The men behind Midtown
Published: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 12:04 a.m.
The Schachters at a glance
A brief overview of the business experience of the father and son development team:
He's also the man responsible for seeing the $250-million Midtown project through to completion and, at the age of 24, he's less than three years removed from college.
But rather than focus on his youth or his lack of seasoning in large-scale real estate development, Schachter would rather have observers consider what Midtown will do for the city of Gainesville, UF and the region as a whole.
"If people would be kind enough to drive through there and see what's down there now," he said, "they'll see how much of an improvement this will be. We're building something that is a benefit to the entire community. It will be something that everyone can enjoy and appreciate."
Still, it's a heady project for someone just starting to build a resume. But Schachter will not be alone at Midtown - apart from help provided by his father and mother, Marvin and Joyce, Schachter will draw on the experience of The Sieger Suarez Architectural Partnership, a Miami-based architectural/development firm that has built some of Miami Beach's most visible residential complexes and has an ownership stake in the local project.
Sieger Suarez's latest venture was 6000 Indian Creek, a 22-story, glass-enclosed condominium high-rise overlooking South Beach. The company has also designed or developed numerous other large-scale residences in Miami, the Keys and Las Vegas, and it is serving as Midtown's lead architect and general contractor. Attempts to reach a spokesman for the firm were unsuccessful.
Along with his partners, Ben Schachter said he has $250 million in financing locked up for Midtown and "ready to go." Due to a confidentiality agreement, he would not identify the lender.
"It's an internationally-recognized lending institution," he said. "The money is approved. We have a term sheet in hand."
Ben Schachter serves as president of Midtown U.F. LLC, an entity created strictly to manage the local, mixed-use project. He owns the corporation along with Joyce Schachter and Sieger Suarez. Marvin Schachter is serving as a consultant.
With approval earlier this month from the city's Development Review Board, Midtown developers are only waiting for local planning officials to finish their "due diligence" and sign off on the project. When that happens, Schachter said they'll apply for a building permit and subsequently begin a 30- to 35-month period of demolition and construction that is expected to culminate in the fall of 2006.
The final result will be a trio of buildings that will create a new skyline for downtown Gainesville. A pair of 23-story structures - an undergraduate apartment complex and a hotel - and a 26-story building devoted to UF graduate students will stand in a four-block area at SW 2nd Avenue and SW 6th Street.
At the ground level is where the Schachters hope to attract the entire community, not just the academic population. Restaurants and retail outlets are planned for the bottom floors of the graduate student building, and a "festival street" where SW 5th Terrace currently sits would serve as a gathering place for cultural events.
"I want our family to be known as the ones who took that first ambitious step to link the University of Florida and the downtown region," Schachter said.
The public has begun to weigh in on Midtown with mixed reviews.
Supporters see it as a vast improvement to a rundown section of the city that would create jobs, activity and a new look for the neighborhood. Detractors question how such a huge development could have a place in Gainesville, a quaint university town not known for high-rise structures.
To date, the largest construction project in Alachua County is Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, a retirement community being built on Williston Road. The $125-million project represents about half of the construction value of Midtown.
But the Schachters insist that they're playing by the rules, and they're not about to scale back Midtown's size. Any significant changes to the project would require going back to the review board for another approval - something Marvin Schachter said isn't necessary and would only further delay the project.
"We haven't asked for any variances or extra help on this project," he said. "We're building this strictly within the codes set up by the city of Gainesville. They're the ones who established (the regulations). We did not."
Establishing roots in FloridaThe Schachter family landed in Boca Raton about seven years ago. They came from Manhattan, where Marvin Schachter worked for nearly 30 years in real estate development and as an actuary, or an insurance executive who calculates risks, premiums and other facets of insurance policies.
Schachter said he has sold all of his interests in New York and New Jersey, and that his work there focused mainly on renovating apartment and condominium complexes. He also developed a medical center in Teaneck, N.J.
Upon moving to Florida, Schachter established Mortgage World. The privately held firm is a mortgage banking company that specializes in loans for residential properties in the range of $250,000 to $4 million, and their business holdings are concentrated in South Florida.
Under Mortgage World's umbrella, Ben Schachter is also principal owner of 15A Miami Beach LLC and Real Prop Investments Inc., a pair of state-registered corporations that own single-family residential properties in Miami and Boca Raton.
Mortgage World is in an office park on Congress Avenue in Boca Raton, just a short drive down the road from the Boca Country Club. Its neighbors at the complex include a staffing agency, an advertising group and other business interests.
Apart from Ben and Marvin Schachter, the office includes a handful of administrative staff and mortgage brokers. The Midtown project represents the company's first large-scale venture in Florida, and the family is eager to get it started, said Joyce Schachter, who works as a mortgage broker at the Boca Raton office.
"We're all excited about this project," she said. "It's being done for all the right reasons. We realize that people are afraid of changes, but this is going to be a terrific project."
Glen Berngard has leased office space from the Schachter family for about three years. He's a certified financial planner and president of Berngard & Associates, a public accounting firm.
Berngard said he has had limited business dealings with the Schachters, but said the family typically takes a thorough approach to its projects.
"They're very up-front about what they're doing," he said. "When they get involved, it's definitely not a 'fly-by-night' situation."
