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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 28, 2018 5 months ago

Businessman ramps up focus on sustainable housing

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Marshall Gobuty's latest sustainable project, with a start in Manatee County, has drawn interest from as far away as Russia.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Driving past rows of industrial buildings in a north Manatee County office park, there’s no clue that inside one is a full-scale house.

The house was constructed inside a space that serves as a research and development hub for developer Marshall Gobuty’s latest project. This fall, the space will transform into a showroom for potential homeowners.

The environmentally friendly home will be used in Gobuty’s planned community in Cortez, Hunters Point Resort and Marina, as well as other upcoming projects. The Manatee County development in Cortez calls for 86 cottages, 62 lodge-style properties and 48 boat slips.

Hunters Point is also the latest of many steps in Gobuty’s long-pursued sustainable housing mission. The businessman has built a blue jeans brand  and prefab house in Africa — and he’s made waves in Manatee County for his sustainable community called Mirabella.

His next project takes his environmental quest a step further, and to get there he’s relying on careful research and lessons he’s learned from his career — along with the energy that comes from bucking the norm. 

“Be mission driven, not just profit driven,” says Gobuty, 57, when asked about tips for successful sustainable building. “If your projects are mission driven — and your mission is compelling — you will make a profit."

Not Easy Being Green

A man of many careers, Gobuty was once involved in a business far from sustainable homes when he founded the Arizona Jeans Co. with J.C. Penney Co. in the late 1990s.

Later, when he moved to Israel with his family, he developed residential and commercial properties there. While overseas, he also worked on developments in Europe and Southeast Asia.

In recent years, he’s become more conscious of environmental issues and wanted to be part of a change. “What we did to the planet was we killed it,” he says in an interview. 

"Block homes are doable and profitable, We’ve done that. I don’t think the world needs me for this. I want more. I want to offer something that no one’s offered before." — Marshall Gobuty, developer, Hunters Point

Gobuty's ambitious goal is also to do something different and challenging in the homebuilding industry. “Block homes are doable and profitable,” he says. “We’ve done that. I don’t think the world needs me for this. I want more. I want to offer something that no one’s offered before.”

When he started working on Bradenton's Mirabella, a 158-home, 55-plus community, Gobuty says some people, including national builders, thought he was crazy for trying to build a neighborhood with LEED-certified homes, a mark of resource efficiency. The conventional wisdom: It would be too expensive and squeeze margins too much, plus third-party verification puts additional pressure on the team to deliver. 

But a big mistake in business, says Gobuty, is to trust conventional wisdom. “You’ll never pioneer anything,” he says in an email. “Before I broke ground on Mirabella, a developer friend told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t do LEED certification.’ And I thought, ‘Then I have to do it.’”

Mahesh Ramanujam, U.S. Green Building Council president and CEO, presenting Marshall Gobuty with Mirabella's 100th LEED Platinum Certification.

So he did. Mirabella’s houses have since earned LEED Platinum certification — the highest certification the U.S. Green Building Council offers. A sign of that project's unique and successful approach came in July, when U.S Green Building Council President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam traveled to Bradenton to personally mark the 100th LEED Platinum certified house in Mirabella.

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston says if Mirabella is any indication of how good Hunters Point will be, people will be love it. “He’s so invested in what he builds for the long term,” he says. “He’s not going to build them, sell them and go away. That’s not Marshall’s way. He’s going to build them as if he’s going to live in them. He takes that kind of pride in it.”

Pat Neal, founder and chairman of Lakewood Ranch-based Neal Communities, one of the most prolific and largest homebuilders in the region, has known Gobuty for several decades and sees that same kind of passion. Neal has built more than 10,000 homes in Southwest Florida going back to the early 1970s. He was even partners with Gobuty’s father, Michael Gobuty, on a Longboat Key development.

“He’s, of course, creative, very thoughtful and a smart businessman,” Neal says of Marshall Gobuty. “One difference between him and me is he’s been in every kind of business. Because he’s had such varied life experiences, it allows him to do things others wouldn’t do.”

Gobuty's confidence allows him to do something Neal says he doesn’t think anyone else has done in the region. “It would not be my first thought to build smaller homes at Hunters Point,” Neal says. “Other business people would be constrained by their previous experiences. They would say, ‘These smaller homes are not in my portfolio of things I’ve done before.’ But Marshall has spent his whole life doing things others haven’t done before.”

Mirabella, a sustainable community surrounded by older homes, was Example A of one of risky moves others wouldn't have done. But its success, says Neal, has pushed Gobuty to do more sustainable work. 

Even Greener

The first of Gobuty’s new, more sustainable homes, dubbed Pearl Homes, will be built at Hunters Point. “It’s ridiculously researched and thought out,” Gobuty says of the home’s design.

Courtesy. Exterior elevations of the homes that will be built at Hunters Point in Cortez.

Like Mirabella, Gobuty plans to seek LEED Platinum certification for the Hunters Point homes. The houses will have about 500 square feet under air and 1,450 square feet of total usable space when rooftops and decks are factored in. The homes will also be able to produce, store and share energy. The Hunters Point team is working with the Florida Solar Energy Center on the development. “Every new project is my favorite, because with each one we’re moving the needle that much further on sustainability,” says Gobuty in an email.

In developing Hunters Point, Gobuty is asking a key question — and setting up a big challenge: “What if we create a model of complete sustainability?”

Poston says he thinks Hunters Point will appeal to both retiring baby boomers and millennials. “A lot of people are looking for smaller houses now,” he says. “I think it’s going to be a great project. This is the kind of project that makes sense for the people who live here.” 

Gobuty is also at work on another community in north Manatee County that’s expected to have 720 homes, he says. The Ellenton development, rentals called OurLife Smart Community, will break ground in 2019 and have single-family and multifamily homes. “The goal is to price it so everyone could have it,” Gobuty says. “It’s a huge trend in homebuilding. Renting is not a swear word.”

The Ellenton development will also include space for people to work — offices, meeting rooms and more. “Places for you to start your business,” Gobuty says.

With both Hunters Point and the Ellenton project, energy use will be key to maximize the sustainability impact. “We’re building entire neighborhoods of homes that are completely energy neutral,” Gobuty says. 

The Pearl Homes model will be available to other developers, too. Gobuty says he’s getting interest from people in California, Arizona and even as far away as Russia. He’d like to partner with companies that have land for Gobuty to build homes on. “We know there’s interest,” he says. “We really want to prove the concept so it’s airtight. If you’re changing a paradigm, you have to show them.”

Courtesy. A rendering of the living room in homes planned for the Hunters Point development in Cortez.

Gobuty has gotten this far with his mission thanks to some keys lessons he’s learned during his career. “Build a team that shares your big vision,” is one integral part of the strategy, he says in an email. Also, the team needs to have the expertise to achieve every piece of the puzzle.

His current puzzle — increasing people’s access to green homes — has a lot of pieces, which he's working on one by one. “Be flexible,” he says, “and don’t be afraid to backtrack, slow down and build the scaffolding you need to make your vision happen.”

Gobuty, in another wave of confidence, doesn’t think Hunters Point will be an anomaly on the homebuilding scene. “I think it’s going to become the norm,” he says. He doesn’t see as many people wanting to live in “Monster McMansions” in the years ahead. As Gobuty says, “Less is more now.”

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