If you went to college on the Florida Prepaid Plan or are counting on it to educate your own children, you can thank Stanley Tate.
For more than 70 years, Tate, now 90, has helped shape South Florida and the world beyond. The walls of his modest 1970s office in North Miami are a testament to a life of influence. Here are photos of Tate with presidents (both George Bushes and Ronald Reagan) and elected officials including John McCain, Mitch Romney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Jack Kemp, Xavier Suarez and Fred Thompson, to name but a few.
His personal office showcases photos of Tate with another genre of celebrities — Joan Rivers, Yul Brynner, Bono, Eddie Murphy, Michael Jackson — dating from a less widely known chapter of his business life, when he bought New York's famed Studio 54 after founders Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were convicted of tax evasion. He also was a partner in Hollywood's New Line Cinema.
After graduating from the University of Florida in 1948, Tate fell into real estate with his wife Joni's family after the couple married in 1949, building projects as wide-ranging as warehouses (many in Hialeah and Wynwood still exist), plus homes in Bay Harbor Islands, Normandy Isle and Broward's Key Colony. As a developer, he created 6,000 condos for middle-income families along Florida's Atlantic Coast and in Fort Collins, Texas, along with a Dadeland office tower.
His sons, Kenny and Jimmy, founders of Tate Capital, have continued in real estate as investors and developers. Late last year, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission approved a plan to redevelop the iconic Bahia Mar resort purchased by Jimmy Tate and childhood friend Sergio Rok after the Great Recession.
Stanley Tate also helped resolve the 1990s Savings & Loan financial crisis as Southeast Regional Director of the Resolution Trust Corporation. He was later appointed to run the national agency by President Bill Clinton but later withdrew. When the Great Recession struck in this century, he and President Barack Obama discussed a possible role for Tate, but the two had different philosophies, Tate said.
But his greatest accomplishment, he says, was the creation of the Florida Prepaid College Plan. "The idea came from a desire to keep young talent from leaving the state and help underprivileged students unable to pay for continued education have ... something to strive for," he says.
Even at this age, he still goes to his office every day. We met him there recently, just after his milestone birthday.
Q: How and when did you first come to South Florida?
I arrived in South Florida in the early '30s when I was just a couple of years old. I suffered from rheumatic fever and so my parents sent me to live with my aunt and uncle in Miami where the climate was warmer.
I went to Lear School and then moved on to the University of Florida, where I studied a lot of history, specifically that of Miami-Dade County and the state of Florida.
Q: You've been working here for more than 70 years. How has the community evolved?
It’s night and day and to be honest, I would have never imagined how much the area would truly evolve.
During the early years, Miami was a very small community, and neighborhoods like Hialeah, Coral Gables, Doral or Dadeland were unknown entities; everything simply fell under the "Miami" umbrella. That’s still the case to some extent, but we’ve also seen these communities grow, evolve and develop their own distinct personalities.
The city’s business community has also gone through tremendous changes, particularly those which allowed individuals to build their own businesses and make Miami their year-round home. This long-term interest in Miami led to a huge spike in the development of schools, residential communities, commercial and offices. This soon became a cycle, where the city’s growing infrastructure and cultural offerings would attract new residents, which would then lead to more development and so on. I’m very pleased to see this cycle of growth and refinement continue 70 years later!
Q: How did you get into real estate?
I got my start right out of college. My wife’s family had a long history in the development business and so it was a natural next step.
We were initially focused on developing warehouses throughout the Hialeah and Wynwood neighborhoods during the late 1940s and '50s, but soon transitioned to building apartment communities and approximately 500 single family homes throughout Normandy Isles, Bay Harbor and more. I’d estimate we built about 70 percent of all existing residences throughout these areas.
Q: Tell us about your time as mayor of Bay Harbor. When did you serve? Why did you serve, and what happened during your tenure?
I had the distinct pleasure of being the second Mayor of the Town of Bay Harbor Islands and served from the late '60s to the mid-'70s.
Many people don’t know that minorities like Jews and African Americans were not allowed to live in many areas of Miami Beach, Indian Creek and Bal Harbour Village during the '40s, '50s and '60s, but these restrictions were what led us to build so many residences in Normandy Island and Bay Harbor.
My focus as mayor was primarily improving the community’s infrastructure and laying the groundwork for its future growth, especially since the city was still using antiquated utility systems and the fire department was made up solely of volunteers, including members of the city commission and yours truly.
It was definitely a learning process, but seeing the positive impact on the community fulfilled me and reinforced my belief in giving back.
Q: How and why did you get into the condo business?
