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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 23, 2004 17 years ago

Marquee's Maker

As construction starts on the Marquee en Ville, Sam Hamad turns his attention to Sarasota's Main Street and a new 15-story condominium building.

Marquee's Maker

As construction starts on the Marquee en Ville, Sam Hamad turns his attention to Sarasota's Main Street and a new 15-story condominium building.

By Sean Roth

Real Estate Editor

In the '80s, Sam Hamad was known as 'The Apples and Oranges Guy.' Hamad, then a marketing rep for pharmaceuticals giant Bristol-Myers in Canada, had mailed an apple and orange to each of his doctor clients as part of an ad campaign for a new drug.

His goal: Make the point that comparing the new drug to one already on the market was like comparing the two fruits. Instead, because of shipping problems, the doctors received stinking, rotten fruit.

Apples and oranges aside, Hamad had a successful career selling and marketing pharmaceuticals, which led to a high-level executive position at Bristol-Myers.

Today, the 62-year-old Hamad is a real estate developer in downtown Sarasota. He owns a 14,000-square-foot office building he built at 1517 State St., and he is in the midst of developing his signature project, the 29-unit Marquee en Ville townhome project at the intersection of Fruitville Road and Cocoanut Avenue.

Hamad is already looking to the next project, and it appears to be his most ambitious to date. In January, Enterprise Associates of Sarasota/SRQ LLC, purchased a retail building on 6,500 square feet, at 1301-1303 Main St., from Barbara and Michael Propsom for $760,000. Hamad is partnering with Gary Hoyt, president of Sarasota's Hoyt Architects, to develop a 15-story, 15-unit condominium building.

"The limitation on how many units we can build there is really a function of the parking." Hamad says. "With anything of that value you need at least two parking spaces per unit."

So how did Hoyt and Hamad solve the problem of providing 30 parking spaces on less than a quarter of an acre? They decided to use car lifts. Cars will be stacked over three levels, which means each building level requires only 10 car spaces.

"If we did a traditional garage with building ramps, we would need 10 stories of parking," Hamad says. "This is the way they would handle space problems in New York and other metropolitan places. This could be a hassle if the owner had to do the parking, but we are going to offer 24-hour valet service."

The partners plan to have 12 full-floor, about 4,000- to 4,500-square-foot units, and three 1,500-square-foot units. Based on the going rate of property with a water view at $600 to $700 a square foot, the larger units will likely range in price from $2.4 million to $3.1 million.

"This is the best location in all of Sarasota," Hamad says. "Once you get up three floors you have a view of the bay on three sides and a view of Main Street. People may disagree with me but I think some of the condominiums are on the wrong side of U.S. 41. Just think, you have to cross that terribly noisy road to get to downtown. Here you are right in the middle of downtown, and you have wonderful views of the water."

Asked about the three smaller units, Hamad says they were designed to meet the city's regulation requiring 20% of affordable housing units in new condominium developments.

If the as-yet unnamed condominium sounds complex don't count it out. Hamad's entire business life is full of long shots that went his way.

In 1962, the Egyptian-born Hamad graduated from American University in Cairo and relocated to Toronto. After a few in-between jobs, Hamad landed a job as a prescription drug sales representative for Merck & Co. Inc. in Northern Ontario.

"This was a route that had not been worked for several years because it was such a hardship working in that area," he says. "But I needed a job."

For a year, Hamad trudged through the snow from doctor's office to doctor's office.

"I was not a back slapping type of salesman," Hamad says. "I didn't try to build friendships and take them out for dinner like so many do now. I quickly figured out this was serious business, and so I decided to treat the subject matter with the importance it deserved. I approached it scientifically, just giving the doctors the facts. When I was selling, I had to be convinced my drug was the best. It's the same with my real estate projects. If I wasn't convinced Marquee was the best thing out there, I would have a difficult time convincing buyers."

With a successful sales track record and a little luck, Merck offered Hamad a position as product manager in marketing. Hamad says that promotion was one of the key reasons for his success in the pharmaceuticals industry.

"I was selected for that job out of 100 reps," Hamad says. "This allowed me to break out of the pack. I was no longer one of 100; I was one of five or six people in marketing. Really the key is to get that first step, that first recognition. The rest becomes a lot easier. "

In 1970, Hamad was promoted to director of new product planning, working between the research and marketing departments on the sales side. He also relocated to the United States.

"I would work with them trying to steer the research into areas where there was higher demand," Hamad says.

In 1973, Hamad was recruited by Pfizer Inc. as vice president of marketing for the international division.

"I was always highly motivated," Hamad says. "One of my strengths has always been team building. I was lucky to pick extremely talented people, and I rewarded them well. We worked hard and played hard. I enjoyed the concepts of working with ad agencies getting novel campaigns going. We always made our numbers. Somehow, I found that marketing was one of my strengths."

One of the first products that Hamad decided to promote was a once-a-day arthritis medication.

"It was somewhat risky," Hamad says. "If there were to be side-effects, they would likely show up extremely quickly. But I felt that pain relief was so important for people that they would pay for a drug that they only had to take once. I thought it was going to be a blockbuster. After only three months we had 35% of the market share in every country in the world. It was just outstanding."

Another of Hamad's revolutionary ideas was to centralize the pharmaceutical giant's advertising development.

"Here we were a multinational company, but we were being run as though we were a whole bunch of smaller companies," Hamad says. "Each country developed their own marketing and promotion campaigns. I thought doctors are doctors; why should we have our operations in countries like Indonesia producing ads that were not up to standard, when we can pool our resources and produce an unbelievable campaign that anyone can move around the world?"

