August 12, 2022

Builders and Developers

Trendsetters - Aug. 2005

Mike Vogel | 8/1/2005
Lissette Calderon raves about Coral Gables High School, her alma mater. Gables High, she says, was that rare place where a girl could be senior class president and prom queen. "They taught me about being the kind of person I wanted to be," she says. "It allowed you to defy stereotypes."

After Gables High, Calderon went to the Wharton School of Business at Penn and then to investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette in Manhattan. She loved her loft apartment but found the work unfulfilling. Calderon returned to Miami (where she couldn't find a loft and moved in with her mom) to go into development, eventually joining The Related Group of Florida.LISSETTE CALDERON
CEO / Neo Concepts

HOME: An older house in Coconut Grove she is refurbishing, slowly. "I've managed to build two towers. I can't seem to finish my own house."

QUOTE: "I'm grateful to God every day for affording me this opportunity."

She later went on her own, and in 1999 bought land to develop her Manhattan love -- lofts -- with $27.5 million in financing from Wachovia.

Her Neo Lofts, a 199-unit project on the south bank of the Miami River, sold out, and she quickly launched Neovertika, a 443-unit condo building with European-style two-story units, and her newest project, the 41-story, 489-unit Wind on the river's north bank.

Miami condo developers lately seem a dime a dozen, but women developers still are rare, especially those as young as Calderon, 31. "All you need is one or two people who believe in you," she says.

Calderon isn't worried that the boom may turn bust. Finding new sites is apparently difficult enough, however, that she's looking outside south Florida.

Meanwhile, she has Neovertika and Wind to finish. And she's a new mother. She turned a conference room into a nursery so 4-month-old Mia Isabella would be close by.

Drive-By Investing

In 1989, Dan Bellows began buying in Hannibal Square, a historically black and then-blighted area of his hometown, Winter Park. While others avoided Hannibal, he bought and remodeled houses, rooming houses, restaurants and other commercial property, rented them out and purchased more. He figured the well-situated area would pay off.

President / Sydgan

QUOTE: "Everything I do I try to maximize the land. I try to use the best materials I can. Everything is for the long haul."

NEXT UP: Bellows envisions a huge project on 51 acres at Highway 17-92 and Lee Road across from Winter Park Village. He plans 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, 750 residences, an arts center, hotel and a two-story, big-box retailer.

A TURNAROUND: Bellows bought a 16-unit Winter Park apartment building around 1990 for $180,000 that today is valued at $1.8 million.

He figured right. When he had about 30 properties, the city created a community redevelopment area around him and allowed higher density zoning. Now he has 150 properties and an estimated 90% of the property on three blocks the city rezoned from residential to commercial. Typical projects have apartments above street-front retail or office. A few in Hannibal have complained his projects are too large, but his property is in demand. "Months before it's finished, I have it leased out," he says.

Bellows, 41, started in business at Barnett Bank after high school, chasing delinquent credit card accounts and adjusting credit limits. On the side, he built bus stop benches and sold advertising on them. A larger operator bought him out, and he purchased the Bahamas distributorships for Reef sandals, Scott sunglasses and other goods. When he started a family, he concentrated on real estate in Winter Park. His grandfather, a TV retailer who invested in real estate, said, "you always want to buy real estate where you drive by it every day."

"I still kind of scratch my head to this day," Bellows says of pioneering Hannibal. Nowadays, he gets plenty of calls from interested buyers. He's not selling. "Anybody could have bought this land. They want it when it's all wrapped up with a bow. That's not how it works."

Manufacturing A Career

In a way, Alan Zirkelbach learned the construction business by building boat windshields. It was while working on getting plant space built for his family's manufacturing company in Manatee County that he came to believe the building industry could use factory-style efficiency.

President / Zirkelbach Construction

PASTIMES: "I work, and I love my family. I'm sorry to be so boring."

FAMILY: Wife, Carmen, and 4-year-old Annie.

ANNUAL SUMMER VACATION: A week in a cabin in Canada.

Convinced he could bring manufacturing discipline to construction, Zirkelbach in 1996 opened his own development and construction business. For manufacturing clients, he designed buildings around the most efficient manufacturing floor layout, rather than shoehorning the production line into a cookie-cutter building. He also offered in-house expertise in assembly line systems for manufacturing. "I really took all the things I learned from manufacturing, which is very exacting," he says.

His approach paid off. Zirkelbach's company has $40 million in annual revenue and has branched into constructing marinas, restaurants, hotels and churches.

His largest current project is the 200-acre, mixed-use The Woods at Moccasin Wallow in north Manatee.

An Ohio native, Zirkelbach, 43, this year turned his attention to filling another need manufacturing clients have: Labor.

Zirkelbach has been meeting with school officials and manufacturers to push them to lobby their legislators for more technical education funding. He was upset that North Carolina won an expansion of his brother's manufacturing business because of that state's more plentiful skilled labor and devotion to technical education. "We're not making enough headway," he says.

Tags: Trendsetters, Around Florida, Housing/Construction

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