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The 'Fulcrum'

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  • | 11:00 a.m. June 9, 2017
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  • Manatee-Sarasota
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BTI Partners has spent the past nearly four decades as a real estate chameleon, reacting to market trends and establishing itself as a company with the ability to move swiftly when needed.

When Florida single-family housing spiked, the Fort Lauderdale-based firm was at the forefront of new development. When condominium conversion and rental developments became the rage, BTI was there.

And when the past decade's real estate boom turned to bust, BTI began acquiring community development district bond debt, and leveraged payment delinquencies to take control of projects that had fizzled.

“We always believed, even in the worst of the downturn, that Florida would come back,” says Noah Breakstone, BTI's managing partner, whose father started the company in the 1950s. “It wasn't a question of if, but when. Acquiring CDD bonds gave us access to land with entitlements and sometimes infrastructure partially in place, and we just saw that as a huge opportunity.”

In all, the company bought some $600 million worth of CDD debt, bonds tied to the Sarasota National golf club in Venice, Treviso Bay in Naples and the Westshore Marina District, in South Tampa.

The company was especially drawn to the bonds, which are allowed under state law as a way to finance road, water, sewer and other infrastructure, because they have priority over other types of debt -- including bank loans.

Eventually, BTI either foreclosed on or bought out other developers to spur projects involving more than 8,000 acres of land containing some 15,000 residential lots.

It is in South Tampa that BTI is reinvigorating plans from a decade ago, and transforming a 52-acre, waterfront tract into a community planned for 1,750 residences, a 200-room hotel, up to 240,000 square feet of retail, office and restaurant space and as many as 240 boat slips in a new marina.

Under an agreement with county officials, BTI also will develop a 1.5-mile waterfront park that will be open to the public.

Beck Daniel, BTI's executive vice president of development, says the $650 million project's infrastructure could be completed later this year, with the entire complex built out within five years.

Already, Miami's Related Group and Bonita Springs-based WCI Communities, now a subsidiary of home building giant Lennar Corp., have acquired land in the marina district for new apartments and luxury town homes.

Related spent $11.8 million for an 8.5-acre tract in the district in February, where it plans a 396-unit rental project. WCI will spend $14.5 million for nearly 12 acres, where it plans 35 three-story luxury town homes and a high-end condo project.

Both developments are slated for completion before the end of 2018, though WCI's condos likely won't begin construction until later next year.

In all, BTI says it has commitments for more than 30 acres in the project, land sales totaling more than $40 million.

“We want this site to be the fulcrum for future development,” Daniel says of the district, which is located off Westshore Boulevard and Gandy Boulevard. “One of the things we loved about this project is the waterfront. So much waterfront in Florida is closed off, but we're keeping this open and accessible.”

And just as BTI hopes Westshore Marina to be a catalyst for other development, the fulcrum for BTI has been and will likely continue to be projects associated with CDD debt for the foreseeable future.

“When the downturn hit, we were able to look at things strategically, and that led us as a company to focus in on distressed properties throughout the state of Florida.”

The strategy has paid off as the economy has rebounded. At Sarasota National, for instance, BTI was able to secure the 2,400-acre development after previous owner Tuscano LLC defaulted on $108 million in debt obtained in 2005.

BTI scooped the land up for a fraction of that amount, selling it to WCI in May 2013 for $48.5 million, property records show. WCI and Lennar are in the process of constructing more than 1,500 homes there.

Ultimately, BTI hopes to replicate the success of Sarasota National at Westshore Marina and at its 104-acre Posner Park and 890-unit Grove Resort and Spa projects, both in Orlando.

At the latter, 180 units are already available, and BTI is in the process of installing a $20 million water park there.

“We have the ability to attack large pieces of land, which a lot of potential buyers can't,” says Daniel, who joined BTI six years ago.

That ability could extend, too, to other large-scale developments along the Gulf Coast.

“We like the Tampa and West Coast market,” says Daniel. “Westshore Marina District is as much about growing our footprint here and better establishing ourselves as it is about this individual project. And if through a 1.5-acre waterfront site we have a chance to build our brand, well we see that as a great opportunity.”

Breakstone agrees.

“We're intentionally a very flexible company,” he says. “We look at all the opportunities that might make sense in any given market.”


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