After Chris Brown’s parents retired from Wisconsin to Sarasota in the 1980s, he began visiting them regularly.
“As most people do, I fell in love with Sarasota,” I said.
He was in his 20s, still trying to decide what he wanted to do in life, so he packed up and moved.
“I didn’t have much money but was just very excited, as most 20-year-olds would be,” he said.
It didn’t take Brown long to get to know a couple of automobile wholesalers. Soon, he was buying and selling vehicles himself, working with dealers and going to auctions.
Then, he discovered a four-plex on Siesta Key. He talked his parents into splitting the cost of it with him, and he rented the other three units while living in the fourth.
As his auto dealer network grew, he began thinking about getting into the real estate market. Within a year, Brown was able to borrow money from a bank to buy out his parents’ half of the four-plex. Next, he bought the duplex next door, then the duplex on the other side. “
It snowballed,” he said of his property holdings.
Before long, he was buying apartment buildings and strip malls on the Tamiami Trail.
Brown met his future wife at a car dealership, he said; she was in town on vacation. After they married, they began talking about his property holdings.
“Real estate was getting kind of crazy at the time,” he said, pointing out that in 2004, property values were going up 20% per year. “It just didn’t make business sense to me.”
They liquidated most of their portfolio in 2005 and 2006.
“We got lucky,” he said.
However, about the same time, two pieces of property, at the only intersection in the Village, came on the market — the Beach Club and the site across the street where the Tropical Breeze Resort office and the China Dragon restaurant stood. Even though the asking prices were high, the Browns bought both parcels.
He was cognizant, he said, that properties like that in the Village “do not become available very often.”
Dating to 1947, The Beach Club “is an institution that speaks for itself,” Brown said. When he moved to Sarasota, he added, it was among the “few places where you hung out.”
Rumor has it, he said, that Jimi Hendrix once played there.
Brown decided to open a restaurant on the other parcel — The Hub Baja Grill — and that was when he encountered problems with Sarasota County government, leading to the first of three lawsuits he has filed against the county, primarily over parking issues.
Brown also owns The Cottage restaurant and the property where Blu Smoke Island Grill stands.
When residents complain about traffic and noise, Brown said, they should realize that visitors “are here for the same reason I came here 20 years ago (to enjoy the paradise that is Siesta Key).
“When I see a Michigan license plate, I let them cut in front of me,” he said. “They’re part of the reason we don’t have a state income tax.
“We have to learn to embrace (change on the Key) and manage it … and everything will work out, because we can’t stop it,” he said.
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