It started when we noticed a demand for accessible home ownership options during the late '60s through early '70s. Single family homes' prices had spiked, causing many young families to become renters.
We were confident this gap in the market represented a major opportunity for us and began to develop condominiums, which were much more affordable at the time. This idea paid of, and our Florida condominium development portfolio grew to upwards of 7,000 units fairly quickly.
I felt a direct responsibility for the families living in those units and so began distributing a quarterly “newsletter,” where I shared updates on community improvements as well as my general thoughts on political issues and figures. Over time, I developed strong rapport with residents, which meant I had the ear of roughly 14,000 voters. This gave me considerable political influence and began my involvement as a trusted advisor in state and federal government.
Q: What else were you doing in the 1960s and '70s?
During these years we began to expand into large commercial developments throughout Florida and the Carolinas. I don’t recall the exact number, but we developed several million square feet.
In the early to mid-'70s, I was called upon to help manage a terrible recession brought on by the REIT crisis. A large national bank called Chase Bank out of New York was among 29 other national banks with a multi-billion-dollar portfolio in dire straits. We were able to successfully handle the workout, which was mainly made up of assets in the U.S., but also included properties from around the globe, including Ireland, London, Puerto Rico and even Abu Dhabi of all places.
The plan was successful and resulted in 100 percent of all funds being returned to the 29 banks involved in the debacle, which put me on the national platform as a real estate development workout specialist [creating agreements amenable to both lender and owner of distressed properties.] Truth be told, my success was more about hard work, communication, using basic business principles and, of course, luck. Nevertheless, the perception was that I had a “magical touch.” I smiled and kept my mouth shut.
Q: Why and how did you create the Florida Prepaid College Plan? When?
The idea came from a desire to keep young talent from leaving the state and help underprivileged students unable to pay for continued education have a place to go, and more importantly, have something to strive for.
I knew these underprivileged kids were bright, but also knew that many of them had no hope and felt forgotten by the system. I wanted to fix this situation and give these beautiful kids a chance, a path and most importantly, hope. Hope that one day they too could contribute to society and be a part of the solution instead of the problem.
I believed a clear and obtainable path to the next level was key to motivating students to fight to reach the next level. This belief led me to help design and fund the program in 1989 with approximately $600,000 from my pocket, not including the cost of constantly traveling between Miami and Tallahassee to get this program off the ground.
We ran it like our own business and made billions of dollars from smart investments. In fact, it was so successful we had to fight to keep legislators' hands out of the coffers and made a point to call out anyone who tried to raid the fund. To this day, it is the country’s most successful and longest-running prepaid college plan.
Looking back, it’s the biggest single success I ever had. Not only did it help over 1.75 million families but also brought significant opportunity for our educational programs and society. It is one of the rare win-win opportunities of my career.
Q: Tell us about your time with the Resolution Trust.
If Florida Prepaid was my biggest success, the Resolution Trust was my second.
The Bush family knew me and my real estate experience from my time in Florida politics and the major REIT work I did in the mid-'70s and so President George Herbert Walker Bush came to me for counsel when the market crashed in the late '80s.
I’d been successful with the workouts of distressed assets in the past but realized that this debacle was too massive and that allowing these assets to hit the street fast and hard was critical if we were to allow our capital markets to absorb them and our capitalistic society to function. Hence, a well-thought-out plan to expedite the dissolution of all distressed real estate hitting the street and without too much governmental involvement was the underpinning premise of the Resolution Trust Corporation. Fortunately, we were incredibly successful and were able to set up the largest "workout" in the country’s history (until the Great Recession hit in 2008).
This elevated our company to the national spotlight and led us to be known as “doctors of distressed real estate.”
Q: It’s little known that you were a partner in NYC’s Studio 54. What was your role there, and how long did that last? How did you get involved with it?
Hmmm … since you asked … I was brought in by Mark Fleishman, the son of someone whom I’d helped with a large real estate workout in the Northeast in the mid-'70s. Mark and I became somewhat friendly and he called me about this opportunity.
To be honest, I really didn’t want my name in the spotlight, but Mark loved the business and convinced me that he’d handle the day-to-day and serve as the face while I concentrated on the financial side of things. It was glamorous at first but got old quick. Steve [Rubell] and Ian [Schrager] helped from afar but they realized the Studio was no longer theirs and soon started opening other nightclubs and then Ian started dabbling in real estate. We owned Studio 54 for approximately 5-6 years. Needless to say, it was incredibly successful but not what I was expecting.
Q: You were also connected to New Line Cinema. Tell us about that.
That’s a long story but suffice it to say it all happened around the time of my involvement in Studio 54.
