Donald Schrotenboer seeks to help others get ahead in the complicated and usually costly sector.
It’s not easy to develop real-estate projects in Southwest Florida — especially if you’re a newcomer to the market. That’s one reason why Donald Schrotenboer felt the time was right to launch his new Fort Myers-based real-estate consulting firm, Realvizory, earlier this year.
Schrotenboer, 59, is intimately familiar with the Southwest Florida market. While president and CEO of Fort Myers-based Private Equity Group, he was involved in major local projects like Lee County master-planned community WildBlue and mixed-use planned community Westport at the long-stalled development formerly known as Murdock Village in Charlotte County. Prior to that, Schrotenboer was president of Alico Land Development (agribusiness company Alico’s land-development arm) and executive vice president for Ave Maria Development and the Ave Maria Foundation, working on elements like acquisitions, master planning and entitlements during construction of the new town and university.
“There are so many new investors and businesses looking to come to the Southwest Florida market,” he says. “Given my experience over the last two decades or more, I have the ability to see from the beginning all the way through the end of a development.”
‘I treat and look at every single dollar as if it were my own. I look at every decision as, ‘would I do this if I was in their position and this was my money?’Donald Schrotenboer, Realvizory
Schrotenboer works with clients to help them understand what’s possible with their specific property and how long it could take. He analyzes everything the same way he would if he was the landholder. “I truly take the time to understand what the client’s needs and desires are,” he says. “But I treat and look at every single dollar as if it were my own. Having been through this myself — and I continue to have my own personal investments — that is how I view it and treat it. I look at every decision as, ‘would I do this if I was in their position and this was my money?’”
He’s learned that it takes disciple and patience to develop projects in this area. “Southwest Florida is not the easiest place to get land entitled and permitted in,” he says. “If someone is coming from out of the state or county, they don’t realize that immediately. So it’s having someone who has that experience and will share that with them.”
Schrotenboer definitely has experience playing the waiting game, especially with a project like WildBlue, where environmental restoration and preservation were a major component. “When you get into the state and federal permitting, you need patience and understanding of how that works,” he says. “It’s a give-and-take process.”
But it can have big payoffs. A lot of other local developers followed WildBlue’s environmental lead. And the residents of WildBlue benefit from things like preserved wetlands and ample habitat for wildlife.
“These environmental preservation areas within a development are not only obviously good for the sustainability of the environment, but they also provide a passive recreation for the residents as well,” says Schrotenboer. “That’s important, because not every development has a golf course, and not every development has a marina.”
Discipline and patience are especially important on the financial side of the equation, which Schrotenboer helps clients get a handle on. “Taking a property through entitlements, permitting and development is an extremely expensive undertaking,” he says. “So understanding the finances of what it’s going to take even before you get into the project is helpful, and that is something that I can provide because of my experience in this.”
Schrotenboer also has a lot of insight about working with local governments, whether that’s taking a project through permitting or entering into an arrangement like the public-private partnership with Charlotte County for the Westport project. “A lot of developers looked at that site over the years and just could not make it work,” he says. “Being a little creative and patient made all the difference in the world.”
His key tip for working with local governments? “Do what you say you’re going to do,” he says. “You have to build and earn trust, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in and a lot of time in doing. Your reputation is everything. It takes you years to build it, and it only takes you one incident to ruin it.”
Right now, Realvizory is a one-man show, though Schrotenboer could hire staff down the road. He wants to see the company grow, but — not surprisingly — in a disciplined way, where he doesn’t lose focus on customer service. “I want to grow it slowly, because this requires a lot of personal attention and understanding your clients’ needs,” he says.
He feels confident taking that careful, long-term approach because he doesn’t see the kind of firsthand, personal, experience-based insight he has ever being replicated by technology. “That’s one of the neatest things about this business to me; I don’t see it becoming automated,” he says. “There’s a lot of personal touch to this business that I don’t ever see departing.”