At the 2012 Aurora Awards – sponsored by the Southeast Building Conference – WCI Communities took home three awards: best detached single family home, best attached for-sale home and best recreational facility. As a 60-year-old developer that emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 as a reorganized company, the recent recognitions signal to all of Florida that the masterplan developer with nine communities in its current portfolio is just as viable as ever.
Additional proof of the company’s standing occurred earlier this year in June 2012, when it raised $175 million in capital to pay off debt and invest in homebuilding operations.
“Our financial structure is set up for a growing entity,” explains Douglas Schwartz, senior vice president. “It gives us the equity to go out and be very active and very aggressive on acquisitions.”
After a temporary hold that ended in 2009, the company has reopened sales and construction efforts in its communities and is making steady progress to bring new residential products to the Florida communities it serves in the Tampa Bay/Sarasota area as well as the southern and southeastern regions of the state.
“All of our locations are open and actively selling and actively under construction,” Schwartz says. “However The Colony in Bonita Springs and Tiburon in Naples are where most of the substantial multifamily construction projects are.”
Busy on the Ground
The Colony, a luxury enclave within the Pelican Landing community of Bonita Springs, is an 809-acre master-planned residential development with an 18-hole golf course. Plans for the high-end coastal bay community encompass 2,000 single-family homes – 1,200 of which are in place. The development also includes a 28,000-square-foot clubhouse with dining options and a spa and fitness center, as well as outdoor amenities such as a swimming pool and tennis pavilion.
It is also constructing two for-sale condominiums to offer residents the lock-and-go lifestyle that is becoming more attractive to buyers across the spectrum.
Terzetto is a neighborhood of 22 three-story buildings comprised of what WCI describes as a penthouse residence since each floor will carry only one residence. Terzetto’s first phase has just been released and includes the neighborhood’s first 10 buildings. The three-bedroom homes, ranging from 2,200 to 2,700 square feet, will each feature two full bathrooms and a powder room with luxury details such as a wet bar, granite kitchen countertops, coffered/tray ceilings and his and her walk-in closets. From there, homeowners can work alongside WCI’s Design Studio to customize their homes with preferred cabinetry, countertops, bath and kitchen fixtures, tile and flooring.
The Colony’s second under-construction condominium will be Cielo – a four-story multifamily residence with two residences per floor sitting atop a 44,000-square-foot garage. Like those living in Terzetto, Cielo residents will have access to The Colony’s several amenities and also will be able to enjoy the amenities offered by Pelican Landing.
At Tiburon, WCI is developing three-story versions of The Colony’s Cielo called the Marquesa Royale. Five of the Marquesa Royale condominium buildings at Tiburon are complete, four are under construction and the company plans to build another seven of the same building type in a new neighborhood called Esperanza in the coming years.
Building to Scale
Schwartz says the transition toward mid-rise condominium construction is a stark move from the high-rise towers lining Florida coasts that were built before the bubble burst. However, as the market changes, WCI makes sure to change with it by providing housing solutions that resonate more strongly with today’s consumers.
“When we do master planning and design, we will dictate what is going to be where,” Schwartz says. “But the market certainly may change from when you started the process and you have to be agile enough to make adjustments that better meet the needs of the market.”
The scale down is apparent in the multifamily constructions as well as the single-family residences, and it has resulted in some challenges but also opportunities for innovative designs. One such example is WCI’s 2,250-square-foot, single-family San Remo model at WCI’s Pelican Preserve, which won best detached single-family home at the 2012 Aurora Awards.
“Buyers today may be choosing to purchase less expensive homes than they were back in the top of the bubble, but they aren’t wanting to do so by compromising on quality and finishes,” Schwartz explains. “So if you don’t want to spend as much money but you don’t want to compromise on quality and finishes, you end up buying less square footage. From the housing peak, we have seen the average square footage come down. A buyer who may have spent $900,000 will spend only $700,000 but not because we stripped the home or cheapened the build. They’ve just decided that they don’t need 3,500 square feet, that 3,000 or 2,800 square feet will be OK.”
By meeting the needs of a downsized market while maintaining its commitment to quality design combined with sound construction, luxury finishes and upscale amenities while also living up to the developer’s creed of “location, location, location,” Schwartz says that WCI has been able to turn the once-bankrupt company’s story completely around.
“When I look up and down Florida, there is not a lot being built right now,” he says. “Cielo at The Colony and Marquesa Royale at Tiburon are substantial multifamily residential construction projects happening in the state, and we are proud of that. Everyone is saying you can’t do multifamily for sale because banks won’t lend on it, but we are proving that with the right product and right location the buyers are continuing to show up.”