 1995; 10 employees; 1401 Manatee Ave. W., Suite 500, Bradenton, FL 34205; (941) 708-9220;

Signature projects: Positano on the Gulf, 29 condominiums priced from $2.5 million to $3.5 million on the site of the former Holiday Inn on north Longboat Key, and Bel Mare at Riviera Dunes, a $120-million waterfront condominium project in Palmetto with three 15-story towers and an average price near $1 million.

Current projects: Sanctuary Cove, a $1.5-billion mixed-use development on 255 acres with 1.5 miles along the Manatee River; includes nine, 12-story towers ranging from $450,000 to $2 million and 250,000 square feet of commercial space. The five-year project is expected to break ground in early 2007.

Avalon at the former Hibbs Farm and Garden center on Fruitville Road and Lemon Avenue, a $75-million commercial project with potential for up to 300,000 square feet. It was redesigned in late 2006 to include a bank branch, office condos, apartments and a boutique hotel.

In brief: For a man with $2 billion to $3 billion in projects under development, Tim Morris is refreshingly candid and accessible. A graduate of West Point, Morris founded an industrial real estate brokerage in the Midwest, which evolved into a real estate service firm, the Manhattan Company, to handle planning and transactions for business clients, mostly in the automotive industry. In 1995, Morris founded Corvus International, which has specialized in luxury residential and mixed-use projects in Florida since 2000.

Key to success in this market: "We've had a reasonable basis to control construction costs. We also have good staying power to let the market settle," Morris says. "We run a lean operation with 10 employees and can make decisions and move quickly."

Commercial market watch: "People flipped until the music stopped, and then their projects wouldn't work because of land costs," he says. "There's going to be some fallout over the next 10 to 12 months and a number of opportunities where people just want to get out."

Biggest challenge: "Finding good subcontractors and managing the schedule," says Morris. With the rise in building costs, "subcontractors were dictating the terms to developers. That pendulum is starting to swing back as costs come down."

3. Fourth Quarter Properties - Thomas Ranch

Founder and CEO: Stan Thomas, Thomas Enterprises

45 Ansley Drive, Newnan, GA, 30263; (678) 423-5445;

Current project: Thomas Ranch, a 15,000-acre property in South County, extending beyond the city of North Port. Thomas purchased the 28-square-mile property for $78 million from the Taylor family in 2001. It is expected to take 20 years to build out and will include 15,000 homes within eight villages, three million-plus square feet of commercial and retail, three fire stations, a police station, a city hall annex and 196 acres of public parks. The roads, utilities and other infrastructures are being built by the West Villages Improvement District, a special taxing district created by the Florida legislature. DiVosta Homes began building the first 1,869-residence village, called Island Walk, in 2006.

In brief: Stanley Thomas, 51, is a Newnan, Ga.-based mega-developer who has built 20 million square feet of big box retail "power centers" valued at $2 billion, mostly in Georgia. The firm, which was established in 1987, now concentrates on mixed-use, lifestyle or entertainment centers in the Southeast, Texas and California, with a reported $15 billion in projects underway. He's described as high-energy risk taker who surrounds himself with top professionals and listens to their input. A former University of South Carolina fullback and a passionate aviator who owns a fleet of airplanes and helicopters, Thomas is also a rancher who maintains 12,000 head of cattle on ranches throughout the country, including the Thomas Ranch property.

Recent projects: The 324,000-square-foot Sarasota Pavilion shopping center, on the site of the former Gulf Gate Mall at Clark Road and U.S. 41.

Out of town: The Railyards, a mixed-used project in downtown Sacramento, Calif.; Prospect Park, a $700-million mixed-use, luxury development in Alpharetta, Ga.; purchased 18,000 acres near the Orlando Convention Center, the former Lockheed Martin site, in 2003 for $65 million for a residential and entertainment center.

Biggest challenge in developing Thomas Ranch: "Dealing with local governments over a unique project," says Thomas' attorney Jeff Boone. Thomas Ranch is a smart-growth development that has to pay for its own infrastructure and include interconnectivity, open space and conservation areas.

