May 20, 2024
Dead center: Port St. Lucie City Center comes up empty

Photo: Alan Diaz/AP

City Center was supposed to have apartments, shops, offices and a hotel.

Southeast Florida Roundup

Dead center: Port St. Lucie City Center comes up empty

Mike Vogel | 4/27/2016

The Port St. Lucie City Center at U. S. 1 and Walton Road is a city center in name only. City leaders and residents had been told to expect a $380-million apartment, hotel, retail and office project to rise on the mostly vacant land.

Instead, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the development became the centerpiece of a scam targeting foreign investors. Through the EB-5 visa program, foreign citizens can become U.S. residents by investing at least $500,000 in a project that creates or retains at least 10 jobs.

New Zealand businesswoman Lin “Lily” Zhong bought the city center site out of foreclosure in 2013 for $500,000 subject to $15 million in outstanding taxes. She allegedly then raised $9.5 million from 18 foreign investors hoping to earn their way through EB-5 to a green card.

Instead, she is accused of diverting $900,000 to buy a 48-foot boat, a BMW and a Mercedes, pay her own real estate taxes and family education expenses and otherwise “enrich herself,” says Eric I. Bustillo, director of the SEC’s Miami regional office, and court records.The SEC filed a civil complaint in November alleging that since 2011, Zhong and her company exploited EB-5 to defraud investors.

David Chase, Zhong’s Fort Lauderdale attorney, says Zhong has no comment beyond her court filings, in which she denies the SEC charges. She agreed to an SEC demand for the appointment of a receiver “for the benefit of investors,” Chase says.

The city center’s unpaid tax bill as of January was up to $18.5 million. Receiver Michael Goldberg, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, in a January report listed Zhong’s and her company’s assets as a $3-million waterfront home in Highland Beach, 71 vacant Palm Bay lots worth $3,000 to $25,000 each, a $300,000 Boca Raton house and a $700,000 Melbourne house. He’s also gained control over 16 “moderate- priced” homes in mid-Florida and one in Massachusetts, which he proposes turning over to the investors. He says he might sell the city center to the city.

Goldberg says he’s optimistic he will be able to make a “substantial distribution to investors.”


Battling Child Abuse

Visionary tech developer Hank Asher passed away in 2013, but daughter Carly Asher Yoost, through a non-profit, is keeping one of his core missions going — combating child abuse. Boca Raton-based Child Rescue Coalition is a tech-driven non-profit. Its tools, provided to law enforcement at no cost, track and help arrest and convict people who use the internet to prey on children. It’s used in 50 states and in 58 countries, has indexed 12 billion child porn records from file-sharing and chat networks, tracked 44 million offenders globally, led to the capture of 6,500 offenders and rescued more than 1,000 children.


Nova Southeastern University hired the University of Florida’s Dr. Johannes W. Vieweg as founding dean of its College of Allopathic Medicine. The college’s first class begins in 2018. Vieweg was director of the UF Prostate Disease Center, chairman of the Florida Prostate Cancer Advisory Council and Wayne and Marti Huizenga Endowed Research Scholar’s Chair. Nova already has a College of Osteopathic Medicine and will be the first in Florida to have both types of medical schools.

Hollywood-based Memorial Healthcare hired Dr. Saima Chaudhry as chief academic officer of its graduate medical education program and vice president for academic affairs. She formerly was a professor at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

Business Briefs

BOCA RATON — Apollo Investors agreed to pay $7 billion for Boca-based security company ADT. Gunster law firm opened its 13th Florida office, expanding its private wealth services practice and adding other business-related services.Florida Atlantic University fired James Tracy, an associate communications professor who had said the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut was a hoax.

FORT LAUDERDALE — Deerfield Beach-based real estate developer and investor Cavache Properties spent $3.3 million for a one-acre parcel on North Ocean Boulevard, where it intends to put 24 condo units in two buildings. Ocean Land Investments contracted with Winmar Construction to be its general contractor on its 20-unit AquaMar waterfront condo project and with Tutor Perini Building for the same role on its 35-unit AquaBlu, both in Las Olas Isles. Broward County’s seaport, Port Everglades, in March again broke its own world record for cruise passengers in a single day, embarking and disembarking 54,700 people from eight cruise ships, or enough people to fill from 108 to 130 747s. It previously set a new world record Dec. 20.

JUPITER ISLAND — Golf legend Greg Norman listed his mansion for $55 million.

MIRAMAR — Bob Fornaro, new CEO of discount carrier Spirit Airlines, says the airline will work to improve reliability and customer relations. The fast-growing carrier had performed poorly at both before parting ways with Ben Baldanza, who guided the airline’s explosive growth from 2006 until this year. Southern Wine & Spirits of America will merge with Dallas-based Glazer’s, creating the largest wine and spirits distribution company in North America. Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits will be based in Miami. Southern Wine also announced it will acquire Omaha, Nebraska-based Sterling Distributing Co.

PALM BEACH GARDENS — Coral Gables-based Professional Holding, parent company of Professional Bank, acquired North Palm Beach-based FirstCity Bank of Commerce for $6.8 million.

PEMBROKE PINES — Miami-based Terra released its plans for its mixed-use, 47-acre Pembroke Pines City Center project. Slated to open in mid-2017, it will encompass 300,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and restaurant space along with 450 apartments. Terra is also developing Botaniko, a 121-acre residential development in Weston.

Youth Factor

The percentage of population under age 18 in the U.S. is 22.7%. The figure for six southeast Florida counties:

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