After 25 years as partners, Soffer siblings of Turnberry, Fontainebleau part ways

Jeffrey Soffer and Jackie Soffer, the brother and sister team of the formidable Turnberry Associates development firm, are going their separate ways.

Jeffrey Soffer is launching a new company, Fontainebleau Development LLC, that will focus on taking the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hospitality brand to other U.S. and international markets.

Jeffrey is the sole owner of the Fontainebleau. He will also retain sole ownership of JW Marriott Turnberry Miami, Turnberry Isle Marina, Turnberry Ocean Club and The Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach (formerly known as Mardi Gras Casino).

Jackie Soffer will remain chairman and CEO of Turnberry Associates, the development firm launched 50 years ago by their father, Donald Soffer. She will continue her role as principal owner of Aventura Mall and the Town Center Aventura. She also owns three hotels in Aventura — Residence Inn by Marriott, Courtyard by Marriott and Hampton Inn — as well as another hotel in Orlando.

She also is developing an 800-key Miami Beach Convention Center hotel in partnership with Terra Group and David Martin.

Tensions between the siblings’ camps seem to have peaked last fall, when voters prepared to decide whether to approve the Convention Center hotel. The Fontainebleau had opposed that hotel in past election cycles.

But the brother and sister say the new arrangement gives them the freedom to pursue their respective projects more easily.

“Things don’t stay the same forever,” Jeffrey said. “Our family has been part of this community for 50 years. But now you’re dealing with growing families and new generations becoming involved. We have different interests and different views on how things should be done. I just think it’s cleaner for each of us to have our platforms.”

“Our company has grown to the level that it makes sense for us to do some projects individually,” Jackie said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t be doing some of our projects together. This is more about each of us having our own companies, so we can pursue the projects we are closer to.”

Both Soffers will continue to share ownership of several properties, including JW Marriott Nashville, Hilton Downtown Nashville and Fontainebleau Aviation. They will also share ownership of the Solé Mia residential development in North Miami, which they are developing with Richard LeFrak and his family.

Turnberry Associates holdings include a host of other residential, and food and beverage destinations around South Florida and the U.S. The company has developed more than $7 billion in real estate properties since its inception in 1967.

Several real estate analysts declined to comment on the Soffer split, citing professional conflicts.

Historical roots

Donald Soffer, father of Jeffrey and Jackie, began his career as a real estate developer with a small shopping center in a mill town near Pittsburgh. In 1969, his firm Oxford Development Co. bought the 785 acres of swampland between the Intracoastal Waterway and Biscayne Boulevard for $6 million and began developing them into what is now Turnberry Isle and Aventura.

First came the Aventura Country Club, completed in 1970, which included a golf course to give potential residents and tourists something to do other than avoid alligators and construction cranes.

The first Aventura residential development, the condo/villa/townhouse community Ensenada opened in 1971 at 3475 N. Country Club Drive. The first unit sold for $18,000. Prices today range from $164,500 to $419,000.

By 1977, more than 4,000 condos surrounded the golf course.

In 1980, Soffer changed the name of the Aventura Country Club to the Turnberry Isle Resort and Country Club and upped the luxe factor. The upscale development was now comprised of four high-rise towers that include a hotel, marina and yacht club. The place became a playground for the rich and famous — Jack Nicholson and James Caan were two frequent visitors — and hosted celebrity tennis tournaments, live TV broadcasts and VIP parties. The photos that ended Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential aspirations were taken at a party aboard a Turnberry yacht.

Over time, the glitzy party scene of Turnberry Isle gave way to a calmer, more family-oriented lifestyle.

The first incarnation of Aventura Mall opened its doors in 1983, with 1.2 million square feet of retail. It has since gone through several expansions and now measures 2.7 million square feet, making it the third-largest in the U.S. By comparison, Sawgrass Mills measures 2.4 million square feet.

Today, the City of Aventura claims a population of 37,262, with $10 billion of total real estate value. The median household income is $55,891 and the median property value is $310,300, according to DataUSA.

In this 1997 photo, Jackie and Jeffrey Soffer stand next to a plot of land in Aventura soon after they assumed the primary operations of Turnberry Associates. Candace Barbot Miami Herald Staff

By 1997, Donald Soffer started ceding the operations of his company Turnberry Associates to his family. Jeffrey took over the company’s residential developments, while Jackie focused on the retail components. They shared the hotel and commercial developments of the company.

In 2005, Turnberry paid $325 million for the iconic Fontainebleau Miami Beach resort, then spent $650 million more on a gut renovation of the storied hotel.

Jeffrey said his new company, Fontainebleau Development LLC, will capitalize on the brand-name recognition of the Miami Beach resort by expanding to other markets, although he doesn’t yet have a specific location in mind.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to expand the Fontainebleau brand and I haven’t done it,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity for me to create a major company.”

Jeffrey Soffer attempted to grow the Fontainebleau brand once before, but the effort fizzled during the Great Recession. In June 2009, he filed for bankruptcy protection on the 3,900-room Fontainebleau Las Vegas, a $2 billion development on the north end of the Vegas Strip that went bust after the 2008 crash. In 2010, billionaire investor Carl Icahn bought the partially built structure for $156 million.

There has also been speculation that Jeffrey purchased the Mardi Gras Casino and Race Track in Hallandale Beach in January 2018 with an eye toward a potential future transfer of the casino license to the Fontainebleau, if and when Florida laws regarding gambling are loosened.

But Jeffrey has repeatedly shot down that theory.

“I bought the [Mardi Gras Casino] because I like the business and it’s a good business,” he said Monday.

Jackie said the Soffers’ decision to separate ownership of several of their biggest assets will also give her more time to pursue passion projects, such as Arts Aventura Mall and philanthropic work with the University of Miami and other colleges.

“I have a lot on my plate,” she said. “The big picture is that we both have different things we want to focus on right now.”

“It’s all good,” Jeffrey said. “I’m happy about it. It’s the right thing for us to do.”

Rene Rodriguez has worked at the Miami Herald in a variety of roles since 1989. He currently writes for the business desk covering real estate and the city’s affordability crisis.