Real estate developer Ken Good remembered, fondly by some, not so much by others

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(I read today that Tampa Palms developer Ken Good died on August 13, 2011, in Dallas. He had a profound and lasting impact on the Tampa Bay area in the late 1980s and I was reminded of a profile I wrote about him for the old Tampa Bay Life glossy magazine. I’m reprinting it here–as I submitted it on October 26, 1990, not in its final printed version–admitting all the while that this is a bit off topic for Mr. Media. But Good was quite the celebrity in his time in Florida, and a lasting reminder that if something or someone seems too good to be true, he, she or it probably is.)

By Bob Andelman

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“Hear ye, hear ye! A mortgage foreclosure sale!”

Within minutes, case 90-460, Barnett Bank v. Kenneth M. Good, is over and one of the great rollercoaster rides in Tampa real estate history comes screeching to a close. Only one of the two dozen people waiting outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse steps forward to bid on the 5,000-square foot golf course home of the bankrupt developer of Tampa Palms. The sole bidder represents the bank that forced the foreclosure.

“Plaintiff bids $422,000,” says J. Alan Asendorf, attorney for Barnett Bank.

“Do I hear another bid?” asks the circuit court clerk conducting the sale. “Going once… going twice … Sold to the plaintiff!”

A week later a few Tampans are given the opportunity to look over furnishings of Good’s home at a garage sale as he counts down the days before the bank takes possession and he is out on the street for the second time in as many years. (His 33,000-square foot, $2.5-million Denver mansion was lost in a 1989 foreclosure suit by the Columbia Savings and Loan Association of Denver.)

Is this an end befitting a legend?

That depends upon which legend one chooses to remember.

Is it the man who over-leveraged and debt-ratioed himself into financial ruin? The man who is running a close third behind Charles Keating and Neil Bush as official poster boy for the S&L crisis?

Or … is it the visionary who saved Tampa Palms from becoming a 9,100-acre, cookie-cutter tract development and instead turned it into the residential jewel of Hillsborough County, a much-copied and honored master-planned community? Is Ken Good the man who endowed two $600,000 chairs at the University of South Florida, donated a house to the Tampa Museum of Art, offered 100 acres of land to lure an Olympics training site to Tampa, bought a table at every charity fundraiser in town and donated a fountain valued at $900,000 to the city of Tampa?

In reality, Ken Good, 46, is both of these people, yin and yang, the ruined financial wizard and the benevolent community spirit.

Good — whose net worth was estimated at $100-million in the mid-1980s — came to Tampa from Denver in January 1985 after buying the 5,400-acre Tampa Palms site from the Deltona Corp. for $37.9-million. He also acquired Gulfstream Land & Development Co., which became parent company to Tampa Palms. Good continued buying raw land adjacent to Tampa Palms in the years that followed, bringing the total site to 9,100 acres.

The developer reshaped Tampa Palms into a multi-level residential community offering everything from $60,000 condos in Palma Vista to $1-million luxury homes in an exclusive, gated sub-division called The Reserve.

Real estate reporters doted on Good and the Palms, creating a stream of stories over the years about new homes, designs, national tournaments at the Tampa Palms Golf Course and so on. His troubled background was largely ignored.

Two years ago, at the precipice of impending doom, Good was unmistakably upbeat. He claimed to have passed out copies of Bobby McFerrin’s hit song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to all his managers.

Meanwhile, Good built an estimated $200-million in debt. The figure was not outlandish for a major developer but was exacerbated by the collapse of home sales, the general real estate market and the sluggishness of the entire economy. Banks and other creditors took control of Tampa Palms, Gulfstream and other Good properties.

Stories began to filter out that Good had been involved in questionable dealings with Neil Bush, son of the President. Good and Bush were linked to the collapse of Colorado-based Silverado Banking Savings and Loan Association. Subsequently it was revealed that Bush was a director of Good’s Gulfstream Holding Co.; that Good was a major borrower at Silverado while Bush was a director; and that Good invested in and became a partner with Bush in JNB Exploration Co. He was called to testify before Congress.