4. Irish American Management Services

CEO: Ireland's Patrick "Paddy" Kelly

CEO of Redquartz in Dublin; year established: 2004; 603 Sarasota Quay, Sarasota, FL 34236; (941) 957-0120;

Current projects: Sarasota Bayside, a $1-billion mixed-use center on 15 acres on Sarasota Bay with 702 condominiums and 140,000 square feet of high-end retail, restaurants, hotels and pedestrian and roadway connection to Sarasota's cultural district. Irish American Management Services purchased the property for $60 million in 2004. The partners assembled 51 properties, including two on the northeast corner of Fruitville Road and U.S. 41 for the city to construct a traffic roundabout. Casto Development is overseeing the retail and commercial leasing. Construction is projected to begin in late 2007 or early 2008.

In brief: After quitting high school to help manage the family construction business when his father developed multiple sclerosis, Patrick Kelly purchased his first property for development in the late 1960s. Today his company, Redquartz, has developed $10 -$15 billion in housing and commercial projects around the world. Interested in global politics and humanitarian projects, Kelly is funding and building homes in Cape Town, South Africa, and a medical center in Uganda, where AIDS has devastated families. "It's just horrific. People tell me Africa is crooked, but children in Africa are not crooked," he says. Raised on organic foods, he's also an investor in a chain of Irish grocery stores called Fresh.

Other Florida projects: Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Spa at Ponte Verde Beach and possibly an Orlando investment.

Biggest challenge: "Sarasota is not an easy place to get people to work together," says Kelly.

Key to success: "Ireland is about relationships, friendship, family life, the sporting life. It's not about a few people at the top with the bucks," Kelly explains. "We have no interest in making a few bob and leaving town. We believe in wealth creation in a big way."

5. Lakewood Ranch Communities within Schroeder-Manatee Ranch

CEO: Rex Jensen

Broke ground in 1995; 2006 sales (builder retail contracts) of $35 million; 475 employees within Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, 30 employed by LWR Communities; 14400 Covenant Way, Bradenton, FL 34202;(941) 755-6574;

Signature project: Lakewood Ranch is the 8,500-acre developed portion of 31,000-acre Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, east of I-75 in Sarasota and Manatee counties. With 6,000 residences, 2 million square feet of office/commercial and 1 million square feet of retail, Lakewood Ranch could, after build-out in 15 to 18 years, encompass 20,000 residences and additional commercial and employment space. More than 14,000 people work for the companies headquartered there.

Planned developments: A 2050 Plan village in Sarasota County with about 5,500 homes and 45 acres of commercial that Jensen says is "tighter, more dense and more mixed-use in character" than its Manatee County neighborhoods.

Lakewood Ranch Commerce Park (Phase Two) at Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and S.R. 64 would have 727,000 square feet of retail, office and industrial space. The park will encompass 2.4 million square feet.

The Lake Club, a residential community in Manatee County with homes and home sites starting at $1 million.

Rex Jensen practiced corporate, technology transfer and real estate law before joining Schroeder-Manatee. He's a tough, direct, long-term thinker who balances the competing interests of government, his builders and LWR residents. "It takes vision to make sure he doesn't compromise in the short-term for the long term. He's direct and assertive [and] if you get in Rex's crosshairs, it can be tough," says Lakewood Ranch builder Pat Neal. But, he adds, "People who do business with Rex really like him."

The buzz:

Biggest challenge: "The roads, the roads, the roads," says Jensen. "We've built more roads than either of the two counties have constructed. We've spent $80 million on arterial roads and $250 million on neighborhood streets."

6. Pineapple Square Properties

CEO: John Simon

47 S. Palm Ave., Suite 301, Sarasota, FL 34236; (941) 957-1108; www.

Current projects: Pineapple Square is a $200-million downtown Sarasota redevelopment project being built in three phases to include 30 to 40 retail stores with a local/national mix, 276 residences, a parking garage with 525 public parking spaces, a pedestrian breezeway, two urban parks and two plazas. Isaac Group Holdings assembled nine downtown Sarasota parcels for the project and owns more properties nearby that could allow it to expand one day. The timeline: Lemon Avenue shops, fall 2007; City Place, 157 condominiums and parking, late 2008; final phase of 120 condos, 2009.

In brief: During Simon's 30-year career with the Taubman Company, he helped develop Tampa International Plaza, Mall of Millenia in Orlando and Wellington Mall in West Palm Beach. Described as unflappable and well-experienced to handle the ups and downs of a large-scale redevelopment project, Simon is also known for working 24/7.

