In the summer of 2005, I stood in front of the window of my new office in Fort Lauderdale for the first time and watched life stream past.
It was the height of the real estate boom. Every 20-something agent in south Florida, it seemed, drove a red Mercedes-Benz convertible. There were a lot of them among the cars, trucks and buses on Broward Boulevard, 16 stories below my floor-to-ceiling glass portal.
I enjoyed an expansive view to the north, though the agent who showed us the office warned that it might not last too long. A row of low-rise retail shops across the street would soon be knocked down in favor of a 48-story office building, he promised. The adjacent federal courthouse, of 1970s vintage, would be replaced by a much more secure and modern structure.
In the meantime I could look to the northeast, where gaps amid the beachfront hotel and condominium towers two miles away still afforded an ocean view. Or I could look to the northwest, where light plane and corporate jet traffic entered the landing pattern for Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, close to the municipal stadium where the Baltimore Orioles played their spring training games.
It was a nice moment for our firm, too. Fort Lauderdale was our first branch office beyond our headquarters in the New York City suburbs. Shomari Hearn would manage the office and would be the only full-time staffer there, at first. I would be in Fort Lauderdale intermittently. Shomari had moved to Florida for personal reasons, but we always planned to expand the business to Florida anyway, so it made sense to have him open our office when he needed to move south.
Shomari rattled around a mostly empty six-room suite for the first year. When his birthday came, we got him a cake, as is our firm’s custom, but he had to go to the lawyers’ office next door to find someone to share it with. At least it gave him a chance to make some contacts in a city where Shomari, a Bronx native, had very few acquaintances.
Life never goes exactly as planned. The real estate market began to weaken in 2007, and South Florida became synonymous with the phrase “condo glut” the following year. Prices crashed; the free-spending real estate agents (and their bright red cars) pretty much disappeared. Even the Orioles left for a new training camp on the state’s west coast.
But our office did very well anyway. Shomari was joined over the next several years by managers who transferred to Florida from New York, and who then moved on - Paul Jacobs to start our office in Atlanta, where he now is based as our firm’s chief investment officer, and David Walters to work for our newest office in Portland, Oregon. While they were in Florida they helped us tap and train a rich vein of local talent. The University of Florida sent us Anthony Criscuolo and ReKeithen Miller, both of whom stayed and became client service managers themselves, and Tom Walsh, now an associate in Atlanta. ReKeithen also moved to Atlanta, in 2008.
Melinda Beckmann, a summer intern from the University of Rochester in upstate New York, liked Florida so much that she settled there, got married, left our firm for a while and then returned this year as Melinda Kibler. Jeffrey Joseph, our Atlanta-based technology manager, met a young woman during a company retreat last year. He and Victoria Andrade are now engaged, and Jeff recently relocated to the Florida office.
Rachel Lindenberger, another refugee from northern climes - she grew up and went to college in Ohio - came aboard earlier this year as a financial planning assistant. Her professional goal is to become an accountant. Her personal goal, I understand, is to never need to own a snow shovel.
Shomari has become active in the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Miami Estate Planning Council, and various other civic and charitable groups. He participated in, and later helped run, the Chamber’s Leadership Fort Lauderdale program. These days, Shomari runs into professional friends and acquaintances practically every time he walks through downtown Fort Lauderdale. Going out to lunch with him sometimes feels like dining with the mayor.
He became a Palisades Hudson vice president last year. One of Shomari’s responsibilities is to train and develop our young staff throughout the firm, something at which he has excelled since coming down to Florida.
That six-room office suite, in which Shomari rattled around by himself years ago, is much too small for us now, so on Friday I looked out that window overlooking Broward Boulevard for the last time.
I could still see the ocean to the northeast and the aircraft to the northwest. The old federal courthouse is still there. The low-rise retail shops are gone, but nothing has been erected on that site other than a sign that reads “Property For Sale.” The real estate market has turned around, but so far the go-go atmosphere has not returned. I looked for a while, but I did not see a single red convertible.
The movers came on Saturday. Today we start professional life in a larger office suite in Fort Lauderdale’s newest downtown office building, which also houses the headquarters of AutoNation. My new window is on the 12th floor and faces west, toward the suburbs of Plantation and Sunrise, and the Everglades beyond. It also faces the New River, where pleasure boats ranging from kayaks to superyachts tie up in front of restaurants and the city’s performing arts center.
It’s another vantage point from which to watch life stream past.
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