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New beginning

  • By
  • | 11:00 a.m. March 17, 2017
  • Commercial Real Estate
  • Manatee–Sarasota
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At an age when many real estate professionals spend time sharpening their putting skills, traveling the world or just kicking back, Tom Danahy is focusing on creating a new division inside a Sarasota commercial brokerage firm.

Danahy's decision to join Ian Black Real Estate comes as the firm is expanding its number of agents and its services to clients. In late 2015, the firm added specialized corporate services — portfolio administration, acquisition and disposition advisory, site selection and asset management — to its roster of offerings.

With Danahy as its president, Ian Black is branching out with a land development and advisory services division.

“My goal is to work with the people I want to work with, have some fun and hopefully make a little money,” says Danahy, 69.

At Ian Black, Danahy is formulating a strategic business plan to decide how to best shape the new division.

“Obviously, we'll be focusing somewhat on building and developing, and on property acquisitions and due diligence, but since I have a fair amount of experience in dealing with entitlement processes, I would imagine we'll do some of that, too,” says Danahy. “There are several buckets within that overall land development and advisory space I can work in.”

Danahy joins Ian Black after decades working with some of the Gulf Coast's most ambitious mixed-use and multiyear real estate projects, including Babcock Ranch in Charlotte and Lee counties, Lakewood Ranch in Manatee and Sarasota counties and Sun City Center in Hillsborough County.

Not bad for a guy who began his career working with an expansion NBA franchise in Buffalo, N.Y.

From ice to sun

Danahy grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and graduated from college with a degree in accounting, landing a job at one of the then-Big Eight accounting firms, Peat Marwick. It was there he met entrepreneur Paul Snyder, who was a client at the firm.

Impressed by Danahy's skills with numbers, Snyder hired him to work on the finance side of his Buffalo Braves National Basketball Association expansion franchise.

More than three years later, after a tussle with Buffalo officials over rights to an arena shared with the Buffalo Sabres pro hockey team, Danahy faced a fork in the road: Stay with the NBA team that Snyder was selling -- today's Los Angeles Clippers — or stay with Snyder. Danahy chose the man over the sport.

“The opportunity to stay in pro basketball was enticing, but ultimately I decided to stay with Paul,” Danahy says. “I had learned a lot from him.”

Staying meant working at a 2,500-acre resort and amusement park Snyder was developing called Darien Lake, which featured 1,500 camp sites, tracts for mega-picnics -- the United Auto Workers once held a party for 10,000 members on the property — a petting zoo and a herd of bison.

Danahy was charged with developing a master plan for the property and overseeing financial operations.

Intrigued by Florida's weather and potential — Danahy had studied Miami as a possible place to relocate the Braves for Snyder — he took a job in 1979 with W.G. Development Corp., which at the time owned Sun City Center.

Eventually, Danahy became president of the master-planned community, overseeing its golf operations, land development, restaurants and negotiating the sale of the more than 300 home lots annually.

A decade after joining the community, Danahy moved again, to work with a partnership struck by golf legend Jack Nicklaus and Tampa developer Bob Sierra that was planning to develop golf course communities throughout the Southeast U.S.

As executive vice president at Nicklaus Sierra, Danahy developed courses and communities like the Avila Golf & Country Club, in Tampa; Windstone, in Chicago; the Country Club of the South in Atlanta; and the English Turn golf club in New Orleans.

Leveraging knowledge

After a decade of developing and managing links, Danahy leveraged his knowledge of golf course communities into a top management role with Schroeder-Manatee, the firm developing the 31,000-acre Lakewood Ranch.

In time, Danahy was promoted to president of LWR Communities, the residential development division of Schroeder-Manatee.

By 2006, LWR was selling 1,000 homes annually.

“I caught it at just the right time,” Danahy says. “It was a good time to be there.”

For good measure, Danahy also helped the ranch's owners develop 54 holes of golf.

Danahy's work and growing reputation for being able to work with public officials and regulators alike eventually got the attention of Syd Kitson, a former NFL player turned developer who was embarking on a mammoth project straddling Charlotte and Lee counties.

The 18,000-acre Babcock Ranch not only needed dual county approvals, but a series of complex state blessings, too. Kitson also wanted his community to be environmentally sustainable and a model for future ground-up development.

Could Danahy help?

“I was intrigued by what he wanted to do, though I also thought he was a little crazy,” Danahy says.

Nevertheless, Danahy left one ranch project for another in 2008.

As president of the entity developing Babcock Ranch, Danahy had the backing of a solid financial partner in Morgan Stanley, and the development was slated to capture a fair percentage of the roughly 1,000 new residents a day flocking to the Sunshine State at the time.

Everything was moving ahead as planned. Until it didn't.

Within a few months of Danahy's move to Kitson, the stock market crashed. Home sales languished. Credit evaporated. Lee and Charlotte counties began challenging Babcock Ranch's permits, causing delays.

If ever there was a time to be despondent, this was it.

But Danahy and Kitson took the long view.

“It took the pressure off of us to move ahead quickly,” Danahy says.

And while sales fell apart, the commitment to developing Babcock Ranch as an eco-friendly community didn't.

“Some developers will talk a good game at the outset, but when things change economically, they change, too,” Danahy says. “But we didn't. We set a higher bar consistent with Syd's vision and we stuck to it. I'm very proud of how we went above and beyond with what we said we'd do at Babcock Ranch.”

As development there inched along, Danahy and Kitson busied themselves through the prolonged downturn working on other projects, such as the Talis Park golf club in Naples.

“Tom has all the qualities you look for in a person,” Kitson says. “His depth of experience and knowledge make him very special. When he joined us, we were at a very important juncture in the life of Babcock Ranch, and the respect he had in the industry and with public officials really helped us.”

By 2015, Babcock Ranch had awakened from its prolonged slumber. Infrastructure was being installed. Commercial leases were signed. Residential construction began.

Danahy figured it was a good time to leave. He was living in FishHawk Ranch near Tampa by then, and the commute to Charlotte County was wearing on him.

As 2016 ended, so did his time at Babcock Ranch.

By chance, Danahy ran into Ian Black as he was contemplating doing some consulting work, and the latter talked him into joining his firm full-time.

“I saw that he had built a great team of people who work well together, and knew that the firm was growing,” Danahy says. “So I thought it would be a good platform for my next chapter.

“I've learned that you always need to stay flexible, recognize that change happens and that real estate goes through cycles,” he says. “You just have to react to them the best you can.”


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