While Marvin Schachter was growing Mortgage World in its early years, Ben Schachter was studying at UF and building a foundation for a career in real estate. He earned his bachelor's degree in political science in May 2000, and at that point had spent four years working for Apartment Hunters in Gainesville as a leasing agent.
Following his graduation, Ben Schachter said he and his father returned to Gainesville to explore potential land acquisitions in order to build student housing. They eventually came upon a 4.5-acre plot that belonged to the Cone Family Trust, a property on the outskirts of downtown that was home to a number of vacant buildings and a pair of businesses.
Coupled with UF President Charles Young's desire to increase the university's graduate student population, the Schachters envisioned a new property that would serve UF enrollees as well as add some much-needed commercial development to the area.
After performing some "confidential" and independent market research, as well as consulting with city officials, UF and the private sector, the Schachters laid out the initial plans for Midtown in March 2001.
"We felt graduate student housing was needed," Ben Schachter said. "We also knew the hotel would be desirable, especially with the courthouse and Shands at AGH nearby."
The Schachters are banking on growth in UF's student population, as well as an increased desire among those students to have walking distance to campus from a high-end apartment complex. Some have said the city has a glut of apartments, but that's not necessarily a worst-case scenario for a new complex, said Joe Wiek, president of the Gainesville Apartment Association.
"There are some opinions that this area is overbuilt," Wiek said, "But to some degree in the apartment industry, competition is always good."
Wiek said he hasn't seen any official studies recently, but that he believed Gainesville's apartment residences are at roughly 91-percent occupancy. The success of Midtown, he said, will rely largely on the number of units built at other complexes during the next few years, such as the planned Residences at Grand Oaks project on NW 13th Street.
"The more complexes that come in, the more you diffuse the numbers for renters," Wiek said. "Of course, if the university increases its enrollment, that will help."
A management chain hasn't been named yet for Midtown's hotel, which has a chance at succeeding based purely on its location, said Roland Loog, director of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Loog said the hotel's proximity to federal, state and city offices, as well as the courthouse and Gainesville Regional Airport, could make it a winner. But at the same time, Loog said Alachua County's hotel/motel occupancy rates have been stuck at 60 percent for a long time, and that's with the addition of several lodging facilities in recent years.
A new hotel might cut into the county's lodging capacity, which is about 4,500 rooms. Loog said he'd like to see occupancy rates reach 70 percent before new facilities are built.
"A hotel by itself is not an attraction, it doesn't create its own market," Loog said. "What we need to concentrate on is bringing more visitors here to fill those rooms."
A regional destinationMidtown's two apartment buildings would house about 500 units with room for 1,500 students. The 300-room hotel will round out a trio of structures that average 280 feet in height.
Amenities at the apartments will be "second to none," Ben Schachter said.
The graduate student building will also house restaurants and retail outlets on the ground floors, and that particular structure will have a "hollowed-out" courtyard in the middle, similar to an Embassy Suites hotel.
Rent will include all utilities, such as water, sewer, electric and cable expenses. A fully-electronic surveillance and security system will enable student renters to get elevator service right to their front door with the use of a "swipe card." Each floor will have no more than four apartments with four bedrooms each, and the entire complex includes an enclosed 1,100-space parking garage that won't be visible to passers-by.
Rates for rent will be determined by the real estate market when Midtown is expected to be finished in 2006. Without naming specific estimates, Ben Schachter said leases will be set individually and won't be "inappropriately priced."
"It's something that the market will have to dictate when the time comes," he said. "We want to stress also that this project is more than just student housing. With the hotel and retail outlets, it will be a regional destination."
Part of the Schachters' plans include, at their own cost, upgrades and improvements to sidewalks, paving and other aspects of the development within its borders. Midtown is bounded by SW 2nd Avenue on the north, SW 6th Street on the west, SW 4th Avenue on the south and SW 5th Street on the east.
The city of Gainesville will also play a role in its development. Public Works Director Teresa Scott said the city is in the process of purchasing land for the construction of a stormwater retention pond that would serve Midtown as well as other properties in the region and the parking garage being built for the new courthouse.
Scott did not reveal the specific location of the land, but Marvin Schachter said it was "a few blocks south" of Midtown. The city has budgeted about $1 million for land acquisition and construction of the stormwater project, Scott said.
The public will be able to get a closer look at Midtown in the near future, as plans for the project will be on display at the Florida Community Design Center inside the Commerce Building on E. University Avenue.
John Barrow, the center's interim director, said basic drawings will be available this week and more extensive renderings will be added in subsequent weeks.
Some people outside of Gainesville are apparently also taking interest in Midtown. Ben Schachter said he has fielded inquiries from "other college towns" about developing similar projects in their cities.
In Gainesville, Schachter said he and his family are making a more permanent commitment. He plans to buy a house in the city, and his sister, Nicole, a freshman in UF's College of Health and Human Services, has indicated an interest in working for Midtown's management company upon graduating.
"I don't want to be branded as an outsider or an alien," he said. "I lived here for four years, and I'm going to be around a lot longer. We're a civic-minded family, and we're making a long-term commitment to this city."
Joe Coombs can be reached at (352) 338-3102 or email@example.com.
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