THE ISSUE IN...

Buying up Briny

A US$500-million bid stirs up a Florida town

JOHN INTINI March 27 2006
THE ISSUE IN...

Buying up Briny

A US$500-million bid stirs up a Florida town

JOHN INTINI March 27 2006

Buying up Briny

WORLD

A US$500-million bid stirs up a Florida town

JOHN INTINI

The easy lifestyle, proximity to the ocean and tight-knit community of Briny Breezes, Fla., is considered “priceless” by many of its residents. A nice notion, for sure, but one aggressively challenged by Jean François Roy, a Montreal-born land developer who floated a US$500-million offer for the entire Palm Beach County town—all 488 trailer-park homes of it—in a deal that would make every owner a millionaire.

Since the average home in Briny is worth about US$129,000, and most citizens are older than 70, Roy’s offer piqued plenty of interest. The residents, many of them Canadian snowbirds, are meeting this week to determine the conditions by which they’d be willing to sell. (Roy has pulled his offer, for now, and is waiting to see the town’s terms before deciding if he’ll re-bid.) Whatever happens, he’s sparked the biggest debate in Briny since the early ’90s, when citizens wresded with the idea of hanging a Canadian flag outside the clubhouse (they eventually did).

On the surface, Roy’s bid seemed like a nobrainer, especially since the plan didn’t involve building his multi-million-dollar condos and creating his “city of the future” for another 10 years. Residents could stay until construction began, or take the money upfront and leave. While some can’t wait to sell, many Briny Breezers consider the whole thing an indecent proposal. “It would be like selling my hometown,” says Jack Lee, the 56-yearold mayor who spent much of his childhood in Briny and moved back in 1996. “There are families here I’ve known since the ’50s. It’s not easy to leave all that.”

Until earlier this year, little was known of the town’s deep-pocketed suitor, which only increased speculation and the blood pressure of the town’s silver-haired set. Turns out, Roy isn’t new to the development game. He earned an M.B.A. at the Université du Québec à Montréal, before running a company that specialized in building seniors’ homes. Then, in 1990, he retired at 35 and moved his family to Boca Raton, Fla. “I got bored pretty fast,” laughs Roy, “so I started buying small waterfront properties.” Now, a decade and a half later, the 51-year-old’s company, Ocean Land, regularly teams with the biggest names in the business—the Trump Hollywood, a 200-unit luxury condo, is one of his current projects. But Briny, he says, would be special: “It would allow us to build a city from scratch.” M