Construction executive Bill Halfacre was more than ready back in the 1970s when he heard a few Sarasota officials wanted to impose a building moratorium.
Halfacre, worried the misguided political move would crush not only his business, but also overall growth, bought a truckful of silver dollars from a U.S. Mint facility in Utah. Halfacre and his good friend Gil Waters, a Sarasota developer and entrepreneur, then led a movement to pay every construction worker in town in silver dollars. Jack Cox, who now runs Lakewood Ranch-based Halfacre Construction, says
“Bill wanted to show the impact of construction in the community.”
The plan worked. Managers from stores like Publix and others flooded the county with calls about heavy silver dollars that weighed down cash registers. The officials, at least temporarily, backed off the moratorium.
Halfacre, active in the construction and development community for 40 years, died Sept. 10 of natural causes. He was 88.
“He was a man of super-high integrity,” says Cox. “As successful as he was, he had very little ego. He always wanted to remain in the background.”
Halfacre was born in Dayton, Ohio. He moved to the Sarasota area in 1968, to work for well-known homebuilder Arthur Rutenberg. Halfacre read about Rutenberg in a trade magazine and sent the executive a letter asking for a job. Rutenberg thought Halfacre's penmanship was so great that the young applicant must have the same kind of pride in all his work, recalls Cox. Halfacre got the job.
Two years later Halfacre founded his own construction firm, a business that grew quickly along with his adopted hometown. The firm built homes, apartment complexes, shopping plazas and government buildings. Halfacre also became a prominent pro-business voice in the construction community, past the silver dollars. He was president of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange in 1974 and active in several other organizations.
Halfacre sold his firm to Jack Cox's father, John Cox, in 1984. John Cox and later his son led the company through more growth spurts, including the early 2000s building boom. The firm is now a regional leader in commercial construction, with $25 million in 2013 sales.
John Cox and Halfacre worked together on multiple projects, and Jack Cox says the fact that neither argued over stipulations of the sale of the business is a testament to their integrity. Says Cox: “Most things don't work out that clean.”
Halfacre, says Cox, continued to come into the office through late August. He worked on drawings for projects, chatted with employees then ate lunch and read the Wall Street Journal. “He was such a good guy,” says Cox. “He had an amazing love for art and would always be working on a painting, watercolor, rendering or blueprints. He was a mentor, father figure and an amazing architect.”