Turns out that Good — to quote Lou Costello — was a baaaaaad boy.

But in the unfolding drama of the nation’s spreading twins of fiscal typhoid, the banking and real estate collapses, Good has become a national symbol of what’s wrong with American business and its businessmen. The Tampa Tribune ran a “GoodWatch” in its Monday business tabloid for weeks, poking fun at the developer’s misfortunes and encouraging readers to contact the newspaper if he was spotted around town. His name appeared — albeit less humorously — in a regular diet of stories published by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time, Newsweek and Business Week.

All of the good works he accomplished in Tampa were swept aside in the rush to nail him for the sins and poor judgement of the country’s S&L directors.

Tampa friends have put distance between him and them. Where once Tampa’s leading citizens elbowed each other to get close to him, to attach his golden good name to their charities, now many want no part of him.

“Weren’t you once a friend of Ken Good’s?”

“No comment.”

In response to an interview request, Mayor Sandy Freedman responded with a complimentary but curt statement read by her spokesman: “He did good things for the community while he was here. He worked with non-profits and made a lot of contributions to various organizations. He also brought a major residential project to Florida.” Freedman, who served on the Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club’s founding board of governors, was unwilling to answer direct questions regarding Good.

Even on the promise of anonymity, several former business associates refused to talk about the ruined real estate developer.

“It’s kicking a dead horse or praising a dead horse,” says one.

“I don’t think anybody wants their name associated with Ken Good,” says another. “This is going to be a tough story to tell because people are unwilling to associate themselves with him or out of loyalty they don’t want to talk about him when he’s down.”

Good came to town and brought many close friends and long-time associates with him. He made acquaintances in Tampa — many among the ladies, according to the rumor mill — but few close friendships flourished because Good was never in one place very long. He was in Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Virginia, Denver and New York with such regularity it probably prevented people from getting too close or familiar. That may be part of why it’s easy for even those who know him best to put distance between them.

“Ken is brilliant. Some would say too smart,” says his friend and frequent dinner companion Camille Roberts, a vice president of the Tampa-based real estate consulting firm of Bissett McGrath Co. “He’s a high-roller. Everybody wanted to get to know him, use him. He would show people how to do deals that couldn’t be done. Now all they do is bad-mouth him. They don’t take into consideration that it was the economy that went bad. People blame him for the economy. It wasn’t his fault people weren’t buying homes fast enough.”

“It’s funny how when someone starts to stumble that people forget what they did when they were successful,” adds Don Whyte, a long-time Good lieutenant who moved with the developer from Denver to be vice president of finance at Tampa Palms. “There are some gifts that Ken gave the community that will last. He was always prepared to contribute financially if he thought the cause was worthwhile. The sculpture to the Tampa Convention Center, the gifts to USF. Those don’t disappear. They have lasting benefits.”

Of course, this is probably the time to point out what many people will say, that it’s easy enough to give away money if it’s somebody else’s money.

Still, a number of his friends are gathered here, not to bury Caesar but to praise him.

Tampa Palms

Steve Kuzma is a native Floridian. He lived in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando before moving his family to Tampa Palms in 1986, one of the first settlers in the fledgling community.

“What I liked was it was away from the city and it was a planned development, not just a few blocks,” says the senior manager in litigation support at the accounting firm of Ernst & Young. “I knew what was going to be across the street from me and next to me. I liked the variety of homestyles. It wasn’t going to look like a tract development.

“I have one of the Gulfstream homes,” he says. “I’ve always been real happy. It’s appreciated significantly in the years we’ve been there.”

If Ken Good did nothing else in Tampa, Tampa Palms would still remain a beacon to one man’s vision and over-achievement. In 1986, Tampa Palms was little more than an administrative building, an inviting sign and big promises. Three years later it was a full-fledged community with scout troops, a $17-million golf and country club and a name as recognized as Carrollwood, Countryside or Hyde Park.

