Thursday, September 6, 2007

We have the winning ticket

It was a media frenzy, people everywhere seemed to be swept up in what was the good fortune of the residents there. The ulimate dream for many seemed to be unfolding on Florida's Gold Coast.

In January 2007, Ocean Land Investments of Boca Raton FL had agreed to pay the trailer owners in Briny Breezes, $510 million for their 43 acre ocean-front property. The owners of the 488 trailers, many of whom had paid less than $50,000 for the lot and trailer, stood to average more than $1 million each. That figure thrust the 1,100 inhabitants into the public eye and had them seemingly headed for "easy street."

Briny began in the 1920's when a local farmer allowed vacationers to park their trailers on his property in exchange for buying his milk and strawberries. The farm was sold in the 1960's and turned into a permanent trailer park. Many of the residents are snowbirds who head north for the summer but approximately 10% are year-round residents.

Ocean Land had spent two years courting the owners at Briny and in January, 82% of them voted to approve the sale. They had planned a developement of 900 condos, a 349-room hotel, a marina, 300 time shares and several 15-story buildings. The excitement and the dissention was building towards an August 10 deadline.

Some of the residents had already gone on spending sprees with the anticipated riches. There were new boats and cars, lavish gifts to the grandchildren and a few had already bought new homes. The plans have now been derailed and the finacial future of some will be drastically changed.

Ocean Land Vice President Logan Pierson had asked the directors at Briny Breezes to push back the August 10 deadline by 45 days. Ocean Land was due to place a $500.000, non-refundable deposit on the deal by then and after the deadline, it was to have increased to $5 million. Briny Breezes park directors refused to extend the deadline and it seems now, the deal is off. They had originally backed out of a deal in October 2005 but returned to make the offer they had to Briny Breezes when the trailer park began shopping for other buyers.

"To have a deal scrubbed of this nature, because the board refused a 45-day extension, is a smoke screen that would not prevent them if they had their ducks in a row," stated Joe Masterson, Briny Breezes resident.

Pierson stated that Ocean Land has already spent $5 million on the project so far and will now likely propose a scaled back version of their original plans. He cited concerns of the neighboring residents and state and local officials. Briny Breeze residents state that they feel that Ocean Land wanted them on the hook for a great deal and had planned all along to scale back their offer in the future.

This case is similar to what the town of Preston CT had been going through with the proposed Utopia Studios in their town. The $1.5 billion proposal to build an entertainment project on the 419 acre grounds of the defunct Norwich state hospital also tanked under a smoke screen.

In November 2006, Utopia was due to wire $56.6 million dollars to various escrow accounts as part of a list of 28 demands the town had made in the deal. That money was to be used for demolition of the buildings and a planned environmental clean up of the site.

Utopia failed to wire the money by the deadline and while the town of Preston believes the deal is now off, Utopia officials believe that it can still be reworked and brought to life again. In both cases, if the companies has all their ducks in a line, they would have been able to continue with their projects. Utopia faced a large bill to set down but they had ample notice as to how much was needed and by when. Ocean Land, while claiming to have spent $5 million, let this deal slide between their fingers for a mere $500,000.

In both cases, I have to agree, someone will purchase the properties and build on them. Sadly, as is in the case of some lottery winners, some of the residents of Briny Breezes went out and spent money that wasn't in their hands. I believe all the parties involved will be a bit wiser the next time this rolls around.

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