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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 25, 2015 3 years ago

Squatters out, tenants in

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Like many older shopping centers throughout Southwest Florida, Royal Palm Square in Fort Myers is experiencing new life as office space.

Like many older shopping centers throughout Southwest Florida, Royal Palm Square in Fort Myers is experiencing new life as office space.

That's good news for business owners looking for lower rents in a tightening market that's pushed lease rates higher.

It's also been a big turnaround job for Steven Goldfarb, whose experience there includes kicking squatters out of the building. In fact, unbeknownst to its owners, people had moved into the empty spaces during the recession, even rigging a laundry dryer in one of the former shops.

The center had other challenges. Some leases hadn't been paid for a year; other leases were invalid; and real estate taxes hadn't been paid for three years. Goldfarb had to change the floor plans, so the spaces could function as offices instead of shops.

The previous owner and the bank holding the mortgage both failed and Goldfarb's Royal Palm Cos. purchased the note for pennies on the dollar, gaining title to the property last year. (The center and the company's name both having Royal Palm is a coincidence, he says.)

Goldfarb's Fort Lauderdale-based group invested $1.2 million in renovations to Royal Palm Square and drove occupancy up from a low of 52% in December to 85% today. Most recently, Internal Medicine Associates leased 9,000 square feet for their administrative staff.

With a dinner theater as one tenant, Royal Palm Square charges $8 to $12 a square foot gross, a figure that includes common area maintenance and taxes. One big advantage: There's plenty of parking from its former days as a shopping center.

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