It was named 1988’s Top Master-Planned Community by the National Association of Home Builders. The 11-state Southeast Builders Conference awarded Tampa Palms its Aurora Award for being one of the southeast’s 10 best planned communities. It also was recipient of the Florida Association of Realtors’ 1988 ENVY Award for being the best environmentally designed community in the state.

Tampa Palms was Ken Good’s Trump Plaza.

It established Bruce B. Downs Blvd. as a desirable business and residential location — eventually expected to provide homes for 13,000 people. It open the floodgates to development along the new Interstate 75/Tampa Parkway.

One of those developments was the Hidden River Corporate Park. Developer Joe Taggart feels Good deserves a lot of credit for making his upscale office park desirable to national corporations considering relocation to Tampa.

“We’ve had people wanting to move here and live at either Tampa Palms or Hunter’s Green,” he says. “I respected Ken for his vision. But developers are not averse to risk. That’s what developing is. It’s gambling. He had a great piece of dirt, the concept was good. If the housing market hadn’t dried up, he’d still be rolling along.”

“Ken Good put Tampa on the map with one project,” agrees George Sturdivant, director of client services for Heidt & Associates, the civil engineering firm which laid out Tampa Palms. “They set a standard of excellence there and others have followed. We appreciated what he did for our company. He stayed with us and we stayed with him. There were some rough times — particularly when we weren’t being paid — but it worked out.”

Sturdivant says one of the most striking differences between Tampa Palms and the mammoth residential projects which preceded it was the way two-thirds of the Palms was preserved in its natural setting and will never be developed.

“They did it because they were going to have to do it anyway. But it demonstrated to other developers that they had to take a different approach. They had to approach the value of environmental areas aesthetically and practically. These could be plusses, even though developers hated to lose the acreage,” says Sturdivant.

Tampa Palms even employed its own full-time environmentalist to oversee protected areas of the 9,100-acre tract.

Unlike Denver and Dallas where Good is recalled as a man of big talk and little action, he truly left his thumbprint on Tampa Palms.

“It was always very different from the type of activity in Denver and Dallas,” according to Don Whyte. “Tampa Palms could not have been pulled off by somebody if they did not have a grand plan. Deltona would have done it quite differently. Ken came in and envisioned an assemblage that was more ambitious than most people could dream of. And he put 90 percent of it together. It’s unfortunate you can’t point to it and say it’s a financial success. There’s a lot of reasons Tampa Palms could not succeed, but the property itself is a tremendous success story.”

Good is a “big picture” guy. He sketches the big picture — in this case, a master-planned community — and passes it to lieutenants who give it texture, depth and color. He saw 9,100 acres of raw land, envisioned a self-supporting community and told his hand-picked associates to make it so. As successful as Tampa Palms is, some would say he has two skills — that vision thing and an eye for talent.

“I don’t think Ken Good is unusual in the way he manages things,” says a former employee. “There are a lot of big picture guys. They’re gunslingers. They get things done. It may be a lot of bravado, but that’s the style of the real estate gunslinger.

“The good news is they take chances,” he says. “The bad news is they lose their shirts.”

Whit Ward knows the developer mentality. As executive director of the Builders Association of Greater Tampa, he’s seen them come and go, pushing the envelope and bursting the bubble. Ward thinks Good was the genuine article.

“Whatever else the man is, he’s a man of vision,” credits Ward. “Had the economy been different and his situation with Tampa Palms been different, you would hear today’s critics continue to talk about what a brilliant person he was. He pioneered development in the northeastern section of the county. Tampa Palms is an extremely well-planned community. When you have a self-made person, the economic conditions may not be favorable through their whole lifetime. If they are, they become Rockefeller. If not, they have setbacks.

“The only thing that’s out of Tampa Palms is Ken Good,” he says. “The master-planned community is still there, the value is still there. That area is selling or closing as many houses as any area in the upper price range in Hillsborough County. The people who bought homes there have an excellent value on the dollar that matches anything in the county. Good’s vision is still there. He’s just not there to reap the financial benefit from the project.”