Hamad convinced his boss, and Hamad's team was given the job of trying it out. After two successful cross-country campaigns, Hamad's idea was vindicated.

Early on, Hamad learned to follow what has since become a business axiom: "You have to spend money to make money."

"This was a fairly new idea at the time," Hamad says. "It was not very well accepted. A lot of people looked at the business from a purely accounting point of view, that says if you want to spend $10 million you need to increase sales by $10 million first. I firmly believe that you can get better results from spending money ... that you can't start with sales. The more you advertise the more you sell. The other thing is your advertising has to reach a critical mass."

In 1983, Hamad, then 41, was recruited by Bristol-Myers to work in the firm's international marketing medical division. Two years later, Hamad took over line responsibilities running the Canadian business division. Over the following decade, Hamad passed through a variety of division president jobs worldwide, which led to him being promoted to run the entire international division in 1996. At that time that division was an about $9 billion operation.

"In the international division you had to move intellectually," Hamad says. "My department was global. I had to become very familiar with all the managers ... to know their strengths and weaknesses. I had to be able to empathize with the mangers ... to work with them to create workable solutions. I learned early on that sending out memos saying you want to increase revenue by $10 million was useless. It was important to come up with a way to increase that revenue."

Running the international division required a great deal of travel; to this day, Hamad says he can land in just about any capital city in the world and drive away without a map or knowledge of the language. While, he doesn't claim to have visited every country, he estimates he has been to most - and he says those he missed were by design. As for his language skills, Hamad speaks a little French, in addition to English.

"It is pretty common that just about everywhere you go people speak English," Hamad says. "One person can't learn every language. English was really the language of our business."

The travel was fun at first, but eventually it became a drag, he says, adding: "When my wife started traveling with me then it became a little more palatable."

By 1997, the 55-year-old Hamad, feeling a bit run down, decided to retire. At the time, the couple planned to share their time between condominiums in New Jersey, Paris and New York and a place in Florida.

"Carolyn Spizzirro had worked with my wife in a bank in Westfield, N.J., for 25 years," Hamad says. "She had moved (to Sarasota) and got into real estate. She convinced us to come down and we loved it. When I came down here I was going to do nothing. I was going to play golf."

After a few years on Longboat Key, the couple moved to a home on Stickney Point Road in Sarasota.

Meanwhile, Hamad was bored. So when a friend suggested they partner on a commercial real estate deal together, Hamad agreed. The project called for the renovation of an office building at 1517 State St. in downtown Sarasota

Unfortunately, the deal didn't go as expected.

"Our assumption with the project was that it could just be rehabbed," Hamad says. "But once we got the building, the architects and engineers told us that it would cost us a lot more to renovate it than it would to tear it down and build a new building. It also took forever to build."

Eventually, Hamad bought out his partner and took over control of the retail/office building.

While construction was delayed on the State Street project, Hamad decided the market was favorable for condominium developments in the downtown area so he started looking for property to acquire. He bought a stretch of dilapidated rental homes running along Fruitville Road.

"I learned from (the 1517 State St.) that I needed to know what is happening at all times," Hamad says. "You can't just leave it to the architects or the builders. You have to be on top of it everyday. Otherwise the schedules slip or the design falls down. No one else feels as strongly about the project as I do. You just can't depend on other people to be as jealous about a project as you are. This year I didn't even go on a vacation."

Eventually, the State Street building exterior was completed, and currently it is 50% leased. A high-end spa and art gallery has committed to occupying the entire first floor of the building.

"The building really turned out very attractive and well built," Hamad says. "The timing actually worked out well. We were able to move our sales office in here (on the second floor.)" Presently, about 6,500 square feet is still uncommitted. The rental rate ranges from about $20 to $24 a square foot.

Hamad's first solo venture, the four-story Marquee en Ville, appears to be moving along well.

"Things are going perfect," Hamad says. "The cement shortage delayed us about a month-and-a-half, but we should be done by August of next year. When I have this sold out I will always drive by and say, 'I made this.' I wouldn't trade that feeling. Real estate is just perfect for me now that I have time on my hands."

Asked how he financed the deal, Hamad says it was a combination of personal finances and loans from Gold Bank.

"I just want to say that the Marquee en Ville is a really unique product," Hamad says. "There is really nothing like this in Sarasota or on this coast, where you can have town homes that are this large - 2,600 square feet. Where you can feel like you are really living in your own home. Where you can pull into your own garage - that is totally shielded from your neighbors. Where you can have your own terrace with a studio-style floor for sun bathing with full summer kitchens and a nice gas fireplace. With an elevator in each townhome.

"I wanted to make this my signature project. I am not making as much money on this project as I should. I believe that the next time I build a development people will look at this one and want to be a part of that one too."

Hamad hired his future partner Hoyt to design the Marquee en Ville.

"I put a contract on (on 1301-1303 Main St.) two years ago, but I was looking for the right partner," Hoyt says. "I have dealt with him, and I know he is a smart guy and real gentleman. He has really good instincts. He also appreciates good design. We are still fine-tuning the development plan. We are also working with the existing tenants (Pino's Primi Piatti and Robinson Spry Interiors) to make sure it is a smooth transition for them. But it looks like everything is starting to come together."

As for retirement, Hamad has given that idea up for the immediate future. "I work nine to three," he says, "but I am happier. I'm actually doing something and that is much more satisfying."

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