May 14, 2015 Kenneth Sanchez

Ascend Properties group finds deals in odd places

Longtime builders Dean Borg, Richard Finkelstein and Michael Wohl don’t see many wide swaths of land available in South Florida, so they stick to a basic business plan.

“We’re looking for holes in the doughnut,” Borg said.

The trio formed Ascend Properties two years ago, embracing a strategy of redevelopment on parcels that might otherwise seem to lack potential.

Earlier this year, Ascend spent $3.5 million to buy a former mobile home park in Wilton Manors used in the 1996 movie “Striptease.” They recently broke ground on Metropolitan, a 179-unit apartment building at 1224 NE 24th St.

Wohl spent five years negotiating with the Yawt siblings and family trust that owned the trailer park. He completed the deal last year after the city approved discounted fines of $650,000 for the outstanding violations.

The complex is expected to be ready late next year, with monthly rents ranging from about $900 to $3,200.

In February, Ascend paid in excess of $5 million for 14 acres that housed an outdated fitness center inside the Boca Pointe Country Club at Powerline Road at 18th Street in Boca Raton. The builders have started construction on Pointe 100, a 100-unit townhome community with prices ranging from $415,000 to $510,000.

Ascend found that opportunity through a local business leader, who introduced the principals to the country club’s board of directors.

Upon completion, both projects will be valued at about $100 million, Borg said. Neither deal was listed for sale, giving the builders the chance to close quietly, with no competition.

“Usually, when it hits the market, it gets bid up, and in most cases it’s not a fit for the return we are looking for,” Finkelstein said. “I personally won’t buy a property that goes to auction.”

Finkelstein was co-founder & President and Borg, Senior Vice President at Kenco Communities, a former builder that put up about 3,000 homes in Palm Beach County at such country club developments as Addison Reserve in Delray Beach and the Oaks at Boca Raton.

Wohl, was a lawyer who started a real estate firm that owned and managed more than a million square feet of commercial properties and 700 apartments across Florida. In 1997, he co-founded Pinnacle Housing, an affordable-housing developer in Miami.

The three partners started Ascend in late 2012, as the real estate market was rebounding. Wohl, Finkelstein and Borg have complimentary skill sets and professional expertise.

The firm has another project under contract in Miami-Dade County, a 7-acre site inside an office park that it’s rezoning for 272 apartments which proves a productive vision.

David Cobb, regional director for the Metrostudy research firm in South Florida, said Ascend seems to have hit on the perfect business model.

“If I was a small builder, I wouldn’t want to compete with the large guys,” Cobb said. “I’d want to create something different.”

In many cases, though, the privately held firm has an advantage over large, public homebuilders, which aren’t set up to respond to opportunities that Ascend identifies, said Doug Kirlan, a longtime South Florida land broker.

“They’re able to … perform on deals that require flexibility and entrepreneurship to get to the finish line,” Kirlan said. “The public companies are pretty bulky. They often can’t navigate through these niche deals.”

Staff writer Larry Barszewski contributed to this report.

[email protected], 561-243-6529 or Twitter @paulowers

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