It is to Good’s credit that all the negative publicity about Tampa Palms and Gulfstream is aimed at him. His lieutenants — Jim Apthorp, Bill Livingston and Don Whyte — have been largely untouched by the boss’s scandal.

“I was a part of that and I’m the president of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce now,” says Jim Apthorp, executive vice president of Gulfstream under Good and now a consultant to Tampa Palms. “I think a lot of people, including Ken, are trying to restructure careers and get themselves squared away.”

“I don’t think it’s hurt me, either,” says Don Whyte, who has begun a real estate consulting firm with former Tampa Palms President Bill Livingston. “I don’t think anybody has held anything against anybody from Tampa Palms except Ken Good, personally.”

University of South Florida

A search is currently on to fill the $600,000 Sam M. Gibbons Endowed Chair in Architecture and Urban Design at the University of South Florida, which the Good Gulfstream Foundation endowed in 1986.

As in the bulk of his philanthropic activities, Good was not the instigator of the endowed chair. He met Joe Busta — then USF’s vice president for development and alumni affairs and now vice president for advancement at Auburn University — through Jim Apthorp.

“Ken and Jim both had a strong commitment to reinvestment in the community where they were doing business,” recalls Busta. “We had a meeting with Ken. He wanted to do something to support the university in a significant way. He felt the university offered the best chance for long-term economic development for Tampa.”

Busta says Good created a program for 25 scholarships valued at $5,000 each, which was the largest program the school had at the time.

Additionally, Good committed to funding two Eminent Scholars chairs. “One was funded right away, the other was one payment away when I left” in mid-1990, he says.

There’s no doubt in Busta’s mind that Good’s heart was in the right place.

“Ken has a very interesting personality,” he says. “He was a very gregarious person. But his commitment to the institution was unquestionable and unwavering. Whenever we had an opportunity to do something at the university and needed community support — new businesses we were trying to attract, briefing our needs to a legislative delegation — he was willing to make statements, play host at Tampa Palms or attend (functions) at the university. He was very supportive.”

Another scholarship project of Good’s making met with mixed results.

Good contacted the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute (ULI) a few years ago and said he’d like to create $100,000 in scholarships in the name of his mentor, Dallas developer Henry S. Miller, Jr.. The money was to come out of the Good Gulfstream Foundation annually for 10 years.

For the next two years, the foundation paid ULI and everyone was happy. By the third year, 1989, Good’s well had run dry. By the time ULI learned there would be no money coming from the Good Gulfstream Foundation it had already committed the funds to students. ULI had to take the money out of its own coffers.

To make matters worse, the year Good failed to deliver, he invited the students to fly to ULI’s annual meeting in San Francisco. Good said he’d pay for the trip and ULI advanced the money — $18,000. He never reimbursed the institute.

“What I understand is the assets of the foundation was in property and they were unable to sell the property,” says Rachelle Levitt, staff vice president for education at the institute. “The year they paid us, it was with borrowed money. The person at the foundation told us they never had the cash, that they had borrowed it against the property.

“I’ve been with ULI for nine years,” she says, “and we’ve never had a problem with someone not coming through. I do believe he was well-intentioned. The motivation wasn’t clear. He didn’t seem to have any self-serving reasons. He just seemed to be benevolent — at the time.”

The Arts

Joe Abrahams is administrator of parks, recreation and cultural services for Tampa. He believes Good’s actions will have long-term significance for the cultural health of the city.

“Number one,” according to Abrahams, “he made a donation of an artistic fountain by Yaacov Agam that is estimated to be worth $900,000. It will be installed at the new convention center. We have the (University of Tampa) minarets; the fountain could be the second thing that becomes associated with Tampa.”

