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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 6, 2004 15 years ago

Building Made Easy

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You won't hear Anthony Mazzucca complain about the permitting process in Sarasota and Manatee counties. No way. Not after waiting 10 years for a permit in New Jersey.

Building Made Easy

You won't hear Anthony Mazzucca complain about the permitting process in Sarasota and Manatee counties. No way. Not after waiting 10 years for a permit in New Jersey.

By Sean Roth

Real Estate Editor

When New Jersey developer Anthony Mazzucca first visited Lakewood Ranch, he planned to partner with St. Louis-based Fru-Con Construction Corp. on several projects in Southwest Florida. That plan fizzled when Fru-Con officials abandoned development, but Mazzucca didn't forget the area.

He relocated to Lakewood Ranch in 2002, and, early the following year, his development company, The Blackpoint Group, started its first commercial project in Manatee County. The $5 million development, called Portal Crossing West at Commerce Park, involves four 14,000-square-foot office/warehousebuildings south of State Road 64, on a standalone road off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. The project is the first in Lakewood Ranch to target smaller users with a mixture of office and warehouse components.

"The project is going very well," says Mazzucca. "We have a 12,000-square-foot user for the first building - Watson Publications. That company (a producer of publications for among others the PGA, Champions Tour and LPGA Tours) is relocating from downtown. We are also negotiating with two people to occupy the second building. We have a contract to purchase the first 4,800 square feet in building three. We should start our final two buildings in the next two weeks."

Mazzucca is an unabashed optimist for the future of Florida and the local two-county region.

"We are seeing a net migration of people," says Mazzucca. "Not just retirees, but young families looking for a better lifestyle. More jobs are coming. There are people with businesses, who realize they can run their business from anywhere. Not large-scale manufacturing jobs but tech jobs ... research projects ... telecoms. Lakewood Ranch is ahead of the curve, but typical of what is going on. It started out as a moderately-priced community for retirees. Now it's become the primary residence for people with kids. I think the quality of life here is just great. Just think, you could be sitting in an office in Boston where it's five degrees. We think we can tap into that."

Growing up in New Jersey, Mazzucca certainly experienced his share of cold weather. Mazzucca's father owned a construction company in the Garden State, so it was with a bit of rebellion that Mazzucca pursued a financial education. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting from Lehigh University and followed it up with an MBA in finance from Columbia University.

From there, Mazzucca went to work for a major accounting firm in New York City. He worked on audits of companies such as Merrill Lynch and Allied Chemical.

"Accounting is the language of any business," says Mazzucca. "I have never lost that interest. It is an interesting thing when you can lay out an entire business on paper."

A few years later, Mazzucca's father offered him a position in the family company. The timing proved fortuitous. His father was expanding the company from general contracting construction work into development.

"We started constructing affordable senior housing in Red Bank," Mazzucca says. "As a developer, we would find building sites. Then we'd go to church groups and present a plan to build a building for them. We also did some shopping center work. I enjoyed it; we lived very well."

Unfortunately, as his two brothers joined the company, personality conflicts cropped up. "Family businesses are very tough," Mazzucca says. "I wouldn't recommend them to anyone. If I had it to do over, I would bring in outsiders from the very beginning. It just takes some of the business out of business and puts more personalities into it. So I decided to branch out on my own. We get along a lot better now."

In 1991, with his savings and investments from friends, Mazzucca started The Blackpoint Group. "It was named for a house I used to live in years ago," he says. "It was on Blackpoint Horseshoe Road in New Jersey. I started out working for people I had worked with before. They knew who I was and trusted me."

He built office complexes, apartments, townhomes and shopping centers in the Red Bank area. While the development was profitable, he soon found New Jersey's permitting process overly laborious and lengthy. Two years ago, Mazzucca completed his largest development to date, a $28 million, 250,000-square-foot shopping center, anchored by a Target store, in east Windsor, N.J. The planning process took about five years. Mazzucca is currently building a 130,000-square-foot, grocery-anchored shopping center, which has been in for permitting and approvals for 10 years.

"At every point in the process, the bureaucrats try to slow things down," Mazzucca says. "They have a general lack of interest in development. It is just government's way of slowing growth. They are sitting on approvals."

In what Mazzucca thinks may be The Blackpoint Group's last northern development, Mazzucca plans to develop an industrial park on a small tract owned by the New Jersey Department of Transportation. "I wrote to them in October of 2002 about acquiring a little piece of property," he says. "They got back to me in January of 2003 and said they would research their files. On Monday (Jan. 26, 2004), I called them; they said, 'We own it.' And it doesn't appear they need it. But it is going to be a year and a half before they know if they are going to need it ¦ This is even before I can file for a site plan. I'm not going to waste any money on it."

Mazzucca turned to Florida in 2002, where he had vacationed for nine years.

He's still considering several of the planned developments that fell through with the departure of Fru-Con Construction. But some are much too large to develop without a partner.

"It gave me a lot of exposure to the area," says Mazzucca. "I traveled all over the state meeting bankers and making contacts."

One of the meetings was with John Swart, president of Lakewood Ranch Realty. That meeting eventually led Mazzucca to develop Portal Crossing West in Lakewood Ranch.

"I'm sorry I didn't come here 10 years earlier," he says.

Next on his agenda is the continuation of Portal Crossing Road north to State Road 64. Mazzucca plans to partners with Lakewood Ranch developer, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, to build six to eight 15,000-square-foot office buildings along the extended Portal Crossing Road. In addition, he plans to build a 10,000-square-foot retail center near the intersection of S.R. 64 and Portal Crossing.

"That is about nine to 10 months away," Mazzucca says. He estimates the value of the office building component of the development at $13 million to $14 million and the retail building at an additional $2 million to $3 million. "We are going to pursue more individual users (than those in the Lakewood Ranch Gateway North shopping center, located at the southeast corner of S.R. 64 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard). We are also planning to have a restaurant there."

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