Biggest challenge: The approval process took 15 months, almost a year longer than Simon has experienced with other urban renewal projects. "The process is very unique to Sarasota," he says. "A great deal of time is spent on the details. They think through-down to the size of the trash compactor. Here, a developer is forced to get into construction documentation before he has approval, and that's very risky. To develop in Sarasota, you have to have staying power."

Key to success in this market: "Location, location, location. In order to develop an urban retail project, you have to have square footage to compete with and be an alternative to a mall," Simon explains. "One of the strongest assets downtown is its residents and its proximity to the affluence in adjacent areas, including Longboat Key."

The retail race: As of press time, Brooks Brothers, Pastry Art and Sur La Table had signed on. Noting that his primary competitors are the Benderson project at University Parkway, Sarasota Bayside and the expansion of Westfield Southgate, Simon won't name the high-end retailers he's negotiating with. "When I named names, my competitors would outbid," he says. "Competitors know which retailers have pre-qualified Sarasota so they can pursue them."

7. SDC Communities, Inc. and Rodriguez Investment Management

CEO: Henry Rodriguez

Established in 1999; five employees; P.O. Box 579 Osprey, FL 34229; (941) 966-9188;

Signature project: $250-million Bay Street Village and Towncenter in Osprey, a 45-acre, mixed-use infill development anchored by Wal-Mart, with 130,000 square feet of high-end retail and office space, 550 condominiums, a public library and pedestrian connectivity. Rodriguez sold his development rights to Bay Street Partners and Waterford Homes but still oversees its architectural review committee.

New projects (in planning/zoning phases): Gateway to Nokomis at Albee Farm Road and U.S. 41, the south bridge to Casey Key, a proposed mixed-used project, with a boutique hotel, 50,000 square feet of retail and office space and 39 condos.

The New Urbanist Village on the Trail on 220 acres south of S.R. 681 with 1,950 homes, 250,000 square feet of retail space, a town center and town hall "with a 1950s feel," six parks and trailhead for rails to trails.

In brief: Rodriguez, 43, doesn't call himself a developer, perhaps because he still identifies with the technology and telecommunications industries in which he made his fortune. He founded Sensormatic Del Caribe in Deerfield Beach in his 20s and became the largest international distributor of retail anti-theft systems. He sold this company (for a rumored high eight figures) and founded LDC Communications, a switch-based, long-distance carrier, building it to serve 50,000 small business customers before selling in three years. He's known for his friendly, upbeat nature and frequent meetings with residents affected by his plans. He recently founded a local charter jet company, continues to invest in Internet-based companies and has discussed running for state office. In December, then Gov.-elect Charlie Crist chose him to conduct a citizen's review of the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.

Biggest challenge: Time, money and unpredictability. "Doing business in Southwest Florida is not for the faint of heart," Rodriguez says.

Keys to success in this market: "Community, community, community."

8. Taylor Woodrow, Inc.

Vice President of Land and Development: David Langhout

Established in 1936 in the U.S., 1972 in Florida with purchase of The Meadows property; consolidated North American operations to Bradenton in 2000; 64 local employees: North American Corporate Office, 8430 Enterprise Circle, Suite 100, Bradenton, FL 34202; (941) 554-2000; www.

Signature project: The Meadows, a 3,400-residence master-planned community built in the 1970s and '80s and known for its bike and walking trails, shopping village, community center and healthcare facilities. Other projects have included 59 homes at Founder's Club and Queen's Harbor on Longboat Key.

Current projects: Last year Taylor Woodrow paid $40 million for 80 undeveloped acres formerly owned by Clyde Wilson Jr. for Pacifico, a $150-million, 302-home green-certified development south of Stickney Point at Constitution Boulevard and U.S. 41. Sales start October 2007.

Artisan Lakes, a 2,500-residence, master-planned community at I-75 and Moccasin Wallow Road.

Palma Sola Trace, a 546-residence neighborhood at 75th Street and Cortez Road, priced for affordability in the $200s and $300s.

In brief: Taylor Woodrow is an international luxury homebuilder and community developer traded on the London Stock Exchange with more than 80 active developments in the world, 1,000 employees and estimated annual revenues of $2.5 billion. David Langhout joined Taylor Woodrow in 2003 to oversee the firm's North American land acquisition and now guides the Pacifico development process. Prior to that, he was a pension fund advisor. He also serves on the boards of the Home Builders Associations in both Sarasota and Manatee counties, where he is involved in governmental affairs.

