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Through my profession I have been in contact with numerous local citizens.
I wish to testify that I consider this development a jewel, decorating the Florida landscape. I am convinced that the vast majority of the local population would confirm that this is no exaggeration.
Before my experience here I would not have believed that such a successful and harmonious combination between private enterprise and public welfare could be possible.
Also, I happen to know that in hardship cases, like the death of a husband or wife after the purchase of property, Gulf American will cancel the contract and return all payments in full.
Gulf American, through its vision, dedication, hard work, and social responsibility has set the finest example in land development known to me. I consider it a privilege and blessing to serve in a community like Cape Coral. Very truly yours,
Rabbi SIMON FRIEDEMAN.
ST. ANDREW'S CHURCH,
Cape Coral, Fla., August 23, 1966. Hon. HARRISON WILLIAMS, Jr., U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.
SIR: I have been Pastor of St. Andrew's Catholic Church for two years and naturally I have become acquainted with a great number of people in Cape Coral. There has been much controversy about the policy of Gulf American Land Corporation in promoting sales and living up to their promises. Perhaps it might be true that in some instances, individual salesmen would push sales a little hard but it is also true that Gulf American Land Corporation has periodically weeded out such individuals who might promise too much or misrepresent the Company.
Judging by the big stack of letters I have received in the past and by the way people express themselves, I would say that Cape Coral residents are not unhappy. The fishermen and golfers are enjoying every moment. We have to admit there are a few unhappy residents because of the low salaries they get in the South; others are elderly people who are dissatisfied, or I should say are homesick, because they miss their grandchildren and acquaintances they have left behind.
I would like to further state that I am not sold to the Company. Anytime I get complaints from people, I bring them to the proper officials of Gulf American Land Corporation and so far, we have gotten satisfactory solutions.
I cannot judge about the technicalities of land sales. I am alien in that field. But I would like to emphasize the fact that Gulf American Land Corporation has provided wonderful public facilities, such as, a public beach, Yacht and Racquet Club, swimming pool, Olympic tennis courts, Youth Center, public parks, the famous Rose Gardens and an Industrial Park. These indeed are great assets to this Community.
A general statement that Cape Coral residents are unhappy with Gulf American Land Corporation is unjustified and offensive to the Community.
I do hope that in the Senate hearings the opinion of the happy residents will be taken into consideration too. Very truly yours,
Rev. ESTEBAN G. Soy.
CAPE CORAL, FLA., August 16, 1966. Senator HARRISON WILLIAMS, Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.
In response to your questions in reference to land sales which includes Cape Coral, Florida I herewith respectfully submit briefly facts, which in my opinion are relevant to questionable sales programs of Florida land to unsuspecting clients.
1. Clients are preconditioned at various cocktail and dinner parties to a sales presentation of Florida developments by romancing and promising Florida investments to such a degree that prospective purchasers will agree to tentatively purchase implusively Florida land that they have never seen and in many instances have no conception of undeveloped land values.
2. The prospective purchasers are then flown to various Florida developments at their expense and are given a captive tour of the development to such a degree that in many instances they are not allowed to intermingle or communicate with anyone on the developers property. Lest they become exposed to knowledgeable information which would immediately create second thought as to the wisdom of their purchase. The majority of purchase prices quoted to these clients is not necessarily, in my opinion, the true resale value of the homesites in question. Therefore it behooves persons not acquainted with contracts to consult a competent attorney who is well versed in Florida land contracts before ratifying any agreements in relation to Florida land purchases, a point in question why are the developers sales contract agreements made in fine print and also faded print and why does the developer specify in his sales agreement that the buyer pay for documentary stamps which by custom the seller or developer absorbs this cost unless it is by an understanding agreement between both parties.
GRANVILLE E. PETRIE, Realtor.
ITEM 3/ARTICLES WITH RELATION TO GULF AMERICAN LAND CORP.
[From the Miami Herald, Jan. 16-23, 1966)
GULF AMERICAN : A CONTROVERSIAL SALES GIANT
The hopes of thousands of small investors are riding on the future of Gulf American Land Corp., whose boomtime tactics have made it one of the biggest industries in Florida. This article by Herald Writer Juanita Greene is the first of a series telling about the giant corporation's plans and methods, and showing what effect its actions may have in the stateand beyond.
(By Juanita Greene, Herald Staff Writer) As Florida's latest land boom continues to rumble across the nation, the state is awakening to the discovery that it has spawned the world's largest installment land sales and development company.
Gulf American Land Corp., born just eight pressure-packed years ago, stands today as the sales giant.
It has built up a mammoth, aggressive organization that is bringing in signatures on about $100 million worth of installment contracts a year. The payments on them roll in at the rate of more than $50 million a year.
The super-merchandiser has accumulated more than 325 'square miles of land in three Florida counties. Put together, that's the equivalent of a third of the high ground in Dade, more than all the land in Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables and Hialeah combined.
These vast tracts are broken into bits and sold while still raw, unreachable, sometimes even covered with water. Today 90,000 persons in every state and many foreign countries are mailing checks every month to company headquarters in Miami.
