The logo for GreenPoint Hospitality, the South Florida hotel company opening its first two hotels in Kissimmee this year, features a full-grown tree. But the seed for GreenPoint was planted 30 years ago, when three architecture students in Buenos Aires struck up a friendship.
"We've known Ruben Santurian since we were, like, 23 years old -- back in the university days when we were studying to be architects," partner Pablo Hoberman said.
How the four came together to form GreenPoint is a story of vision, perfect timing and creative financing.
Each had built a successful career in South America before relocating to South Florida around 2001, just as the real estate market was taking off.
"Immediately we went into developing properties in the states," Hoberman said. "In my case, I started with condo conversions. I bought multifamily buildings here in South Florida and converted them."
Even when the condo market crashed, Urbis found a way to thrive by scooping up distressed properties at rock-bottom prices and selling the individual units to Argentinean investors, who were desperate to unload cash savings in the unstable Argentinian peso for real assets in the U.S.
"There was an appetite for these distressed properties," Hoberman said. "The crisis was bringing prices down here."
Pretty soon he was spending one week a month in Argentina, meeting with investors who had never even had a mortgage. He then began exploring other Latin American markets like Chile, Peru and Uruguay.
"We found opportunity in this country and started growing our company," he said. "We ended up with hundreds of customers who were willing to invest $50,000 to $500,000 in the states."
Santurian was using the same business model to find South American investors for his developments in Miami, Naples and Weston. His company TEAM Real Estate Development is building the H3 Hollywood luxury condo tower, which broke ground last December.
Santurian also signed on with Crystal Lagoon USA as design director of a massive swimming lagoon and condo project in Kissimmee.
"We were doing similar things here in the states because they were managing investments for investors from Argentina – and we were doing basically the same scenarios as well," Hoberman said. "But both of us were working with Argentinean investors."
They had always wanted to work together, and finally saw an opportunity. "So we decided to start buying hotels that were in despair and making them into the GreenPoint brand – you know modern, stylish, nice hotel but inexpensive at the same time."
Meanwhile, Calabrese was managing luxury resort properties in Argentina and Costa Rica from 2000 to 2013. He started with Marriott and later joined Dimension Development Company, a Louisiana-based hotel management group. All the while, he envisioned a new hotel brand that was modern, hip and budget-friendly.
"We want to provide a good product and an efficient product that doesn't carry all the costs of a full-service hotel," he said.
Calabrese started investing in restaurants. His company now owns and manages four restaurant properties in the Miami area. Then he focused on the first hotel project: GreenPoint Kissimmee.
Built in 1973, the Grand Orlando Palms property was one of many failed condo-hotels on the W192 corridor. Fortunately for GreenPoint, the seller already controlled all 200 units.
They bought the hotel in March 2014 for $2.7 million. All cash, no financing.
While Calabrese developed the GreenPoint brand, the other three partners went to Argentina to start reselling the condo units.
"Both Ruben's company and my company are specialized and focused on retail, on small investors," Hoberman said. "We are not working with bulk sales. What we're doing is the one-by-one sales."
The initial offering was $39,900 per unit. Later GreenPoint raised the price $5,000. They sold out in 45 days.
"We tried to develop a selling strategy that could be interesting for our foreign buyers," he said. "All those people who bought from us at a discounted price, instead of having their money sitting there and waiting until property is finished, they can start earning profit right away."
That instant return for an investor was ensured, because GreenPoint signed an immediate lease-back contract with each buyer -- in essence renting the rooms while the company was pouring millions into the full, gut renovation of the property.
"We tried to develop the perfect scenario for the Latin American investor," he said. "A lot of them had maybe $50-$60-$70 grand to do something."
In a market where foreign investment was pouring in from Brazil and China, GreenPoint took advantage of the E2 investor visa program, which is available to its core customers.
Unlike the EB-5 visa, the E2 program doesn't have a minimum $500,000 investment or job creation requirement. Visa holders are not eligible for green cards, but they can travel to the U.S. to manage their properties and can open bank accounts here.
"It's less risky (for the investor) because you are buying your own property and have title to the properties yourself," Hoberman said. "Brazil doesn't have it. Venezuela doesn't have it. Argentina has it - so it's a good option for investors."
It was so successful, the partners immediately decided to buy a second hotel. They closed on what was then the Claremont Hotel on W192 in September 2014, paying $4.5 million in cash.
Rebranding the former Claremont Hotel as GreenPoint Celebration was an even bigger undertaking. The 31-year-old property has 359 rooms and sits on five-plus acres. Renovations on the two hotels will end up costing more than $10 million.
"On average in GreenPoint, we're spending between $10,000 and $15,000 per key," Calabrese said. "That's renovation and pre-opening expense. If we don't do things right in this process, investors will pay for it."
That doesn't include the nearly $200,000 GreenPoint is paying each month to fulfill the leaseback agreements for all its condo investors at both properties.
Each investor has the option of using the room for one month out of the year, GreenPoint manages it the other 11 months. The company has been paying monthly rent to investors for more than a year, but once the hotels open the company will make quarterly payouts.
"Everything will be under a pooled situation, with shared income and expenses," Hoberman said. "They sign a resort management agreement with us because they want us to manage the hotel – they don't want to manage it themselves. If the hotel makes good money, they're going to make good money. If the hotel is empty, they're going to lose money. But they trust that we're going to do a good job managing the hotel."
In 2015, GreenPoint bought two more hotels, one in Doral and a third on W192 in Kissimmee.
GreenPoint Doral is a former Residence Inn with efficiency suites and apartments. The starting price of each unit was $164,000. They have been operating at 80 percent occupancy, but will close the property for 40 days starting in September to renovate the common space.
The condo units are divided among multiple 12-unit buildings, which allows GreenPoint to renovate one building at a time.
The fourth property is the former Parkside Inn, a 188-room motel a few doors down from GreenPoint Kissimmee. The JV paid $4.2 million for the 31-year-old hotel. Like the others, it will operate as a condo hotel but under the GreenPoint Essential budget category. The rooms will rent for about $80 per night.
"We haven't started selling it because we want to finalize Kissimmee and Celebration first," Hoberman said.
Crystal Pernici joined the company this year as Vice President of Market Strategy.
"When I came to the company in January, they already had essentially the conception of the brand," she said. "What we needed to do was really talk about the foundation behind that. Why are we GreenPoint? What does GreenPoint stand for?
"Essentially, who are we and what are we going to contribute? What makes us different?," she continued. "We want to compete with the Hampton Inns and the Courtyards – brand-named select service hotels – even though we're not yet a known brand."
Now read Part 2 to learn how GreenPoint's design concept and market strategy came together, and follow the construction progress.