Jean Francois Roy
Jean Francois Roy (Melanie Bell)

In a quaint, waterfront Fort Lauderdale neighborhood, an investor is busy scooping up old apartments and motels for multimillion-dollar redevelopments.

Jean Francois Roy has done redevelopments in Hallandale Beach, Riviera Beach, Hollywood and Boca Raton since the 1990s.

Now the president of Ocean Land Investments Inc. has turned his attention to Fort Lauderdale, where he’s investing about $38 million in five projects expected to sell out at $200 million in East Las Olas Isles.

Come next year, he’ll add another two condominium developments to his portfolio. The investment could double by the end of 2014 as Ocean Land Investments continues to acquire 1950s- and ’60s-era real estate for infill projects within walking distance of the beach.

“We’re buying everything available. That’s our mission,” Roy said. “We’re buying any place where you could put a dock.”

So far, he’s planned at least five waterfront residential projects in the community just off Las Olas Boulevard, where Ocean Land Investments is at work on small, condo complexes with high-end amenities and price tags up to $2.9 million.

At 70 Hendricks Isle Drive, the company demolished a rundown hotel to build AquaVita, a five-story building with 22 condos ranging from 2,500 to 3,439 square feet and priced from $450 to $750 per square foot.

Each unit has a boat slip, Italian cabinets, quartz countertops, Sub-Zero appliances, video surveillance, gas cooktops, designer finishes, private foyers and glass-walled balconies. The grounds are set to be lushly landscaped, and amenities include a 65-foot heated saltwater pool, cabanas, gym, outdoor barbecue and outlets for electric cars.

A few feet away on Isle of Venice Drive, Roy is gearing up to break ground on AquaMar and AquaLuna with fewer than 40 condos combined. One development has one condo per floor, while the other has two units per floor.

Meanwhile, a fourth development, AquaBlu, is underway at 920 Intracoastal Drive. All the projects are set to be under construction or completed in the next nine months, with the first condos ready for occupancy by March.

“The buildings we’re replacing are not historic. They are so ugly it’s not even funny,” Roy said. “We’re talking old one-bedroom motels. The products we’re replacing them with are very sexy, boutique condos that are really good for the city. They’ll increase the tax base 10- to 20-fold and change the city.”

New Direction

The strategy is a change of pace for the developer, whose ambitious projects have included plans to redevelop an entire town.

In the last real estate cycle, Ocean Land Investments created hundreds of units in luxury high-rises like Trump Hollywood and Aquazul in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

In 2005, the developer made a $510 million offer to purchase the 43-acre town of Briny Breezes, an oceanfront community in Palm Beach County with 488 mobile homes. The deal would have paid lot owners more than $1 million, about 10 times their property value, and transformed the town with a luxury hotel, marina and 900 condos. About 80 percent of lot owners approved the sale, but it fell apart in a dispute over the length of due diligence.

Around that time, another project faltered. Ocean Land Investments and the Related Group planned three towers with 224 condominiums on 6.7 acres next to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami’s Coconut Grove. But museum leaders and nearby residents successfully sued to block the 300 Grove Bay development.

“What we’re doing now is much more modest in terms of scale,” Roy said. “They’re creative, boutique products that are easier to materialize, and a lot more fun.”

The biggest active project will have 45 condos. And there’s quick turnaround. Unlike in the last cycle when Ocean Land Investments’ development took years to complete, its redevelopment projects take 18 to 24 months.

It’s a sound strategy because the smaller developments will likely require only local approval and shave months off the pre-construction process, said Reese Stigliano, who specializes in land deals but isn’t involved with Ocean Land’s projects.

“Most activity you’re going to see in east Broward will be on sites where you’re changing zoning and increasing density. There’s not a lot of large parcels available, so if a developer wants to stay in east Broward, then that makes sense,” said Stigliano, senior vice president of Brenner Real Estate Group. “And increasing density is a lot less difficult than changing uses. If the property is already zoned and has entitlements in place, then it’s much faster.”

Instead of waiting for approval for massive projects, Ocean Land Investments will likely have a quicker start getting municipal and county approval.

“Instead of doing projects that take six, seven years to develop, we decided to buy old motels,” Roy said.