Home / Featured / Developer’s PERSPECTIVE – Interview with Dr. Carlton S. Schwartz

Developer’s PERSPECTIVE – Interview with Dr. Carlton S. Schwartz

BY VAL SCHOGER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL BOOINI AND HAROLD BRAMTON

The community of St. Andrews, an area located five driving-minutes east of Downtown Panama City, has changed drastically in the last 20 years. The construction of Harbour Village Condominiums on its shores contributed largely to its success. In 2006, a retail market analysis and development study by Orlando-based Renaissance Planning Group revealed a decline in population in St. Andrews by 1.85% from the year 1990 to 2000 while Bay County in its entirety showed an increase in population by 16.71%.1 The median house value in St. Andrews was $ 70,000 at the time. A Community Redevelopment Agency was called to life “to eliminate blight and slum conditions in the St. Andrews area.”2 The CRA started branding St. Andrews as “Historic St. Andrews” and successfully restored and relaunched the building that once housed a newspaper print house as St. Andrews Publishing Museum. A popular Waterfront Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, the working marina, Oaks by the Bay Park, and several other landmarks along with popular multigenerational restaurants such as Hunt’s Oyster Bar, Uncle Ernie’s, Capt’s Table, and The Shrimp Boat have secured a steady flow of visitors to this day. Locals will agree, there was a turning point for St. Andrews in 2007 with the completion of the 116-unit development of Harbour Village Condominiums. In addition to the residential units and expansive common areas, approximately 12,000 square feet of commercial space and a 37-slip private marina occupy the area that once was the Ramada Inn Hotel with its popular C. Shell lounge, named after the owner, Claude Shell. A stark contrast to existing housing, the condos at Harbour Village sold for prices in the range of $250,000 for a two-bedroom unit and $450,000 for a three-bedroom unit. The eight available penthouse units sold for an average of $750,000. “It was good timing,” says Dr. Carton S. Schwartz, a longtime resident of Bay County and self-made man who, in partnership with other developers, planned and constructed Harbour Village. By the beginning of 2007, six months after they went on the market, all units had sold. A year later the Real Estate market collapsed. “We sold the condos at reasonable prices. Many of the buyers were able to make it through the downturn and see an increase in their value today.”

Harbour Village Condominiums is the newest and only development of its kind in Panama City. In addition to stunning waterviews and beautiful amenities, residents appreciate access to 10-acre Oaks by the Bay Park, lush landscaped areas, the walking-distance to shops and popular restaurants, and the “neighborhood-feel.” “In addition to the location next to the park and the working marina across the street, one of the unique things you will not see anywhere else is the parking garage,” Dr. Schwartz points out. “On the initial plans, we only had a parking lot. We planned to put a metal roof on it and after some creative thinking we decided to add a completely landscaped park on the rooftop complete with fountain and gazebo. We thought it would probably cost a little bit more. Well, it ended up costing about three million dollars more. We had to put reinforced, pre-stressed concrete with pilings underground for the parking garage. The roof had to be poured in sections. It holds about four feet of soil underneath a manicured lawn. We had to bring soil up and dump it and then add the flower beds. It adds valuable outdoor recreational space. The setting of the gazebo is so beautiful it hosts weddings frequently. To this day, the units rarely come on the market–if they do, they sell quickly. Locals and second-home owners live here in a 60 to 40 percent ratio. We wanted to attract local residents to ensure steady business for our retailers and restaurants.” Dr. Schwartz is a self-made man who runs like clockwork–he is the first to set foot in his office every working day and often the last one out. While he mentions retirement often, he most certainly will always have several simultaneous projects that any other person would refer to as “work” but he will most always call them “opportunities.” When they presented themselves throughout the years, he rarely hesitated. The Harbour Village project started in the year 2000 with Dr. Schwartz as one of three business partners purchasing the Ramada Inn in St. Andrews from local businessman Claude Shell. The hotel had seen its heyday in the 1960s to the mid-80s. Improvements were needed. The other two investors were Robert Latimer of Knoxville, Tennessee, and George Wilson of Dothan, Alabama. “When we bought it originally, we were going to convert the hotel rooms to condo units. The conversion did not require a total set of development orders.” Shortly after remodeling the first two hotel rooms to a one-bedroom model unit, Louisiana based developers Le Triomphe Property Group proposed a partnership in a large-scale development of the property. A brand-new corporation, North Florida Development Group LLC was founded which would later become Harbour Village Condominiums. The demolition of the Ramada Inn started in 2004, heralding the rebirth of the St. Andrews area. The completion of the condo development in 2007 was accompanied by governmental revitalization efforts. “We had a waiting list of buyers,” Dr. Schwartz remembers. A waiting list exists to this day, with units selling quickly when they come on the market. Rental units almost never come available but there is a long list of people who are looking to rent. As current residents Chuck and Charla Perdue point out, “locals live here.”