Greatest challenge in developing in Sarasota and Manatee: "Stringent environmental regulation and preservation is the biggest challenge in Sarasota County, but we have responded in a proactive way," says Langhout. In Manatee, "the development staff does everything they can to slow you down. There's no sense of urgency and they don't meet deadlines. They're trying to impose slow growth by making the process miserable."

9. North Port Land Investment, LLLT

Brian Tuttle

Revenues: Tuttle says he executed $100 million in land deals in 2005; 10 employees; 8910 Wendy Lane W., West Palm Beach, FL 33411; (561) 254-2528

Current project: Isles of Athena, a 5,800-acre undeveloped tract which Tuttle bought for $61 million in 2005. He is undertaking the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) process with the state in order to rezone the land for 13,000 homes, a highway interchange, 4 million square feet of commercial space and a healthcare village with a 100-bed hospital. Sarasota County tried to purchase the tract for its environmentally sensitive lands program before it was annexed by the city of North Port. Tuttle's project has stirred controversy over North Port's annexation policies and the cost of providing and maintaining infrastructure if developed.

In brief: Aggressive, colorful and fiercely protective of his legal and property rights, Tuttle, 47, appeared before the Sarasota County Commission last summer to reiterate his right to develop the land and admonish officials for commenting about the project, stating, "Not once have you sent someone to a meeting." Tuttle has since met with each county commissioner individually, although he says the decision-making will rest solely with the North Port City Commission. He's also had some legal problems in the past: A former Palmetto policeman, he purchased and managed nurseries as Tuttle's Nursery and Landscape from 1987 to 1997, employing 500 people at its peak. He filed for bankruptcy in 1998, he says, because one of the businesses he purchased "had a lot of fraud"-so his bank called in his $25 million line of credit. He began purchasing land in 1999 and 2000 with a team of mostly Stuart-based consultants. Tuttle also builds homes in Port Charlotte, Port St. Lucie and North Port. He owns a 60 percent interest in Isles of Athena as well as 15 corporations, under which he manages his land acquisition, development and home building businesses.

Biggest challenge: "The highway interchange," he says. "Once I get the interchange, it's a foregone conclusion."

10. Waterford Development

CEO: Mike Miller

Founded in 1987; 2005 revenues: $110 million; 130 employees; 333 Tamiami Trail S., Suite 101, Venice, 34292; (941) 441-1445;

Signature projects: Waterford Championship Golf Community, a single-family golf community built in 1987, and the 150-acre Laurel Interchange Business Center, home to PGT Industries, east of I-75 at Laurel Road and Knight's Trail Road.

Current projects: The $140-million Waterfront on Venice Island on the Intercoastal Waterway in downtown Venice, a mixed-use redevelopment project for which the city's first commercial/residential zoning classification was created. It includes an estimated 243 residences, restaurant, spa and 6,000 square feet of retail. The second and final phase, the Tra Ponti hotel/condominiums, will break ground this summer.

The Renaissance on Knights Trail, a $320-million, 10-year project in North Venice at Laurel Road and Knight's Trail Road with 295,000 square feet of commercial space and 800 homes, including 160 affordable rentals.

Waterford is co-developing Bay Street Village and Towncenter in Osprey, and has broken ground on the first of 500 planned residences

The Palms at Riveria Dunes, a 116-unit high-rise condominium project in Palmetto.

In brief: Miller, who has built many traditional residential and commercial projects, primarily in south Sarasota County, spent his early career turning around troubled real estate properties for banks and private companies and served as president of Punta Gorda Isles until it was sold in 1985. He purchased the land for his first project, Waterford Golf Club, from two banks. Now he is expanding his expertise to New Urbanist live-work communities in downtown Venice and in North Venice. He jokes that he is a consensus-builder who persists until others see it his way. A dedicated philanthropist, Miller won the Outstanding Corporate Partner award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southwest Chapter, in 2006 for his contributions to the South County YMCA, MCC Venice campus and USF.

Biggest challenge: "The downtown revitalization projects," he says. Miller assembled nine parcels to create the 10.5-acre Waterfront tract, including relocating longtime American Legion, Elks and Moose clubs. "The American Legion had a lot of history in that building, but they wanted to leave something better for the vets returning from the war."

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