Long view: Developer sees post-lockdown surge of activity as trends converge

From The Business Observer

Ronto Group, a privately held Naples-based developer of luxury condo towers up and down the Gulf Coast, planned the 22-story Altura Bayshore well before the coronavirus pandemic changed life as we know it. But in retrospect, the building’s design and amenities seem almost prescient. 

Designed by Curts Gaines Hall Jones Architects, the $80 million South Tampa project — at 2907 S. Ysabella Ave., overlooking the city’s renowned Bayshore Boulevard — features a host of bells and whistles, such as private elevators, that will appeal to buyers in the new era of social distancing. 

However, after opening a sales center for Altura Bayshore in December, Ronto Group was forced to shutter it when the pandemic struck. 

“Having to shut the sales office for a couple months was not what we wanted to do,” says Anthony Solomon, the second-generation owner of Ronto Group who’s run the firm since 2008. “But it had to be done for everyone’s safety.” 

‘It’s been a trying time seeing what’s happening around the country … but one of the unintended consequences [of the pandemic] is that you started having people want to come to Florida to get out of New York or New Jersey or wherever.’ Anthony Solomon, owner of Ronto Group, a Naples-based developer

Solomon, 45, says he didn’t let the economic shutdown throw him and his team off track: They quickly shifted their sales presentations to video conferencing platforms like Zoom. In another prescient move, Ronto Group invested in the development of videos that would give potential buyers a virtual yet lifelike “fly-through” look at Altura Bayshore, inside and out, even though construction won’t begin in earnest until next year. That served to highlight the development’s many features, like pickleball and bocce courts, putting green and a dog-walking area, that appeal to people who are now spending much more of their time at home. 

“We’re fortunate that we planned it with all these great outdoor spaces, private elevators and things like that,” Solomon says. We have everything that people are focused on. All of that was baked into the plan beforehand, so we haven’t had to make any changes and we’re certainly reaping the benefits now.” 

The project timeline also proved to be a blessing in disguise, because Ronto Group didn’t have to lay off or furlough any of its 35 employees, or halt construction, Solomon says. During the time it couldn’t make sales presentations in person, the company invested in its website, tweaking it so it would get more traffic from people stuck in their homes. For example, Ronto Group added a button to the Altura Bayshore homepage that, when clicked on, would take users directly to a page where they could sign up for a virtual presentation. 

“People have been reaching out for Zoom presentations,” Solomon says. “They’re educating themselves. So now, when they come in, they’re zeroed in on which floor plan they like and what features they’re after, and they come with a good list of questions that we can answer.”

Anthony Solomon
Anthony Solomon Executive VP / Owner, The Ronto Group

Ronto Group hoped for the best, but expected the worst — so Solomon was pleasantly surprised when four buyers made reservations, which require deposits, in mid-July as soon as the sales office reopened. (A deposit for a residence in Altura ranges from $25,000 for a regular unit to $50,000 for a penthouse unit. Residences are priced between $1 million and $2.9 million.)

“Nobody really knew what to expect, post-COVID,” Solomon says. “It’s been a trying time seeing what’s happening around the country … but one of the unintended consequences [of the pandemic] is that you started having people want to come to Florida to get out of New York or New Jersey or wherever.”

A rendering of Ronto Group’s Altura Bayshore project in Tampa.

Solomon estimates about a third of Altura Bayshore’s 18 reservations have come from out-of-town buyers. It’s a trend he foresaw when residents of the Miami area, a coronavirus hotspot, began buying units at Ronto Group’s projects in Naples. But in a sign of Altura’s broad appeal, other trends have also converged to drive sales. 

“The balance of our market (is) who we thought it would be: people who are living in South Tampa that are ready to move to high-rise living,” he says. “We also have a lot of people from the north Tampa Bay area ready to get out of gated communities.” 

Another design differentiator, Solomon says, is the way the residences have been envisioned as “thru units,” meaning they offer views to both the east and west, while the end units offer views in three directions.

“We’re delivering by far the best value for a new tower on the Bayshore corridor,” he says. “With these ‘see-through,’ front-to-back units, you get a view out of both sides. It’s amazing — every unit has a view of the bay.”