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Course Change


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  • | 11:00 a.m. April 21, 2017
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The Lutgert Cos. made its mark developing high-rise condo towers in Naples beginning in the early 1970s, largely pioneering luxury multifamily living in Southwest Florida.

The 760-acre tract of waterfront land company founder Raymond Lutgert acquired in 1964 to hold those high rises set another precedent, too, as the first-ever planned unit development in Florida.

Between 1971 and 2007, Lutgert developed 25 residential towers in all, in Naples' tony Park Shore community and Bonita Springs.

Collectively, the projects — Enclave, Estancia, Provence and Regent, among others — in turn helped established Naples as a winter landing spot for wealthy and discerning buyers. That, in turn, fueled further growth in Collier County.

But Lutgert hasn't developed a new condo tower -- in Naples or anywhere else — for a decade now, since its 104-unit Esperia South tower was completed in Bonita Springs in 2007 and it began work on Tavira at Bonita Bay, which was delivered two years later.

Instead, the company has focused on enhancing several ancillary business lines for growth, such as its in-house construction, insurance and title companies.

It also is working to spread the geographic reach and grow the market share of Premier Sotheby's, the residential brokerage firm it began in the mid-1980s with just two agents that today has more than 40 offices.

“Naples, along with much of Florida, is largely built out today, so there just aren't as many opportunities to do new high rises as there were when the company was founded in the 1960s,” says Lutgert Cos. President Howard Gutman, 63, who has been with the firm for four decades.

Gutman says the affiliated ancillary businesses offer customers the ability to simplify their real estate purchases, while at the same time providing diversification for Lutgert.

And Lutgert certainly hasn't abandoned development entirely.

The company continues to work on Estuary at Grey Oaks, a 350-acre, luxury golf course community it's developed with Barron Collier Cos.; the 52-unit, award-winning Residences at Mercato in North Naples; a planned 38,000-square-foot, three-story office building that will be known as the Lutgert Professional Center; and a 100-acre tract in Estero adjacent to rental car giant Hertz Corp.'s new world headquarters.

The current path also isn't altogether different from one Lutgert charted in the mid-1980s, Gutman says, a time when the company began expanding into commercial projects such as Village at Venetian Bay; Neopolitan Way; Crossroads Market; the Promenade at Bonita Bay; the Quarles & Brady Building and other projects.

The apex of those efforts came in 2006, when Lutgert and Barron Collier Cos. jointly started developing Mercato, a mixed-use, high-end retail and office project totaling 450,000 square feet.

In early 2015, the pair sold Mercato to Prudential Real Estate Investors for $239.6 million, the largest commercial real estate sale of that year in Southwest Florida.

“We've known the Lutgert family for decades, and they've always done great work,” says Blake Gable, Barron Collier's CEO. “So it's made sense for us to partner with them on various projects over the years.

“They have the same dedication to quality development and to the betterment of the community we have, and they have tremendous integrity and great people. It just makes for a seamless partnership.”

Good opportunities

Lutgert also is no stranger to seeking developments outside of Southwest Florida.

In 1978, for instance, the company began work on Linville Ridge, a 900-acre golf course community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The community remains together with another 20-residence project in Linville, N.C., the only developments Lutgert has undertaken outside Florida.

That could change, however, especially as Premier Sotheby's and other Lutgert affiliates grow geographically.

Since linking with Sotheby's in 2010, for instance, the brokerage has opened offices in Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sanibel and Captiva.

The firm has also grown to Charlotte, N.C., and in 2015 debuted four new offices in the Asheville, N.C., area. That same year, Premier Sotheby's moved into the Orlando market, with another four new offices.

Its Lutgert Construction and Lutgert Insurance subsidiaries have followed suit, with the latter expanding into both Tampa and Sarasota in recent years. In 2014, the firm formed Lutgert Resnick, an insurance and estate planning firm targeting wealthy individuals and families.

Looking ahead, Gutman believes Premier Sotheby's will likely grow less through organic means and more through acquisitions of existing firms that mesh well with the company's culture. It will also continue to open offices in larger markets where it feels such additions are necessary.

“We're in some very big areas now: Tampa, Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina,” Gutman says. “And we started those operations from scratch. So it's going to take us some time to really get to where we want to be in those areas.”

But Lutgert intends to be cautious regarding future growth; Gutman hasn't forgotten how difficult the economic recession that began in 2008 was to weather, for real estate firms especially.

“Florida is not immune from recession, so we plan on taking a conservative approach going forward,” he says. “You have to prepare for another economic downturn, and it's hard to tell when it will come -- even though overall Florida's economic outlook is very, very good.”

Still, Gutman says the company wouldn't shy away from building a new residential tower or community if a deal presented itself, as it did in 2015 when Lutgert expressed interest in helping redevelop the 19-acre Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Longboat Key. The company is no longer working on any Colony redevelopment plans.

“We're more than willing to do another high rise, and we're looking,” he says. “We have a lot of experience in the high rise spectrum, so we're definitely open to doing something in that realm — if the opportunity is a good one.”

 

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