“It will be a work of fascination,” says Andrew Maass, director of the Tampa Museum of Art. “All of Agam’s work revolves around color and motion. He likes to play with the way one color or illusion changes to another. It’s kinetic and that creates interest. People will be fascinated by it and it will be a magnet for the convention center.”

Larger sculptures by Agam are displayed publicly in Chicago and Miami.

“It was a wonderful gesture,” says Maass. “One helluva gesture.”

The fountain was previously featured at Good’s Denver home. Abrahams says that the developer learned Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman was an admirer of Agam’s and he decided to make it a gift to the convention center. Freedman took personal charge of many aspects of the center and Good knew the sculpture would please her.

Couldn’t the developer simply have made a less costly contribution to the mayor’s re-election campaign if he wanted to impress her and earn her favor?

“He could have done that and gotten in her good book,” Abrahams concedes. “But it was more than that. And I don’t think it was tied with any favor in return. I think he had a feel for the relationship between the arts and development. He just wanted to make a contribution to the community. I don’t think there was any ulterior motive. He didn’t even want the publicity we tried to tie him with when we made the announcement.”

Following the initial hoopla of the announcement of Good’s donation came a wave of negative publicity when the developer’s financial woes began to multiply and he was unable to bear the cost of installing the fountain, estimated at $30,000.

“A $900,000 item and we’re going to invest $30,000? Is it worth it? Sure,” says Abrahams.

Abrahams says when the fountain is formally unveiled and dedicated, Good’s name will be prominent.

“We’re not going to deprive his name of the credit that is deserved,” says the parks director. “We will probably come up with a permanent plaque that indicates it was a donation from him.”

Good’s other act of benevolence toward the arts involved the donation of a Tampa Palms home to the Tampa Museum of Art. It was auctioned to the highest bidder, bringing $100,000 to the museum. “That $100,000 was the single highest gift the museum ever received,” according to Maass. “We received the check as things were starting to crumble (for Good). But the check cleared.”

Maass — who is frequently mistaken for Good (“bearded and bald,” he quips) — says the developer invested much time and energy to museum fundraisers, corporate breakfasts and that he attended most openings.

“He sparked attention for the arts. Whether or not you would call what he did grandstanding, he raised the visibility of the arts. The impression I had was of a person who would like to make the grand gesture. He wanted to be the gem but he was uncut. He had rough edges. He was the opposite of champagne taste on a beer budget.”

Olympics

Under the category of what might have been, Good was approached a few years ago by a number of prominent Tampans — including George Steinbrenner and Tampa Tribune Sports Editor Tom McEwen — to donate a site for a potential Olympic training site. Good promised the group a plot of 100 acres at Tampa Palms if they could convince the U.S. Olympic Committee to locate some training activities here.

Good even became chairman of the local group.

“He did a great job. He went all out on that bid,” according to Jimmy Carnes, chairman of site selection for U.S. Olympic training centers and a co-founder of the Athletic Attic sporting goods chain. “He was a very nice fella, good to work with and always delivered on anything he (promised).”

The U.S. had an existing training center in Colorado Springs with a second under construction in San Diego. Supporters wanted to bring a third to the east coast. But just having the land wasn’t enough. Under the anticipated weight of $50-million-plus to build such a facility, the proposal withered and died.

Devil or Just That Darned Developer?

Not many people can easily describe Ken Good.

“I have nothing but respect for him intellectually and for his ability to think outside the box. Tremendously creative. A doer who not only conceives of things but finds a way to make them happen,” says Don Whyte.

But what’s he like?

“I would be at a loss for words,” says Whyte. “Ken’s a difficult person to describe, to get close to and get to know well.”

This from a man who has known Good a long, long time.

“He may be a little like Don Quixote,” romanticizes George Sturdivant. “His thinking process is entirely different in terms of finances than anyone I’ve ever come across. It was probably over everybody’s head and that was to his detriment. The way he anticipated leveraging things, he needed the economy to turn big time. If it had, he would’ve been a hero.”

