If you ask Chip Abele, using the EB5 visa program to fund new development projects is little more than a "different twist" on what he has been doing for years.
"We're putting $30 million of our own funds into the deal," says the Chairman of Gold Coast Florida Regional Center. "Every one of our dollars" is headed in the same direction as any immigrant investor capital.
The deal Abele is talking about is the regional center's first EB5 visa project (pictured), a mixed-use retail and residential development in Hollywood, Florida called Hollywood Circle. According to the regional center's first press release, the space should include an upscale hotel, nearly 400 apartments, a restaurant, and a Publix supermarket.
Perhaps a bit more lavish than your average grocery store, Abele says private elevators will give residents direct access to the Publix.
Track Record and Global Position
Gold Coast received USCIS approval in May of this year and was quick to publicize its first project. While some claims, in particular the notion that Hollywood Circle will bring 18,000 jobs to South Florida in the next five years, have led to a raised eyebrow or two among some EB5 visa practitioners, Abele is confident that Hollywood Circle is a solid investor green card opportunity.
"We were very bullish on the EB5 program, and we're very bullish on structuring an investment opportunity that we'll present to clients and investors. We have offices in South Africa that have been there 20 years," he says, also adding that for players in the "South Florida real estate market, doing business in Latin America is what you do."
And an already-established global presence ? one that now includes Hong Kong and Venezuela in addition to South Africa ? is one way Abele hopes Gold Coast will distinguish itself from the growing multitude of EB5 regional centers, though he admits he and his partners have almost no experience in European or Asian markets.
"We're taking in more than a million dollars a year from state and local government," he says. "We've got state-subsidized funding. We've got Publix."
Gold Coast Florida Regional Center got its start when Abele and his partners opened an equity fund several years ago. The idea was to purchase existing debt on real estate projects in South Florida and work out a debt conversion program with the property owners. It was after the fund closed that they heard about EB5.
After forming the Broward County Regional Center, the group quickly decided to expand its request beyond the single-county area. The "Gold Coast Florida" name was part of a marketing campaign the state put on in the 1960's. Abele found that nobody actually "owned" the title, and he now has the trademark.
Projects to Come?
As for any additional EB5 visa projects in Gold Coast's future, Abele is willing to discuss the Great Southern Hotel redevelopment profiled in last week's Miami Herald, though he says it's merely in the center's pipeline.
"It is not a project for the regional center currently," he says. "I have not submitted it or run the economic model on it."
For now, it seems Hollywood Circle is Gold Coast's primary item for the immigrant investor. Whether that project ultimately stands out against the veritable flood of mixed-use residential/retail facilities being marketed to EB5 visa investors, however, remains to be seen.