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EXECUTIVE SESSION: Rebuilding Bonita


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  • | 9:05 p.m. March 30, 2012
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Gary Dumas is guardedly optimistic about residential development in the Southwest Florida region. The Bonita Bay Group residential development company recently named him president and CEO.

It's safe to say that the worst is over for Bonita Bay Group.

The Bonita Springs-based privately held residential developer escaped the fate that befell many rivals, avoiding disaster by selling off residential communities and clubs it had built over nearly three decades.

In addition, the Lucas family that controls Bonita Bay Group acquired the company's remaining debt from a consortium of lenders headed by Key Bank.

As the residential homebuilding market shows signs of life again, the Lucas family appointed Gary Dumas as the Bonita Bay Group's president and CEO. Brian Lucas, who formerly held the post, is now vice chairman of the company.

Dumas says he's seen signs of a recovery in the market. “It's been a while since we've seen that kind of activity,” he says. For example, so far in this winter's selling season the company reported 23 new-home sales at its Verandah community in Fort Myers, compared with seven homes during that period last year.

Even as the residential market stabilizes, Dumas is presiding over a much smaller company than it was during the boom times, when it was developing seven large residential communities. After selling the remaining lots at Sandoval in Cape Coral late last year, the company has two significant development projects left: the Verandah community in Fort Myers where it has 663 lots available, and 46 condos in high-rises at Bonita Bay in Bonita Springs.

Bonita Bay Group owns nearly 2,100 acres in the region with the potential to sell as many as 5,750 lots to homebuilders in the future, plus room for two more condo towers at Bonita Bay.

Still, despite the improving conditions, Dumas isn't ready to lead Bonita Bay Group into new projects from raw land. “It feels two to seven years off,” he says. “We'd like to see Verandah develop a little more.”

Dumas recently discussed the industry and his personal accomplishments with the Business Review. The following are excerpts of the conversation.

PERSONAL LIFE
UPSTATE: Dumas, 57, grew up in Massena, N.Y., one of seven siblings. The town across the St. Lawrence River from Canada was too small for McDonald's and today suffers from the economic downturn that has afflicted the Upstate New York region. When he took his three teenagers for a visit to the area recently, they asked him: “Dad, what happened here?” Having grown up in Southwest Florida, Dumas says they weren't accustomed to seeing shuttered factories and rundown neighborhoods.

LEFT WING: Dumas first attended college at State University of New York in Potsdam, near Massena, where he played left wing for the winning hockey team in 1978 and 1979. “I was too short to play basketball,” he chuckles.

GATOR FOR LIFE: One of Dumas' brothers owned a restaurant in Pompano Beach. After a summer visit on a break from college, Gary Dumas decided he loved the state so much he transferred to the University of Florida in 1979. “I became a Gator for life,” he says. He earned a business degree.
KAYAKER: Dumas used to be a runner until an Achilles heel injury sidelined him. Without running to take the stress out of work, his wife, Carrie, a medical technician, bough t him a kayak. Marco Island and Wiggins Pass are two of his favorite areas to paddle.

CAREER
CLUBBING: After graduating from the University of Florida in 1981, Dumas joined Club Corp. of America's management training program in Dallas and ran country clubs, fitness clubs and dining establishments in states including New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina.

REMAX: In 1998, Dumas returned to Florida and moved to Sarasota to work with another brother, Al Dumas, who owns a Remax residential brokerage firm there. Gary Dumas says he enjoyed selling real estate, but sought a more varied professional experience.

BONITA OPPORTUNITY: Dumas first heard of Bonita Bay Group in 2001 and was impressed with the firm's integrity. The real estate and development industry was starting to boom in 2001, too. “It seemed limitless at that time,” Dumas recalls. Dumas moved up the ranks at the company, starting by managing clubs and then moving to the development side of the business.

INDUSTRY
BETTER DAYS: Dumas says homebuilding activity will be better this year than last, but he's not jumping with excitement. “2012 won't be a home run, but it's firming,” he says. He's already looking ahead to spring 2013 and wants to see better results this year before developing new properties.

MORE THAN GOLF: Although Bonita Bay Group is known for its splendid golf courses, developing and maintaining them is a costly endeavor. “The golf market is still overbuilt,” Dumas says. What's more, baby boomers' tastes have expanded since their parents retired. “They have a kaleidoscope of interests now,” he says. They're into fitness, travel and boating, for example.

WAITING FOR CERTAINTY: While Dumas says prospective customers have been able to sell their homes in northern states recently as the market improved, they're still uncertain about the future. For example, they wonder what will happen with taxes and health care.

CREDIT LOOSENS: After being shut out after the financial crisis, bank financing may finally be available to the homebuilding industry. “In the last few weeks, I've had two local builders who said they can get commercial financing for models,” Dumas says.

 

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