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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 14, 2005 15 years ago

High-Rise Follwers

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Coscan Homes, contract developer for Alinari at Rosemary Place, knows it pays to collaborate.
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

High-Rise Follwers

By Sean Roth

Real Estate Editor

With more than 5.2 million square feet of office space in 49 buildings to manage and another 41 acres to develop, Sergio Socolsky, managing director of Miami-based Americais Capital Partners, turned to Coscan Homes for help.

Americais Capital Partner hired Fort Lauderdale-based Coscan Homes as the fee-based developer to handle the day-to-day development responsibilities of building Sarasotais Alinari at Rosemary Place, a 17-story condominium development.

Itis not the first collaborative project for Coscan Homes, which has about 5,000 units, mainly in high-rises, to its name.

Tarragon Realty Investors Inc., a real estate investor/developer that controls about 15,000 apartment units and 1.4 million square feet of commercial space in Florida, Connecticut and Texas, partnered with Coscan Homes to construct the $130 million Cypress Grove, a 32-acre residential community in Pompano Beach.

And Donald Trump, along with Michael and Gil Dezer, turned to Coscan Homes to build the 55-story Trump Palace at Sunny Isles Beach in South Florida. Coscan Homesi unit, Coscan Construction, is the general contractor for Urban Habitatis 107-unit NoLA lofts in Fort Lauderdale. Coscan also is the general contractor for the Uptown Marina Lofts in Aventura, developed by Gilbert Benhamou of Apex Development Group and Claudio Stivelman of Planinvest.

As a full-service developer, Coscan Homes offers fill-in service to other developers at any point along the development line.

iACP/Alinari LLC, (the limited-liability company used by Americais Capital Partners for the Alinari purchase,) has a tremendous amount of commercial real estate experience,i says Al Piazza, president and co-owner of Coscan Homes. iAs part of their business strategy they were taking some of the assets and converting them into residential properties. High-rise construction is a highly capitalized and very unusual business. It takes a fair amount of experience to get a project like this right. I believe we have the experience to help it through the process. We are the implementers, so to speak.i

Coscan Homes, founded 25 years ago, changed course three years ago. It was a division of Toronto-based Brookfield Homes, owned by real estate giant Brookfield Properties.

iSomebody told the owners (of Brookfield) that their stock would have greater value if they spun off the residential division from the commercial property company,i Piazza says.

Brookfield decided to sell the high-rise unit to Coscan division President Al Piazza and Vice President Mike Neal.

Midway through 2002, Brookfield financed the sale, which called for Coscan Homes to pay Brookfield $55 million within two years.

At about the same time, the new company got a phone call from its bank. Bank of America, the lender on Trump Palace at Sunny isles, was looking for a project contractor with real-estate development experience. With the scope of the project making it the largest residential high-rise south of New York City, the bank wanted a company that clearly knew what it was doing.

iThe developer was very wealthy and didnit need another partner,i Piazza says. iWhat it needed was someone with real experience to get through the process.i

So the two partners formed Coscan Construction to build residential construction projects for other developers. Projects multiplied from there. Business was so good Neal and Piazza paid off the loan from Brookfield before it was due.

Neal handles the construction side of the business and helps Piazza with sales and marketing. Piazza works on new acquisitions, development, financing and sales.

Piazza, who has a bacheloris degree in accounting from Temple University, took a circuitous route into development. After a stint at a big accounting firm in New York City, Piazza was hired by investors Eddie and Julius Trump (no relation to The Donald) as CFO of a clothing retailer that was being shut down.

iWe were left with a fair amount of cash and real estate predominantly throughout New York City,i Piazza says. iBy this point, we had terminated most of the employees, and the real estate development aspect fell on my shoulders.i

Piazza bought land in Aventura and developed a $1 billion luxury residential resort community called Williams Island.

Piazza then moved on to serve as senior vice president of finance and operations for Lansbrook Development Corp. in Pinellas Countyis Palm Harbor. His main focus there was on the financing, sales, marketing and operations for the 2,100-acre upscale single-family home development.