DR. CARLTON S. SCHWARTZ
D E V E LO P E R ‘ S P E R S P E C T I V E

Coming to Panama City, Florida as a Captain stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Dr. Schwartz always had an exceptional entrepreneurial drive. “I started as a chemist but then decided that dentistry was a better way to serve mankind and had a solid income potential.” Originally from Ohio, he received a full basketball scholarship to Florida Southern College in Lakeland and graduated with a bachelor of science in chemistry. “I worked one year as a chemist. During that time, I applied to dental school.” He graduated from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia in 1971. “It was during the last two years of the Vietnam war. Immediately after graduating from dental school I became a Captain in the Air Force and was stationed at Tyndall until 1973 when the war ended.” His first child was still a toddler and the community of Lynn Haven seemed ideal to open a dental practice and raise a family. “Highway 77 was still a two-lane road when I built my first dental office in 1973,” he explains. “I was the only dentist in Lynn Haven for ten years. There were only about 4,000 people in Lynn Haven at the time. It was a pleasant little village.” His very first property purchase was fateful. “I was one of only two people who showed up at a property auction. The other person was H.B. James who was very well known locally. We started bidding on the property. He’d bid, and then I’d bid, and he’d bid. And he said, “Wait a minute. Come over here, boy.” He was much older than I was and asked me why I kept jacking up the price. “It’s not going to be worth that,” he said. I admitted that this was the first piece of commercial property I had ever bought. I told him I wanted it because it was near my home and I thought I could fix it up and manage it. He looked at me for a while, I was still wearing my uniform at the time, and he decided I could have the property.” This incident sparked his interest in real estate. “When I got out of the service, I was able to go right into practice. But I also took the real estate licensing course at the same time.” At some point, he owned 12 commercial properties in Lynn Haven while running the area’s largest largest dental practice, North Bay Dental Center. By that time, his family included three children; daughters Shannon and Pamela, and son Michael. He later had business partners and eventually sold the practice to them only to start a new practice in Panama City Beach once his non-compete clause expired. Most of his business ventures were extremely successful. He was a bigger risk-taker in his early life, he admits. In 1998 he started developing the neighborhood of Dolphin Bay in Panama City Beach. With phases one to four completed, he currently is in the process of developing the fifth phase with the construction of several townhomes or single-family units. Other current projects inlcude one of his industrial-zoned land tracts in Southport which is being developed into a barge terminal where 200-foot barges will be offloading aggregate. He purchased and successfully manages the commercial units at one of Bay County’s established neighborhoods, Baytown at Bay Point. Not too long ago he owned a blueberry farm, enthusiastically supplying local supermarkets with freshly harvested blueberries. He still owns and operates “Turkey Pen Pond Plantation,” a 325-acre tree farm and hunting lodge. Several other ventures are keeping him busy. Not to forget, Dr. Schwartz called the Lynn Haven Rotary Club to life as a charter member and served it proudly for 40+ years. Along the way, there were tragedies. He always carries a spare copy of “Eight is Enough, A True Story of Life, Death, Faith, Hope + Love,” authored by his daughter, Shannon Alford. It is a heartfelt account of how she and husband Sion adopted their five nephews and nieces. Michael Schwartz had passed away at age 39, followed by his widow, Stacey, three years later. The circumstances and events left the family broken but determined. Shannon and Sion Alford, with three children of their own, decided to give their five orphaned nephews and nieces a new home. Dr. Schwartz has ensured their financial support throughout the years. Today, Shannon and family live in Dallas, Texas. Daughter Pamela and family live in Hartford, Connecticut. Most of the grandkids are either working in different cities or attend college. It is tough to get everyone together at one time but for the recent early celebration of his 75th birthday, his two daughters, and most of the grandkids came together. Dentistry has remained a lifelong profession. Following his first practice in 1973, he founded and sold two more dental practices. He provided volunteer work as clinical dental missionary in the 1990s, and has taught clinical dentistry classes at Gulf Coast State College throughout the years–which he still does twice a week to this day. He also sees patients twice a week as a provider for Senior Dental Care, Inc. In 2012, he combined dentistry with real estate expertise as a broker of dental pracices for Doctor’s Choice LLC in Jupiter, FL, representing a region from Tallahassee to Pensacola. How is he doing all this in one lifetime? He likes to keep busy, he explains. There is always a spring in his step and a wide smile on his face as he minds his own businesses with full support from his second wife, Cindy. He admits, there were a few failures. “It’s like everything. The higher the risk you take, the higher your reward. The name of the game is win more than you lose. My profits have outlasted my losses. But none of us really own anything. I fully realize that God owns everything. We are simply his stewards assigned by him to take good care of things down here to the best of our abilities. I want to be known as a good steward.”

 

 

Val Schoger

After nine years of working in media, PR and marketing with international engagements in Germany, England, the Caribbean, and the United States, Val first traveled to the Gulf Coast and subsequently to Navarre, Florida in 2003. She was immediately smitten with Northwest Florida and considers it her chosen home. She is excited about the opportunity to share perspectives, innovative ideas, and success stories as the publisher of a magazine that helps promote one of Florida's fastest growing areas.

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