We were originally involved in B movies (Billy Jack movies, etc.) as these were more or less tax shelters. Soon, however, the tax laws changed and the benefits were no more.
There were approximately 10 of us and we each owned 10 percent. One of the investors, I think Bob Shea, wanted to start producing movies so they moved the company to L.A. I was bought out before the Time Warner deal. Although I did very well, I definitely sold way too early. Regardless, I was happy for them. I like it when others are successful.
Q: What do you think about the way the 2008 financial crisis was handled?
All in all, I believe it was handled OK. The real issue with the 2008 crisis was that the problems were systemic within the financial system and, more importantly, the issues were global. Although my thinking was never considered by the Obama administration, I felt the best approach would have been to allow capitalism to work. Instead, they tried bailing out numerous large institutions. Of course, we got out of the Great Recession temporarily, but at what price? Throwing $2-3 trillion into any economy will always help abate certain ills, but it definitely does not fix the problem. They tried to call this guise something special, “Quantitative Easing.” I call it smoke and mirrors and economic policy.
Basically, all we did was kick a can down the road and place trillions of dollars of unnecessary debt on America forcing our children and their children to deal with a debt problem they had no hand in creating. Funny thing is, Obama bashed the so-called “Big Banks,” yet all his policies did were further support these very same institutions with more money. If it were me, I would have allowed them to fail and allow new financial institutions to emerge and learn from the mistakes of the past.
President George W. Bush did reach out with the idea of launching another Resolution Trust Corporation, however, we determined the crisis was global and systemic, making this kind of tactic ineffective on a large scale. Shortly thereafter, Obama became president and the rest is history.
Q: What was your own company's strategy during the 2008 crisis and its aftermath?
My sons, Jimmy and Kenny, launched a private distressed debt fund, which was highly successful in acquiring distressed property and debt throughout the country. They learned from the prior debacles not to run and hide. In fact, I compliment them for standing their ground when everybody else went running for the hills. They saw there was no competition when it came to buying up bad debt and distressed properties, and had a field day.
They teamed up with Jimmy’s old friend Sergio Rok — Natan Rok’s son — as well as Related’s Jorge Pérez and I believe they easily acquired over a billion dollars of distress debt (properties). Although they don’t talk about it, I know they did extremely well. I am proud of them. All of them. It takes a certain type of character and confidence to do what they did and they did it under the radar with precision. Honestly, they were like surgeons with a perfectly executed plan.
Q: What do you see as the biggest risks to the economy today?
I am still concerned with the nearly $10 trillion dollars of additional debt left behind by the Obama administration. I am also concerned that if the Feds try to control the markets too much with interest rate hikes, they will throw us back into a recession.
Q: What do you see as South Florida’s greatest challenges?
I wish politicians would stop politicizing sea level rise and its causal factors. Who cares who caused it? Let’s work together as a nation and figure out solutions. The remedial work can’t be borne solely by the state, it is simply too big. This is a national issue and therefore it will require the federal government’s involvement.
In the meantime, I’m in agreement with my son Jimmy in that local governments must work closely with local developers to design, create and pay for resiliency concepts. Sea level rise can only be dealt with if responsible developers and politicians stop pointing fingers and work together. Our firm takes sea level rise seriously, and the boys and their partners put a lot of time and money into the resiliency initiatives of Bahia Mar [which they are currently redeveloping]. I applaud them for being forward-thinking and being responsible developers.
Q: You've now turned much of your business over to your sons, Jimmy and Kenny. But you still come to work every day. Why?
It gives me a place to go and things to accomplish. It gives me purpose.
Q: What projects is your company working on now?
Actually, it is my boys’ company; I am just a silent investor in some of their ventures. Regardless, we are more active than ever. They are working on the redevelopment of Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach; a major mixed-use project in South Miami on the corner of Kendall Drive and Dadeland Boulevard; and a variety of other, smaller ventures.
Q: Why has it been important to you to give back to the community?
I owe my success and my family’s stability to this community, which makes giving back a priority. Plus, giving back and supporting the next generation is the only way to ensure our city will one day reach its true potential.
Title: Founder and CEO, Stanley Tate Builders, Inc.
Wife: Joanne — "Joni"
Children: Jimmy, Kenny, Linda
Grandkids: Jordyn, Erin and Megan Tate (Jimmy and Janie); Jennifer, Stefanie and Jacklyn Tate (Kenny and Sandy); and Andy and Ric Best (Linda and husband Bob Best)
Greatest accomplishment: Raising a beautiful family and creating the Florida Prepaid College program