If you thought the Town of Davie's $12.5 million purchase of 25 acres from Austin Forman was a total ripoff for taxpayers, you were right.
Yes, the price of $500,000 an acre in today's economy seems patently egregious, but don't take my word for it. Listen instead to Bob Breslau, president of real estate development for major builder Stiles Corp.
|Austin Forman, at center, has millions of reasons to smile|
"I was shocked to find out this was approved, and we did not have more input on this," Breslau wrote in an email to Davie politicians on Friday. "... [T]he price paid per foot was just amazing to me. I purchase land in Broward quite a bit, and was shocked to see the price per foot paid."
And what about city officials' shout that they bought it under the value of two appraisals?
"Appraisals are worthless in today's economy, as pricing changes monthly, and historical comparables have become meaningless," Breslau wrote. "If they assumed highest and best use, there is no real estate product in today's economy that can support a land value that the Town paid for a commercial or residential product."
There you have it, and if you don't believe an authority like Breslau, who also happens to be president of a Davie homeowner's association, then I'll lead you back to Susannah Bryan's story published in the Sun-Sentinel about the purchase, wherein Jonathan Kingsley, managing director of the real estate firm Grubb & Ellis, remarked that Davie paid $12 per square foot when the going rate is about $4. Using that measuring stick, Forman made about an $8 million killing.
It's like clockwork with the Forman family, who recently lost its patriarch, Hamilton Forman. Every few years, it produces some outrage regarding the taxpayers' dime. You have the insider deals with the North Broward Hospital District (anybody remember Patricia Mahaney?), the $900,000 piece of land the School Board bought for $2 million, and the recent scandals at the Palma Nova trailer park on the very land Davie just purchased.
Add this one to the list, maybe at the top. But Davie Councilman Bryan Caletka, who helped push the deal through and was in the majority 3-2 decision to buy the land, says he has no regrets.
No regrets, but lots of phone calls. He estimates he's gotten about 50, most of them none too happy about the
deal that is set to drain $9 million out of the town's reserve fund. The land is set to become a park and a backup site for new water plant (ironically, since Palma Nova residents complained about contaminated water; this is looking like a good horror movie premise, come to think of it). Yes, I said "back-up site" -- they are looking to buy another piece of land as well.
Caletka said he first about that the Forman land might be for sale from fellow commissioner Marlon Luis, who provided another key vote to buy the land. Caletka's bid to buy another tract of land had just been shot down by his colleagues. "Marlon Luis said, 'You can hold onto your money because Austin said he has some land he can sell,'" recalls Caletka.
So Caletka went to Town Manager Gary Shimun and told him he was interested in buying the land. Shimun went to Forman and soon thereafter Forman subordinate Jim Kane called Caletka and scheduled a meeting at Forman's downtown Fort Lauderdale office.
"They had a map of the entire property there and they showed me the area where the park would be, and it was in the area where I was interested having it," said Caletka.
Then the race was on, and it culminated with a high-stakes do-or-die vote on the land on December 16 (aren't all terrible deals of the high-pressure variety?). In fact, at one point, Shimun told Caletka that the deal was dead because of Forman's asking price.
"It looks like the cost is too high; we better walk away before anybody's feelings get hurt," Caletka remembers Shimun telling him.
"Oh crap," Caletka said he responded, "I really wanted that park."
"Oh, you really wanted it?" asked Shimun. "I didn't know that."
Caletka said that little snippet of conversation revived the deal, which was negotiated by Shimun. Caletka says he stands by his vote, in part because he lives within walking distance of the land and because the east side of town where it is located hasn't gotten its share of parks.
"Iit's just south of that property where I live; I'm going to be able to walk down the street there when it becomes a park," he said. "I think a lot of Davie residents look at it as opportunity for themselves, as well. One thing we've never had on this side of town is we never had parks -- they are all on the west side."
The third "yes" vote came from Mike Crowley, while Judy Paul and Susan Starkey opposed it.
Forman, of course, has been a major contributor to the campaigns of Davie council members, including Caletka. He said his meeting with Forman and Kane occurred in September 2009. About a month before that, Forman had given Caletka's campaign $2,500 (yes, the limit is $500; it's called bundling). Forman's cash represented almost 20 percent of his total take of about $13,000 for a campaign in which he ran unopposed.
I asked Caletka if the campaign money "softened him up" a bit for the land deal.
"No, I think I have a strong history of doing what needs to be done," he said, noting that he'd voted against lobbyists Dave Ericks and Vinnie Grande, who had both given him money.
Still, when it comes to politics, few give more than Forman. But Forman also gets plenty of access to politicians, often at charity events.
-- Bankruptcy attorneys in the Scott Rothstein case filed a $1.2 million lawsuit against the "A" in RRA, Russell Adler, the Miami Herald reports. That's how much the attorneys say Rothstein overpaid Adler during his tenure. They say he used part of that money, $475,000, to buy a Manhattan apartment in August.
The photograph shown here was taken during a summer trip to NYC by Rothstein, Adler, and their wives. Adler's attorney, Fred Haddad, says Adler was "worth every penny" of what Rothstein paid him. Adler follows RRA attorney Steven Lippman as the second RRA attorney to be hit with what is essentially a clawback suit in the bankrupcty. Bankruptcy attorney Chuck Lichtman said to expects eight more RRA attorneys to be served notice.
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-- Here's the Breslau email:
From: Bob Breslau [mailto:Robert.Breslau@stiles.com]
Sent: Fri 2/5/2010 1:35 PM
To: Marlon Luis; Mike Crowley; Bryan Caletka
Subject: Land Purchase from Forman
Rather than rant about my disagreement with your vote on the recent land purchase (and I have examined the facts and claims made and considered to make that decision, including possible redevelopment of the area etc. that were made public), I will just forward to you my email I sent to Judy and Susan. I felt that I should share my feeling even post vote. I just do not think the purchase was prudent or timely.
Dear Judy and Sue:
I wanted to thank you both for voting against the land purchase recently approved by the council from Mr. Forman. I was shocked to find out this was approved, and we did not have more input on this. I truly believe that the purchase was ill-timed given the shortfalls that will be inevitably heading the Town's way as property values plummet. Also, the price paid per foot was just amazing to me. I purchase land in Broward quite a bit, and was shocked to see the price per foot paid. Appraisals are worthless in today's economy, as pricing changes monthly, and historical comparables have become meaningless. If they assumed highest and best use, there is no real estate product in today's economy that can support a land value that the Town paid for a commercial or residential product.
I was going to ask if this council vote is appealable, but apparently it was the quickest land closing ever, so I guess that it is too late. For what it is worth, I do not think the Town should be buying anything right now and should be building reserves, not depleting them in this continuing declining economy.
Thanks for taking the time to hear one residents humble opinion. Thanks again for voting on the correct side of that vote.
Bob Breslau, President
Crystal Grove Estates HOA
And Caletka's response:
From: Bryan Caletka
Sent: Sun 2/7/2010 8:48 AM
To: Bob Breslau
Subject: RE: Land Purchase from Forman
Dear Mr. Breslau,
For three years I have been searching for property to acquire for Parkland in district 1. The only other site that I found was voted down 3-2 last year. I believe that I have saved my district from at least some part of the immanent [sic] massive over development that will occur on the east side of town. I stand by my decision, and respect your position as well.