With most of the installment contracts goes the promise that the plot will be developed by the time the last payment is due, in seven or eight years.
To meet this commitment, Gulf American already has spent $19 million to dredge, drain, fill and pave. It will have to spend another $50 million or more on land already sold, plus at least an additional $50 million if it sell's out present holdings.
Yet despite the startling sales results, the company's performance has not been uniformly applauded.
To bring in the business, Gulf American uses all the modern tools and all the old techniques. Its determination to reach as many potential customers as possible has raised some knots on its public image.
The Gulf American army is everywhere on the Florida streets and beaches soliciting tourists, in Oshkosh and Newark inviting the middle class to free dinners and Florida movies, on the telephone running up the biggest long-distance bill in the state.
It spent $46 million last year on operating expenses that included fertilizer for the world's largest rose garden at company-built Cape Coral, free airplane rides to prospective buyers, the cost of installing a giant replica of the flagraising at Iwo Jima in Cape Coral's Garden of Patriots, and the free trading stamps offered motorists who drop in at Golden Gate.
As the biggest installment salesman, and the sixth largest industry of any kind in Florida, Gulf American has attracted considerable time and attention from the state's new Installment Land Sales Board. It was set up in 1963 in response to public pressure to watchdog the growing industry.
What turned out to be Gov. Haydon Burns' most controversial appointment came last November when he named Leonard Rosen, Gulf American's generator and board chairman, to the board. Aggravating the ire in some public circles was the knowledge that already on the board was Howard Hirsch, former Gulf American attorney.
But at the base of the controversy is the fact that Gulf American had been called before the board just four months earlier because of misrepresentations made by some of its salesmen.
This was not the first time the company had been called on by a regulatory agency to amend its procedures.
Suits filed by the Florida Real Estate Commission, which formerly regulated the industry, were dismissed in 1961 and 1962 after Gulf American agreed to clear its advertising with the commission to hire only registered salesmen to make certain solicitations.
The New Jersey Real Estate Commission had an investigation and a hearing in 1964 on the hiring of unlicensed personnel by Gulf American representatives. The commission reports today it has received no more complaints about the company.
PROBE CALLED OFF IN POLK COUNTY
The Polk County State Attorney announced in Bartow last summer that he would investigate Gulf American's sales methods in promoting its newest development at River Ranch on the Kissimmee River. He now reports he plans no further action "because they have changed some of their advertising” and satisfied other complaints.
Of three private law suits filed in Miami courts against the company by unhappy buyers, two have been settled to the satisfaction of the complainants and one is pending.
Complaints filed with the land-board, headquartered in Tampa, are kept in confidential files that can be opened for public review only after an order has been issued on disciplinary action. Which company draws the most complaints, the land board will not say.
Rosen, however, freely admits that Gulf American is in the lead.
He estimated they amount to less than one in a thousand sales. And he says the company takes all steps possible to avoid misrepresenting the facts, or even pestering prospects with the hard sell.
FULL DISCLOSURE KEY TO NEW LAW
In creating the land board in 1963 the Florida Legislature required that three of the five members be representatives from the industry. When Gov. Burns named Rosen to join Elliott Mackle and Jerry Gould as the majority, he put the board in the hands of three of the largest and most active of the 253 regulated sub-dividers in Florida.
The key to the new law is "full disclosure." The companies not only must speak the truth, but tell enough so the buyer is not misled by what goes unsaid.
Gulf American was called up for a hearing before the board in July on an order to show cause why its registration should not be suspended after staff investigators found that some of its salesmen were not telling the truth about property in Golden Gate, in Collier County, and had failed to give customers the required property report.
The report, reviewed and approved by the board, is supposed to go to every customer before he signs a contract. It contains basic information about the condition of the land, its distance from population points, accessibility and the exact nature of the promised improvements and when they can be expected.
The details of the land board's staff complaint against Gulf American were never known, however, because the hearing never materialized.
Instead, the minutes show that the order was dismissed after a conference with company officials. Gulf American did not dispute the findings but promised to take corrective measures “to avoid recurrence of similar misleading acts by sales personnel and to assure the delivery of appropriate property reports.”
Proud of Gulf American's record and sensitive about its image, Rosen said he feels the company has been in business long enough to warrant the respect and confidence of the public.
"If we condoned any nefarious activities," he said, "how could we keep customers? We would be ruined by word of mouth. If you do right, it can help you. If you do wrong, it can kill you. Bear in mind that we have 90,000 people paying us."
WILL EVERYONE GET CLEAR TITLE
As survival and continued growth settle some of the early questions about the company, they raise others with answers that lie even further in the future.
Asked with increasing frequency these days is whether all those 90,000 people will get both clear title and all the improvements promised when the last installment falls due within the next eight years.
Much of the land being sold by Gulf American is mortgaged. And at its most advanced development, Cape Coral, in Lee County near Fort Myers, only about 11 per cent of the platted property has been improved, though the company is moving on schedule.
County commissions in both Lee and Collier have tossed and turned over the problem of guaranteeing performance lest the county get stuck with the task of digging the drainage canals and building roads itself.
