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Business Observer Thursday, Sep. 11, 2003 15 years ago

Head Start

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Developer Roland Rogers transforms old hotels into upscale condominiums. The result: A spike in property value and an improved look for the beach.

Head Start

Developer Roland Rogers transforms old hotels into upscale condominiums. The result: A spike in property value and an improved look for the beach.

By David R. Corder

Associate Editor

CLEARWATER - Call it insightful or simply paying attention to details, but Roland Rogers has taken advantage of a market opportunity to make his company one of the fastest growing multifamily residential developers in the Tampa Bay area.

Over a span of 18 months, Rogers Beach Development Inc. has emerged as one of the dominant players in Clearwater's long-range plan to revitalize its beach tax base through redevelopment.

Since its formation in March last year, the Crystal Beach-based developer has acquired at least nine aging motel-apartment properties on Clearwater Beach - mostly on Brightwater Drive and Bayway Boulevard. It then demolished them to build upscale townhomes and condominiums.

Even prior to construction, the firm accrued about $40 million in condo and town home sales. Construction is under way on several other multifamily projects with an estimated market sales value of at least $100 million. There are additional development plans that could exceed the amount currently under construction. "There's a lot more opportunity on Clearwater Beach," Rogers says. "We anticipated it because there is such a market need. And we have about an 18-month head start on the rest of the market."

The immediacy of this venture's success didn't come by chance. Rogers put together a business plan that has attracted real estate investors such as Tampa Bay area hotel/motel developers Agostino DiGiovanni and Danny Patel. The potential for opportunity even persuaded Ron Augustine to join Rogers about two months ago and leave a job as a commercial loan officer at Wachovia Bank NA.

"Roland developed a business plan that is specific, and it's the function of the development team to execute it," Augustine says. "So we're not trying to redevelop the wheel on each project."

The plan also earned the confidence of lenders such as First Citrus, Southern Exchange, Peoples, Premier Community and Regions.

"As with any development, there has to be demand for it," says Steve St. Clair, a Regions Bank vice president of commercial loans. "It also has to be aesthetically pleasing and acceptable by the powers to be in city government as it applies to city zoning. What (Rogers Beach is) doing is quality development."

What impresses St. Clair the most, however, is Rogers' ability to capitalize on Clearwater's very publicly debated "Beach by Design" redevelopment plan. Elected city officials endorsed the administrative initiative in June 2001 to encourage the best, highest use of property on Clearwater Beach.

"What makes (Rogers) successful, which may make him different, is he understands 'Beach by Design,' " St. Clair says. "He has a very good relationship with the city. If you look at the projects he has under management, and under construction, he has to have a good relationship with the city to get those approved."

The city's redevelopment initiative encourages redevelopment of aging hotel-motel, restaurant and commercial retail properties on Clearwater Beach. While it offers few incentives, the initiative encourages a receptive local regulatory process for developers whenever a proposal would increase the assessed tax value of a Clearwater Beach property.

"If you look at where Clearwater Beach is at the moment, it is going from a variety of commercial purposes, whether its surf shops, small mom-and-pop motels," St. Clair says. "The city has a good plan for what they want to see happen out there. (Rogers is) working within the plan and the vision of the city. That's why he is successful. Because they're all of the same mind."

To an extent, Rogers' work on Clearwater Beach has surprised even some city officials. "I'm surprised at how fast it's occurred, and that it's primarily being done by one entity," says Mark Parry, a city planner. "Quite frankly, we haven't treated him any differently than any other applicant for anything. He's been very easy to work with. What makes it nice to work with him is he was familiar with 'Beach by Design' and how quickly he got the hang of our process. That was 80% of it there. He did a lot of homework and was very well prepared."

Besides his penchant for research, Rogers attributes the newfound success to his years of experience as a local commercial general contractor. The St. Petersburg native began construction work during his elementary school years with his uncle, Bob Thompson, a Bay area general contractor. By age 25, he earned a general contractor's license and primarily worked for other developers. In the mid-1990s, Rogers joined with Pat Sheppard and Howard Howell to form Clearwater-based S&H Associates Inc., a shopping center and medical properties development that developed for HealthSouth and Premier Community Bank.

About two years ago, Rogers says he learned about the "Beach by Design" initiative while doing research on an another Clearwater Beach project. "We had come out here to look at a possible parking garage on a pending development," he says. "We saw there was a niche not being filled."

Looking southward, Rogers says he saw how developers on Indian Rocks Beach and other Pinellas beach municipalities found a ready market of aging motels-hotels just waiting for redevelopment. That sent him on the hunt for similar properties in Clearwater. He soon found two motels in the 200 block of Brightwater Drive, the site of the firm's first completion - Brightwater Townhomes.

"These motels had a tax value of between $500,000 to $600,000," Rogers says. "When we're done we'll have a tax value of between $5 million to $6 million. So we win because we get a beautiful piece of land on the water, and the city wins because of the increased tax value."

At Brightwater Townhomes, Rogers says redevelopment costs ranged from $165,000 to $225,000 a unit. Only one of the 10, three-story townhomes - not including the garage and private rooftop access - remained on the market as of the first week of September.

To market its properties, Rogers Beach entered into an exclusive agreement with Clearwater Beach-based Viewpoint Realty International

"There is a heck of a redevelopment future (on Clearwater Beach) because there is no more waterfront," says R.J. "Rick" Gillis III, Viewpoint's president. "The good Lord doesn't make it any more. Based on the absorption rate and sales of these apartments, they're going to continue to increase in value as people purchase these products. It's going to be that much more in a few more years because there just won't be anything available."

To meet the demand for such products, Rogers Beach has started construction on the Moorings I and II - 12 town home units at 620 Bayway Blvd. All are sold. That demand convinces Rogers that success awaits him on six approved projects - all scheduled for a construction start within the next 90 days. Those projects would add about 65 town home and condo units to the Clearwater Beach submarket. "We even have four other projects that we can't talk about, yet," he says.

And the anticipated success of the projects has Rogers thinking about redevelopment possibilities throughout the Gulf Coast of Florida. "One of the things about the model we developed is it will work anywhere there is waterfront property," he says. "It works because the hotels in this market are so old and at the end of their life cycle."

Roland Rogers

Age: 41

Title: President

Hometown: St. Petersburg. Now resides in Crystal Beach.

Personal: Married 20 years to Michelle. They have four children, Jamie, 13; Austin, 9; Joshua 7; and Evin, 4.

Education: Attended Hillsborough Community College and the University of South Florida.

Career: Started construction work in his elementary school years with an uncle, who was a local general contractor. At age 25, he earned a general contractor's license. In 1996, he, Pat Sheppard and Howard Howell formed Clearwater-based S&H Associates Inc., an active developer of retail and medical properties. In 2002, he formed Rogers Beach Development Inc.

Rogers Beach projects

Project#/unitsSale priceStatus

Brightwater Townhomes10$537,000 to $639,000Completed

Bayway Townhomes11$629,000 to $649,000Under construction

Moorings I6$590,000 to $629,000Under construction

Moorings II6$590,000 to $629,000Under construction

Brightwater Point20$659,000 to $1.3 millionStart date: Nov. 1

Brightwater Cove9$620,000 to $659,000Start date: 30 days

Island Townhomes10$595,000 to $610,000Start date: 45-60 days

Paradise Cove9$649,000 to $759,000Start date: 45-60 days

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