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June 25, 2018


Mike Vogel | 2/1/2001

Retirement Communities: Coming of Age

Larry Landry
CEO, Westport Advisors
Palm Beach Gardens

Recent reading: "Eyewitness to Power" by David Gergen; "It's Not About the Bike" by Lance Armstrong.
Favorite bicycle route: Along Juno Beach.
Quote: "To see the residents enjoying themselves -- that's a real kick."

In his mid-50s, Larry Landry gave serious attention to retirement planning. Not his retirement, mind you: Landry founded Westport Advisors in Palm Beach Gardens, raised $500 million and set out to develop continuing care retirement communities for others.

Landry got his first look at his future 20 years ago as a board member for a non-profit, Quaker-sponsored continuing care retirement center in Pennsylvania. "I thought, geez, sometime this is going to be a good business." Chief financial officer at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania at the time, Landry later became chief investment officer for the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The philanthropy, which had major land holdings in Florida, funded extensive research on aging. Landry paid particular attention to findings from its "Successful Aging" project, which concluded that lifestyle choices, not genes, have the most to do with physical aging.

He left the foundation in 1998 to develop centers dedicated to better choices. In 1999, his company bought two centers, Freedom Village in Bradenton and University Village in Tampa. He built two more from scratch, La Posada in Palm Beach Gardens and Hidden Springs in Tampa, that will open later this year. Landry also is developing projects in Texas, Nevada and California that will give him 3,000 units in a couple of years.

Each Landry campus has apartments for independent living, an assisted-care center and skilled nursing for those who need it. Programs aim for "masterpiece living" -- maximum physical, social and intellectual engagement.

When he exhausts the $500 million, the 57-year-old Landry plans to reload to build more campuses, postponing his own retirement for years. No matter. "I can never see myself completely retiring," he says.

Brownfields: In the Green

Bill Cocose
President, Atwater Capital Group
Boca Raton

Projects that impress him: Mizner Park, Boca Raton; Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Tampa Bay; Brickell Avenue condominiums, Miami.
Quote: "It's called brownfields, but it's urban redevelopment."
Family: Wife, Diane, a chiropractor.
New: Cocose launched last year as a clearinghouse for government and developers.

Bill Cocose's notion of classic real estate is a 2-plus acre parcel in Wynwood, just northwest of downtown Miami, that once housed a commercial laundry. A title lawyer's meal-ticket, the property had liens galore and was in bankruptcy court. Features included leaking underground tanks and soil soaked with dry-cleaning chemicals and boiler oil. "A great example of what brownfields is," Cocose says.

Cocose (pronounced co-kiss) knows of what he speaks. In his native Chicago, Cocose, the latest in a line of family builders, rehabilitated brownfields -- sites with environmental troubles.

In 1997, when he moved to Florida to be near his wife's parents, the state was cranking up a brownfields program. Cocose got in early by acquiring the Miami site -- the city had made it a pilot project -- for $5,000 in 1998. He also assumed $2 million in liens and encumbrances.

It became the first project under the state's brownfields program, which allows for liability protection and "risk-based" cleanup rather than total cleaning. "He has blazed a trail," says state brownfields liaison Roger Register.

It's been a long trail. Cocose didn't sell the first part of the Miami brownfields site until late last year -- 2 acres for a ready-mix concrete plant that will employ 35 to 40 people. He's working on turning a building on the remainder of the site into an office/warehouse center.

Why brownfields? "It's going to sound hokey," says Cocose, 45. "You really have a sense of pride. You took something bad and made it good." And, he adds, "frankly, it's very profitable." Cocose won't disclose profits -- and the Miami project was subpar anyway, he says -- but a successful project can mean triple-digit returns. Even so, Cocose says, "the process is a killer."

Leasing, Property Management: It's Her Calling

Beth Azor
President, Terranova Corp.

Born: Milwaukee. Spent her teen-age years in Flagler Beach.
Bloodlines: Azor's parents sold real estate in Flagler Beach. Azor got her real estate sales license at 18.
New arrival: Last year, she and husband, Jorge Azor, part owner of a transportation company, had their first child, Alex.

"I like doing deals. I like cold-calling," gushes Terranova's Beth Azor. Liking the work pays off. Azor has run up $500 million in lease deals in the last five years -- with the most recent three spent as president of Terranova, a 75-employee Miami leasing and property management firm.