He then went on to serve as general manager of Porto Vita Ltd., where he headed the development team for the luxury residential resort community in Aventura of the same name. He joined Coscan Homes in 1996 as senior vice president of development and became its president in 1998.

Nealis development background was more conventional.

With a bacheloris degree in building construction from the University of Florida, Neal spent 18 years in various positions for Bovis Construction (formerly McDevitt & Street Co). Reaching the position of senior vice president, he was involved in a wide spectrum of developments, including high-rise hotels, convention centers, replacement hospitals, office headquarters, retail, skilled nursing facilities, educational facilities, arenas and stadiums. Now he is president of Coscan Construction LLC.

Piazza says he partnered with Neal for two reasons.

iHonestly it was the comfort of taking someone with me,i Piazza says. iThe other part of it was, it made me know we had someone who could handle the big task of making the stab at expanding our construction business. It has turned out to be the right thing to do.i

As for what makes Coscan Homes different, Piazza says it is mainly the companyis level of development services and its history in South Florida. Currently, Coscan Homes has about 125 employees in its construction division and another 30 in its development operation.

iWe have one of the best reputations among banks,i Piazza says, ibecause all of our projects come in under budget and ahead of schedule.i To backup his point, he says Atlantic One at the Point in Aventura was completed 12 weeks ahead of schedule last June.

Through its work with Americais Capital Partners, Coscan Homes is finally expanding away from the East Coast.

iWe are planning to target the entire state south of the I-4 corridor,i Piazza says. iWe have been studying the market for years trying to find the right opportunity to make our move.i

Americais Capital Partners bought the 11-acre Alinari site at U.S. 41 and Sixth Street in Sarasota from Georgia-based Wynnton Group Inc. in September for $14.5 million, and Coscan Homes was officially brought in to do its part in November.

At Alinari, site work has started on the 17-story, 205-unit high-rise and vertical construction is slated to start in about three months.

Alinari at Rosemary is a different project for Coscan Homes. The firm isnit performing the construction; that work has been contracted to Naples-based Kraft Construction Co. Michael Saunders & Co. has been hired to sell the units.

Much of Coscan Homesi work at Alinari will be spent overseeing Michael Saunders & Co, Kraft Construction and Smith Advertising. Most importantly, however, the company is building 50 townhomes at Alinari. But government approval is still needed for the townhomes.

So far, the most noticeable change Piazzais company has made to Alinari has been in the name change from Alinari at the Renaissance of Sarasota to Alinari at Rosemary Place.

iAlinari was previously marketed as a stand-alone piece,i Piazza says. iWe thought it was much more than that. We took notice that it was really on the edge of the Rosemary District, which is going through a pretty significant resurgence. We thought by tying them together we could possibly help spur the improvement of the Rosemary area.i

Coscan Homesi next project will likely be in Orlando, but Piazza says the company is also looking at another site in Sarasota. Asked if the development was planned in the near-term, Piazza responded, iSometimes these things go very quick. We have a site that was brought to me that I turned over to ACP/Alinari to check out. I am just a little too tied up in a few other things to do the due diligence on it right now.i

About two years ago, Coscan Homes worked with the former owner of the Sarasota Quay on a possible redevelopment, Piazza says. But the deal didnit work out.

i(But) we are very excited about the market in Sarasota,i he says. iI would say our chances of doing another project there are very good.i

Although Sarasota and Manatee counties are included in the Tampa Bay Metropolitan Statistical Area, Piazza says he considers Sarasota/Manatee much differently than the Tampa Bay area.

iTampa doesnit have that resort feel that draws people to the downtown,i he says. iIt is mainly live-work there. The pricing on the high-rise units is also lower than in the Sarasota market. We view opportunities like those in Sarasota and downtown Miami as the ones that really get us excited.i

Itis important, Piazza says, to carefully study the numbers.

iThe worst thing a developer can ever do is fall in love with piece of property,i he says. iYou need to have vision to see what areas you are going to be able to sell quickly and the numbers. Now looking at two equal projects to do, I am really fascinated by redevelopment sites. Taking something else and converting it as an infill project.i

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