Oasis on the River
by Cathy Chestnut
OF THE ELEVEN NEW waterfront condominiums approved to be built on the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, one contender, the Oasis, brainchild of Jorge Pérez, hopes to bring a taste of Miami chic to the Gulf Coast.
Mr. Pérez is known for his high-end high-rises, but he got his start as an urban planner who worked his way up the ranks, eventually buying scores of rental properties before establishing The Related Group, reportedly ranked as the top multi-family real estate developer in Florida, and the third largest Hispanic-owned business in the United States.
Pérez has been praised by Miami Business magazine as changing the skyline of Miami as well as reinventing West Palm Beach. He often works with renowned architects and designers, and for the Oasis, he has hired two different architects to oversee the design and construction documents as well as Sheeley Architects as the local architect.
Mr. Pérez said hes had his eye on Fort Myers for ten years, but back then, it was a place that was trying to get its act together. Oasis falls just outside of the boundaries of the citys revitalization plan crafted by urban planner Andres Duany, but the promise of a thriving, vibrant downtown finally lured him to make a major investment.
Elsewhere in Southwest Florida he has developed the Villas of Capri in Collier County, The Reserve at Naples and The Enclave at Naples, as well as Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs.
Born of Cuban parents and raised in Argentina and Colombia, Pérez is already working on two other projects in the city limits, including affordable housing and an apartment garden mid-rise.
Pérez is also recognized as a world-class art collector and art patron. In his Coconut Grove home, which has been dubbed one of Miamis best art museums, he has over 400 works of 20th century Latin American art.
Pérez will be making a $10,000 donation to the Florida Arts Cultural Center that will fill the historic Federal Courthouse Building in downtown Fort Myers. Hell be offering another $25,000 to be matched by other donors.
I fill my projects with museum-quality art, the lobbies, common rooms and pool areas, said Pérez, noting his firm has a full-time art curator. I am always trying to bring the best in design. The final piece of a project is filling it with valuable art.
Fort Myers is becoming to us a base. We want to make every effort to support the community, he said. Theres a huge synergy between architecture, design and the arts.
The Oasis will be a gated community with resort amenities that will eventually include five 32-story towers between Palm Beach Blvd. and Riverside Drive, west of Billys Creek. Pérez worked for two years to assemble 16.3 acres of land from a variety of property owners that included a trailer park, old pioneer home, shopping center and boatyard. The site is adjacent to the citys Riverside Park and Ward Island nature preserve, making the total area with greenspace about 20 acres.
Instead of doing a building on a two-acre site, we assembled a huge piece to do a complete and secure resort-like community in an urban environment, Pérez said.
With 1,000 feet of river frontage, Pérez literally foresees an urban oasis to come with brick walkways, dense, dense, dense landscaping, lakes and fountains, a public boat ramp, marina and boat storage, tennis center, spa and health facilities, and retail stores and restaurants, including a private waterfront beach club with dining, a library, private theater and a billiards room.
Echoing the sinuous curves of the river, the towers, with a total of 1,079 residential units, were modernly designed, with flowing, wavy lines and floor-to-ceiling glass windows and glass railing balconies to optimize the views. Every one of the buildings looks directly over the water, northeast or northwest, he said.
The buildings will be fully computer-controlled smart buildings with wireless high-speed Internet service.
Units at Oasis will average $200,000 to $800,000 with penthouses going for over $1 million. Sales are expected to begin in late January with a groundbreaking by mid-year. We hope itll be a mixture of permanent residents looking for a club environment and second homeowners, Pérez said.
I love for my jobs to be catalysts to improve cities, Pérez said. Urban planning has given me a greater consciousness about how development should proceed and how it affects the overall urban fabric.
from the January-February 2005 issue