September 26, 2023
Florida's super-rich
From left, Micky Arison, Thomas Peterffy, David Tepper, Jorge Pérez, Kenneth Feld, Tom Golisano.

Richest Floridians

Florida's super-rich

Mike Vogel | 3/28/2017

Florida’s Super-Rich

The state has always attracted the well-heeled. But more billionaires are choosing to live here.

ON A BRIGHT SUNDAY morning in February, a hint of cool in the air, a 20-year-old woman with freckles floats her horse over the fences in an arena at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington. For hours, in every direction as far as one can see, hundreds of equestrians like her ride horses over obstacles in the 18 arenas at the 500-acre venue. The scene bespeaks sport, pageantry and money. Lots and lots of money.

The young rider in a black jacket and white pants is Jennifer Gates, daughter of the world’s richest man. In a couple of hours, in the main arena, Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will compete against Jessica Springsteen, Bruce’s daughter, and others. Eve Jobs, daughter of the Apple founder, rode the same week.

Jennifer Gates is such a presence at the 12-week festival that the Gates family bought a 4.5-acre equestrian estate near the festival grounds in 2013, then kept buying adjoining properties until they had shelled out $38 million for a whole street. A two-minute walk away, Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs bought a $15-million ranch. The Spring-steens have a place, as do the Bloombergs and throngs of less well known but well-off others. Horses on average cost $100,000, and the festival draws more than 5,000 of them. That’s a half a billion dollars on the hoof.

Florida has attracted the well-heeled since the days of Henry Flagler, but as our list of Florida’s wealthiest permanent residents shows, more and more are choosing to live here. For Florida Trend, consulting and advisory firm Global Governance Advisors identified the 25 wealthiest people who claim Florida as their primary residence.

There are a lot of take-aways from the list. As Global Governance senior partner Luis Navas notes, many on the list are self-made. Generally speaking, those on the list haven’t made their money in agriculture or tourism, but the sources of their fortunes are diverse compared to billionaires in other states. One shared trait: Old money didn’t get them there — they’ve kept working.

The key take-away from the list is this: It requires more money — gobs more — to make and keep a place on the list. When Florida Trend did this list four years ago, Florida’s richest person was the late Subway founder Fred DeLuca, with $5.4 billion. He would miss the top five today. In 2013, making the cut for the top 25 required $1.2 billion. Today, it takes $2.6 billion.

Wilbur Ross, President Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, just missed the cut at $2.5 billion. He’s up half a billion dollars since 2013 and lives on a $23-million, one-acre estate on Palm Beach, not far from Mar-a-Lago.

The rankings have been disrupted by the arrival of new, very big money from the likes of Interactive Brokers founder Thomas Peterffy and hedge fund manager David Tepper. Florida offers them favorable tax treatment that their respective home states, Connecticut and New Jersey, didn’t, Navas says. Florida has no state income tax, let alone a surcharge for being a multi-millionaire, nor does it have county or city income taxes or a state inheritance tax. Its asset protection laws are stronger. They can buy bigger properties for their money. Florida offers quality of life, cost-effectiveness and good weather, Navas says.

The state also offers sumptuous housing, lifestyle and, depending on the activity — witness Jennifer Gates — world-class facilities and events. Communications technology and ease of travel leaves the super-wealthy at no disadvantage in conducting business remotely, especially for financial industry players.

Some — Tepper, for example — even move their operations here. “Florida is a very different place than it was in the ’70s and ’80s. I’m certainly seeing in my practice more and more businesspeople saying, ‘I love the life in Florida. Let’s move the business entirely,’ ” Navas says.

As the hundreds of riders in Wellington demonstrate, Florida as wealth magnet draws far more than the 0.0001% (of the state’s population) who made our top 25 list. In 2014, Florida ranked fourth nationally, with 4,710, in the number of people with at least $30 million, according to a study by UBS.