Camille Roberts thinks she knows why so many people felt like Good perpetually kept them at arm’s length. “Ken is like — I don’t want to say the absent-minded professor, but he’s one of those smart people who doesn’t deal well on a basic level. He doesn’t do small talk with people who don’t have anything to offer. He doesn’t deal well with Joe Blow.

“I don’t think he’s the kind of guy who went out to hurt anybody,” she adds. “He’s just a gambler. People who are in the real estate community know Ken was not the reason Tampa Palms went back to the Bank of Boston and Citicorp. In the S&L mess, they’re going to take the most colorful characters and he’s one of them.”

Roberts doesn’t expect Good — who is living in New York’s SoHo district — will ever return to Tampa to do business. “He’s a Colorado guy,” she says.

Fran Davin, executive director of the Tampa Parkway Association — of which Tampa Palms is a member — says while he was here, Good was of the community, not just in it. “He wasn’t a hit and run,” she says. “I don’t know what his corporate and personal commitments in Texas and Colorado were, but his involvement here was real.”

Whyte doesn’t believe there’s anything to be gained from a reconsideration of Ken Good’s community acts. He points to other big givers in town and says his former boss was just doing what he thought was expected of him.

“Ken saw that to be involved in Tampa you had to give more than lip service,” according to Whyte. “The people who had an appreciation for what was done still have that appreciation. And there’s an awful lot of business leaders in this community — people like Hugh Culverhouse — who give a lot back. If you look at what Culverhouse has given just to USF, it’s phenomenal.”

Besides, it’s good business.

Ken Good is not only a visionary with a talent for juggling dollar bills with lots of zeroes, he is a showman. Flamboyant, gregarious, fast-lane, neon lights — he knew how to turn people on. In Tampa, being the candy man with charity works well.

“It’s great business,” says Whyte. “It’s a great way to show the name of the community before the public, that you’re here and you’re real, that you’ll be here tomorrow. That sounds bad today, but Ken sincerely believed in giving back to the community.”

Joe Abrahams says it’s human nature to jump on someone when they’re down and out, even if it artificially accelerates the plunge.

“When people get in trouble, no matter what it is,” he says, “people drop them, they don’t want people to know they’re still associated with them. I suppose there’s also a group of people who look at the end result differently. If I was in business with Ken, I might feel the same way towards him now. You know who I compare him to? Steinbrenner. He’s a helluva nice guy. But with everything that’s happened with the Yankees, people cast him aside. If you write a complimentary article about him, there’s a lot of people who would not believe a word of it. Ken Good is like that.”

It’s impossible to separate the two Ken Goods. But even if the developer is the monster he’s been painted, some in Tampa have reason to think well of this quirky, gifted developer. And Tampa’s best, brightest and richest shouldn’t be too quick to throw stones. Something big, hairy and financially messy may be gaining on them, too:

Times are tough. They may get tougher. Today’s civically correct businessman may be tomorrow’s black hole. It may be time to decide if we’re going to throw our corporate babes out with their dirty bathwater or if we’re going to hang tough with them in the bad times and remember the days when they made us proud.

“A person is responsible for everything they’re involved in,” says Joe Busta. “But Tampa does owe Ken Good for making a change in the way the community does business and thinks. The scale of Tampa Palms changed the whole market and led to other developments. He caused city government to view things differently — seeing annexation as sweet things. He caused the city council to see the county as a bigger place than the downtown core. His presence changed the course of the city. Some people will be reluctant to admit that, but it’s a fact.”

Bob Andelman is the author or co-author of 12 books, including Mind Over Business with Ken Baum, The Consulate with Thomas R. Stutler, The Profiler with Pat Brown, Built From Scratch with the founders of The Home Depot, The Profit Zone with Adrian Slywotzky, Mean Business with Albert J. Dunlap, and Will Eisner: A Spirited Life. Click here to see Bob Andelman’s Amazon Central author page. He is a member in good standing of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (member page).  [Get Copyright Permissions]Copyright 2011 Bob Andelman. Click here for copyright permissions!

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