Terranova, founded in 1980 by Miami's Stephen Bittel, had 14 employees when Azor joined in 1986 as a leasing agent. Terranova then and now had a name as a specialist in leasing and managing shopping centers. In 1998, Bittel, the majority owner, decided to concentrate more on a separate company, Petroleum Realty Investment Partners, which buys independently owned gas stations and leases them back to operators. He turned Terranova over to partner Azor. It now has nearly 8 million square feet under management and leasing in south Florida.

Azor, 40, plans to move into markets outside of south Florida, add leasing agents and more finance and investment management work. She also wants to take on more office space assignments.

She's looking for cold-callers as she staffs up. A key question Azor asks candidates: When they were kids and sold something for school fund-raisers, did their relatives buy or did they go door-to-door? She likes the kids who went door-to-door. "That's a cold-caller," she says.

Staying active as a leasing agent helps her lead, she says. Otherwise, Terranova employees might be tempted to think: "Who is she? The last time she did a deal was three years ago."

Developer: Not Your Average Joe

Darryl LeClair
CEO, Echelon Development and Echelon Residential
St. Petersburg

New interest: Surfing.
Family: Married, with two children.
Quote: "I'm one of those God-family-country guys."

Darryl LeClair put himself through the University of Florida by managing restaurants and hotels, operating a company that built churches and driving an 18-wheeler. "Not a whole lot different than a lot of people," LeClair says -- sincerely. "A lot of people had to put themselves through college."

From this "Average Joe" start, LeClair has had a similarly "average" career. He worked on Florida Progress' non-regulated businesses -- apartments to 767s -- for 14 years. He led the spinoff of those businesses to shareholders in 1996, creating Echelon International. Last March, a tender offer ended Echelon's run as a public company and parts were sold off, including those LeClair now runs: Echelon Development and Echelon Residential.

Privately held Echelon has big holdings in downtown St. Petersburg, including the Bank of America Tower and McNulty Station, and is developing the 430-acre Carillon office-apartment project off I-275 in Pinellas County, home to the headquarters of Raymond James Financial and Catalina Marketing among others. It owns commercial real estate elsewhere along with 3,000 apartments.

LeClair, a 41-year-old Ohio native, wants Echelon to build Class A office space around the state and luxury apartments -- niche projects with little competition, like a downtown Orlando development under way.

LeClair says passion for a project is required when each takes a $30-million to $40-million investment. Passion doesn't equate with long-term love, however. Echelon wants to sell, not hold, real estate, and LeClair follows the example set by his father, who owned a truck dealership: "When he was loving a truck was when it was going out the door with someone else's license plate" on it.

Architects, Contractors, Developers: Master Plan

Carlton Jones
President, Renaissance Design Build Group

Recommended reading: "God's Plans for Your Finances" by Dwight Nichols.
Vacation favorite: The Caribbean islands.
The Call: Jones is an associate minister at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church.

When the owner of the derelict Gateway Shopping Center in Jacksonville went belly up in 1993, Carlton Jones looked to be out $100,000. Anchors J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward already had left the mall, Jacksonville's oldest. Only 25 of 110 smaller stores were occupied.

Jones, president of Renaissance Design Build Group, and a partner had been hired to write a master plan for rehabbing Gateway. They had just finished when Gateway's owner failed. Jones never got paid. Instead, he bought the center in 1995. Some $18 million in private and public investment later, the 700,000-sq.-ft. center and mall is 87% leased, has a new Publix and Walgreen's, clothing stores, two charter schools, a police substation and a workforce education center -- all serving Jacksonville's largely minority north side.

Jones, 51, learned real estate in his hometown of Washington, D.C., where he earned his degree in city and regional planning from what is now the University of the District of Columbia. He planned, designed and managed sales for housing units of Westinghouse and later ITT's Levitt & Sons before his wife, Barbara, a Florida native, persuaded him in 1988 to move to Florida. Jones modeled his company on Jacksonville's The Haskell Co., the firm that pioneered the combination of architects, engineers and contractors in a single company.

Jones has a master's in theology from Zoe University in Jacksonville. He looks on economic development as a ministry, having helped four non-profits set up community development corporations to rebuild their areas. "Hopefully, it's sowing a good seed."

Ahead, he hopes his 21-employee firm will partner with developer Clarkson Co. to build a $65-million, 455-room convention center hotel in Jacksonville. Jones says it can be done by 2003 -- two years before the city hosts its first Super Bowl.

Tags: North Central

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