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Industry mourns loss of longtime affordable housing leader Bob Picerne

Robert M. Picerne was a third generation real estate developer who built thousands of affordable and luxury apartments in Florida and across the country.
Robert M. Picerne was a third generation real estate developer who built thousands of affordable and luxury apartments in Florida and across the country.(family photo)

Real estate developer Robert M. Picerne, a business leader who was known for his charitable work and generosity to friends and family, died Sunday. He was 62.

A family friend told GrowthSpotter Picerne died of complications after a fall in the historic lakefront mansion where he’d lived since 2017. Winter Park Police investigated the scene but attributed Picerne’s death to a medical event.

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A native of Rhode Island, Bob Picerne was a third-generation real estate developer who joined the company founded by his grandfather in 1925. Bob Picerne moved to Orlando in 1983 to manage the company’s Southeast expansion. Today Picerne Real Estate Group is one of the largest diversified real estate management and development firms in the country.

Insight on the ownership history of one of Winter Parks most celebrated homes, and what the buyer may have in store for expansion.

For much of his career, Picerne’s sole focus was affordable housing, and he relied on Forum Architecture & Interior Design to translate his vision from paper to reality. The companies teamed up to complete 70 projects in multiple states since beginning their professional relationship in 1991.

Forum principals Jim Black and Karen McIntyre said Picerne’s lasting legacy will be the thousands of homes he built for people with limited means.

“With everything that’s been in the news recently about the lack of affordable housing in Orlando, the work he did – we have no other client like that, in terms of the number of projects they did and the number of people they employed,” Black said. “If there’s an impact, it’s on that kind of scale.”

Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine said communities that were constructed by Picerne were of the highest quality, regardless of the rental rates.

“If you look at his accomplishments, what he did without a lot of fanfare, was he set a social tone for his company,” Constantine said. “It wasn’t there to build apartments and make money. It was there to improve the community.”

The Orlando Sentinel featured Bob and Gwyn Picerne, with their 14 children in a Christmas Eve feature in 2010. The couple adopted four more children after this article was published. The kids are baby Aiden (holding), (left side, bottom to top, Ezekeil, Hannah, Alexandria, Kyrique, Chandler, Natalie, Lida, (right side, bottom to top) Ezra, Marvin, Andrei, Davey, Chase and Martin.
The Orlando Sentinel featured Bob and Gwyn Picerne, with their 14 children in a Christmas Eve feature in 2010. The couple adopted four more children after this article was published. The kids are baby Aiden (holding), (left side, bottom to top, Ezekeil, Hannah, Alexandria, Kyrique, Chandler, Natalie, Lida, (right side, bottom to top) Ezra, Marvin, Andrei, Davey, Chase and Martin. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel)

Picerne was heavily involved in all aspects of the development process, from site selection to reviewing site plans and choosing finishes and amenities. McIntyre described him as a good listener and communicator.

“He was very able to see the design three-dimensionally,” McIntye said. “That’s not something you come across very often, and it made him very easy to work with. He knew what he wanted, and he made sure you hit the nail on the head. He was the voice behind this company – the driving force.”

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Today the company develops Class A luxury communities under its Oasis brand.

Picerne embraced the role of mentor, taking many young associates under his wing and nurturing their careers.

Winter Park interior designer Troy Beasley got his first internship with Picerne Development in 1988 while he was still in design school and went to work for the company shortly after he graduated. “He took me out and bought me two suits and turned me into a corporate designer,” Beasley told GrowthSpotter. “He was very kind and giving.”

The developer says the apartments will be "Class-A Plus" with high end finishes and resort-style amenities.

Five years later, when Beasley left the company, Picerne wished him well. After two months, Beasley was back in his office. “Sixty days later, I quit my job and went back to him and told him I was starting my own company,” he said. “He gave me back my old office, with my own separate entrance, and let me use his receptionist. I’m very grateful for what he did for me in the beginning. He was my first client. I grew my business out of that first little office.”

The conscientiousness that drove Picerne’s development and charitable work extended into his personal life. He and his former wife, Gwyn, have two biological children and adopted 16 more – many of whom spent years in foster care. The Orlando Sentinel profiled the couple on Christmas Eve a decade ago as they welcomed six new members to the family that year. The couple were married 26 years and ultimately formed an adoption agency.

His children recall a father who was present and put family first, even staying home from work to care for them when they were sick.

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The siblings’ shared recollections include jet skiing with their father, working on cars together, watching movies, learning how to drive a boat, snow skiing, cooking and most importantly, just talking and spending time with him. He collected cars and historic bibles. He believed so strongly in education that one of his biggest thrills in life was to receive an honorary doctorate from Livingstone College, a historical black college in North Carolina.

Funeral services are scheduled for Friday, Jan. 10, 2020 at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church of Orlando. Check The Orlando Sentinel’s Obituary page for more details.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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