The wealthy aren’t evenly distributed around the state. Of the top 25, 19 live in south Florida. Neither Florida Trend nor Forbes magazine found a billionaire Floridian in Jacksonville or Orlando. Timeshare developer David Siegel in Orlando is closing in, and the Weavers in Jacksonville would be over the top if they had held onto the NFL Jaguars.

We’re told there are more quiet billionaires in Naples than is publicly known. The city, after all, is home to the famed Naples Winter Wine Festival, which serves as a fundraiser for a local children’s and education foundation. This year, one bidder dropped $480,000 at auction for a 2017 McLaren 570 GT, and two bidders put down a combined $600,000 for a week’s vacation on Malcolm Forbes’ former yacht.

There are other well-known billionaires who aren’t quite rich enough to make the top 25. Carol Jenkins Barnett, daughter of Publix founder George W. Jenkins, has a reported $1.67-billion fortune. Tom James, executive chairman of Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, has $1.14 billion in Raymond James stock alone. (The wealth swings at the top level are enormous in gross dollars. A $1 rise in RJF’s stock is a $14.7 million gain for James.) St. Petersburg also is home to Ron Wanek, who in 1970 became general manager of a 35-employee manufacturer of tables and cabinet commodes in Wisconsin. With the help of son Todd, he grew it into Ashley Furniture, which now lays claim to being the largest furniture maker in the world. Wanek’s impact on Florida, though, aside from furniture stores, is scant.

As was true in Flagler’s time, there is no place for the rich and famous like Palm Beach — and not just because it’s the kind of place former President Bill Clinton and current President Donald Trump visit on the same weekend. The island is the second home of magnates like David Koch, Discount Tire’s Bruce Halle of Phoenix and Citadel hedge fund’s Ken Griffin of Chicago, not to mention Estee Lauder and Cox heirs, buyout maven Henry Kravis, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, casino owner Steve Wynn and, of course, the president of the United States.

Here’s one way to gauge the wealth. The home of Florida’s richest man, Peterffy, the fairly recent transplant from Connecticut, isn’t even the most expensive in Palm Beach, according to a list of the highest-taxed residential properties compiled by the Palm Beach Daily News, the “Shiny Sheet” that chronicles island life and news. No. 1 belongs to Griffin, whose Blossom Way holdings have a combined value of $136 million, with an annual property tax bill of $2.33 million. For perspective, that property tax bill alone is more than the annual income of all but the top 0.1% of U. S. tax filers.

On Palm Beach, the appraised value of Peterffy’s home is outgunned not only by Griffin’s estate, but also by the homes of radio’s Howard Stern, ($52.5 million) and Trump, whose Mara- Lago and associated properties rank only 28th on the island. Peterffy’s estate comes in 30th in taxes, with a $587,409 bill on $38.5 million in market value. That’s about par for him; though he’s Florida’s richest resident, he ranks 32nd nationally. Our 26th richest, Wilbur Ross, is 232nd nationally.

Another wealth indicator: Coincidental to the Trump-Clinton weekend visit in February, New York private equity firm head Stephen Schwarzman, of the Blackstone Group, threw himself a 70th birthday party at his Palm Beach estate that featured two camels, a gondolier, a fireworks show, Gwen Stefani flying in to sing him “Happy Birthday” and 400 guests — all for a tab the New York Times estimated at $7 million to $9 million.

The next day, no doubt too early for many of Schwarzman’s partygoers, young Jennifer Gates takes to the saddle as “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” plays over the arena speakers. She completes her course with nary a fault. But a score of others also ride fault-free. She immediately rides a “jumpoff,” again without flaw, but her time leaves her in 13th.

After dismounting, she mingles with the few spectators, catches up with one mom about a friend’s college plans and then joins three friends who came to watch her. Ensuing riders knock Gates down in the standings. But she doesn’t finish out of the money. Her 19th place brings $330 — about what her dad earns every second he takes a breath.

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