Tampa-based commercial real estate investor Bobby Soroory is going back to school. Sort of.
Soroory recently paid $3.5 million for the University Inn, at the foot of the University of Tampa campus in downtown Tampa. He plans to spend at least $2.5 million to renovate the property into 56 apartment units while also keeping his eye on a long-term redevelopment project there. Soroory, 36, earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Tampa in 2010 and a master’s in finance in 2011.
‘I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not in it for a quick ROI.’ Bobby Soroory, Frontier Capital Group
“I’m in this for the long-haul,” Soroory says. “I’m not in it for a quick ROI. Being an alum of UT, I think I have a unique insight with what the university’s housing needs are. It’s really exciting to be able to provide a housing solution on this campus.”
Soroory acquired the property through Frontier Capital Group, his family office investment entity. Frontier bought it from RAJ Pinellas LLC, which, according to Florida department of state records, is registered to Shantia Singh, who has owned a few other hotels in the area. Soroory says the price was a bargain, in an A-plus location he calls the gateway to downtown. “It wasn’t over-leveraged,” he says. “It was an unflagged hotel. They were having some issues due to the pandemic.”
Although there are several other apartment complexes nearby, Soroory notes the University Inn, built in 1961, is as close to UT as possible without being in UT. “We have a superior location,” he says, “where everyone else is a 10- to 15-minute walk away from campus.”
Soroory also notes that pre-pandemic, the university, with the mascot the Spartans, was growing its student enrollment steadily, which he expects to continue. The current enrollment is about 11,000 undergrads and graduate students. “There’s still a ton of need for off-campus housing,” he says “It’s an urban campus, and most urban campuses have this issue.”
The plan with the hotel room conversion, what Soroory calls a “full renovation down to the studs” of the 24,000-square-foot building, is to make it bohemian-chic. Each unit will get a kitchenette, and the overall design will be clean and minimalistic. There will be a pool and a yoga studio as well. “This will be a cool and boutique-y experience for the students,” Soroory says.
In addition to the vibe, Soroory says one key feature of the project is it’s built without interior hallways. So tenants can walk right into their unit, a social distancing advantage.
Soroory has had a diverse career in real estate — and a long one, too, considering he’s not yet 40. He did his first deal when he was 17, in 2002. Back then he got his dad, Alan, to cosign on a loan for an $80,000 townhome near the University of South Florida. He worked on the home over weekends and eventually flipped it — making a $15,000 profit.
A Business Observer 40 Under 40 winner in 2019, Soroory built a career from there, soon undertaking a 28-unit townhome project next to USF. Soroory also went to work for Tampa private equity firm Convergent Capital Partners, where he helped that entity put together deals, too. A big success at Convergent was acquiring and converting the former Mercantile Bank building into what’s now the Aloft hotel in downtown Tampa. The company paired with Liberty Group to buy the building for $2.2 million in 2012. After investing nearly $18 million in improvements, the partnership, with Soroory playing a lead role, sold it for $30 million in 2015.
Soroory has also had some successful deals at his own firm, Frontier. Those include medical office complexes and a multifamily project near USF, Montierra Apartment Homes. Soroory and his dad bought Montierra, a 96-unit, garden-style apartment complex, in 2009 for $2.2 million and then invested more than $1 million in the project. They sold it for $6.6 million in 2017.
Another Frontier project is Spring Lake and Edgewater Apartments, a 212-unit complex it acquired in 2010 for $6.6 million. Frontier owns and operates the complex under its property management arm and has invested an additional $3 million in it over the past decade.
Soroory is confident the University Inn will be another success. The project is zoned for up to 100,000 square-feet of redevelopment, which Soroory says might not be something he looks into for a decade or more. That could be a six to eight story tower with other elements. On the current transition of the property to apartments, Soroory says the biggest challenge right now is to get through the backlog of permits at Hillsborough County. “We are excited about the concept now,” Soroory says, and “we are real excited about this long-term.”