The land sales board is empowered to express official concern over what the buyer finally winds up with and Executive Director Carl Bertoch is taking increasing interest in this phase of regulation.
Various and not entirely satisfactory arrangements have been worked out on bonds and special escrow accounts. Officials of both counties and Bertoch acknowledge that the only real guarantee that the commitments will be met lies in the company's financial stability.
It is more than curiosity that sends them prowling through the company's balance sheets. The great bulk of the work still is to be done; most of the money is still to be spent on improvements.
Rosen stresses, and the counties and Bertoch acknowledge, that so far Gulf American has done everything it has promised to do on roads and drainage.
“If we stopped selling land tomorrow," Rosen said, "we would have the money coming in on installment payments to make the improvements promised on land already sold.
“Give us a few more years and we won't have to claim anything. It will all be there as proof."
NO GUARANTEES MADE ON PROFITS
The controversy about misrepresentation that has swirled around Gulf American from time to time involves not only improvements that the buyer has a right to expect, but potential profits—which the company nowhere guarantees in its printed statements.
In its sales pitch, the company makes much of the fact however, that many fortunes have been made by buying and holding land. And to what extent individual salesmen apply this generalization to a specific offering is a concern of the land board.
Many of the people who buy Gulf American property, especially at Cape Coral, plan to build on its when they retire. Some already have.
Many other customers are buying not homesites but acreage, in the expectation they can sell it later at a profit. All but four of the more than 120 recorded square miles at Golden Gate are platted in five-acre tracts and sold on this basis. The theory—but not the official promise—is the price is bound to go up. The question is when.
SUCCESS HIKES FIRM'S PROBLEMS
Success itself has compounded some of Gulf American's problems. Company promotion makes much of the fact that Gulf already has built one city, Cape Coral, with a population of more than 5,000. With the increasing population density sharp demands are arising from some of the residents that the company install more municipal improvements, especially a central water and sewer system.
The company is committed to build it, but its detractors complain it is moving too slowly. To the chagrin and concern of the health authorities, most of the homes still are on septic tanks.
As the scope of Gulf American's plans and operations begins to dawn on some public officials, they worry about other problems that success would bring.
William Vines, Collier County's former planning director, viewed with alarm the fact that the county is requiring only semi-rural type improvements in the vast Golden Gate area that is on the plat books in five acre tracts.
These tracts, he pointed out, are being split up and sold off in smaller sections, which presupposes more dense development. It if occurs, he warned, the county will be stuck with the expense of maintaining substandard communities.
And Vines found it ridiculous that those vast areas out in the Big Cypress swamp, still awaiting the arrival of the dragline, should be misrepresented on the county zoning books with commercial and multi-family zoning. Eighteen miles out in the wilderness, a man can buy a site for a filling station, a shopping center, an apartment house. Yet the land is cut up on the county plat books for low density, country type living.
Gulf American claims it is misunderstood by its detractors because of the technology of the present and the history of the past. It says its organization methods are so new and scientific as to be incomprehensible to people who haven't bothered to take a close look.
And because Gulf American is a land development company, Rosen believes it is often incorrectly viewed in the same light as such companies in the past, which punctuated national history with boom and bust.
FLORIDIANS STILL REMEMBER BUST
The noise of the last big Florida bust of the 1920's does, indeed, still ring in the ears of many Floridians. Its causes have been analyzed by many, but the conclusions are not unanimous. In a recent speech Bertoch offered some of the more widely held views on the boom :
"Notwithstanding the highly speculative nature of the boom, some of the growth that occurred was amazing, even by today's standards. For instance, Miami went from a population of 29,000 in 1920 to 110,000 ten years later, an increase few cities can match even with the growth that we have had in the 50's.
“However, this growth was not enough to utilize the tremendous amount of land that had been sold, mostly to persons whose primary motivation was profit, rather than use. The leavening influence of the law of supply and demand prevailed and the boom faltered, fizzled and failed.”
Rosen, too, has studied the bust, and said he learned a lot from mistakes that were made. Everything Gulf American is doing today, he said, was all mapped out before the company got started.
He emphatically insists, "I know what I'm doing.”
LAND SELLERS ANGLING WITH A WIDE NET
Gulf American's land-booming tactics have made it one of the biggest industries in Florida, with the hopes of thousands of small investors riding its crest. In this second of a series of articles, Herald Writer Juanita Greene tells how widespread is the sales net of this organization and some of the complaints its sales pitch has drawn.
(By Juanita Greene, Herald Staff Writer) To catch the prospects for its millions of parcels of Florida land, Gulf American Land Corp. casts a huge, scientifically woven net.
Then it unfolds a familiar dream and raises the hope of harnessing it to reality. Wouldn't everyone like to own a plot of ground in Florida—to live on, or make a profit on?
The techniques employed by the giant 'sales machine are as varied as they are provocative. Their success is unquestioned. Yet the whole performance is viewed with a certain public nervousness.
Where lies the truth in the foundation of this land empire? Has it been used or abused?
Truth has on past occasion been a preoccupation both within and without the big corporation.
It wa's concern for its welfare that caused the Florida Installment Land Sales Board to summon Gulf American to a hearing last July.