Why is an eclectic tycoon with a passion for pyramids soiling his suits in the real estate trenches of southern Florida? Miles Collier, managing partner of development firm Collier Enterprises, reckons it’s a matter of perfecting the concept of business as art.
“To succeed, you have to get the aesthetics right,” he says.
Pretentious? Perhaps. But indeed, Collier’s heated battle with environmentalists in his hometown of Naples, FL, centers on opposing concepts of beauty. In the eye of one beholder-Collier-the $600 million waterfront golf community he wants to build is beautiful. By contrast, the conservation-minded Naples City Council finds untouched acreage far more appealing than another Floridian playground for the rich.
As environmental concerns heat up in the “green” decade of the 90s, the showdown between Collier and his Naples opponents is emblematic of disputes nationwide between other real estate developers and state and local governments.
Nonetheless, Collier, 45, doesn’t see himself as a robber baron from out of state. Scion of a family judged by Forbes magazine to be worth more than $400 million, he is the grandson of a New York advertising magnate who, in the 1920s, owned 1.3 million acres of prime property along Florida‘s southwest coast-where Naples and surrounding Collier County stand today.
The younger Collier says he has offered to compromise on the Sabal Bay project, leaving more than 1,000 acres untouched.
But for now, he and his foes are at a standstill. Twice, the Naples City Council voted unanimously to deny Collier a permit to dredge a pair of channels to the marina he wants to build near his proposed residential community. In 1990, Naples residents voted in a slate of four city council members based solely on their opposition to Collier and his project.
But Collier shows no signs of giving up the fight. Instead, he has painstakingly assembled a team of high-priced lawyers to appeal the city’s rejection to the state. He expects, before long, to take the battle to court.
Collier was working as a venture capitalist in New York in the 1970s when he decided that his relatives were mismanaging the Florida land holdings. In 1980, Collier, his mother, and two brothers split off from the rest of the family and formed Collier Enterprises. The diversified company has built skyscrapers and other buildings, shopping centers, and housing developments. It also manages a $100 million investment portfolio.
At a time when many of the nation’s high-flying real estate developers have run into considerable financial trouble, observers say that Collier and his company remain solid. The reason: Collier Enterprises often builds on its own land rather than leveraging its assets by taking out bank loans, says Richard Myers, president of the Naples Chamber of Commerce.
“He’s doing the right things and making the right moves,” Myers says. “He’s an extremely high quality developer.”