Developer Carlos Beruff: modest beginnings to multimillion-dollar business

MANATEE -- Carlos Beruff was born in Miami, the son of parents who emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba.

Property rights are important to him because his parents' land was taken from them, he told a roomful of people at a meeting in Cortez.

Beruff was facing a mostly hostile crowd of residents opposed to his plans to build a "coastal resort" on Long Bar Pointe, a bucolic corner of southwest Manatee County and one of its last remaining undeveloped stretches of coastline.

"Unfortunately, not everyone sees things the way you see them," he told the crowd.

In recalling his early years, Beruff reiterated that he and his business partner, Larry Lieberman, had the right to develop the roughly 500 acres overlooking Sarasota Bay.

A political foe, former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, rebutted: "All he's entitled to is reasonable use of his property."

Beruff, now in his mid-50s, calls Parrish his home. He considers himself lucky to have arrived in Manatee County at the age of 22.

He started out as a salesman for U.S. Home. From that modest beginning, he built his own business, founding Bradenton-based Medallion Home in 1984.

Beruff's company closed on 142 home sales in 2011, generating $42.6 million in revenues, according to an interview last year in the Gulf Coast Business Review. Employment at the firm is back to pre-recession levels, at about 50.

His projects in Manatee include Country Meadows; Gamble Creek Estates & Preserve; The Inlets; Riva Trace, River Plantation; and Twin Rivers.

In addition to his many business dealings, he holds a half-dozen influential posts through myriad public and private connections that some say give him too much power.

His attorney, Ed Vogler II, counters: "Voluntary community leadership does not create a conflict of interest."

Among Beruff's many civic roles: He chairs the board of trustees at Bradenton's State College of Florida; he represents Manatee County on the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority; and he chairs the board of governors for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

It is Beruff's position on the water district board that opponents of his project consider the largest potential conflict of interest. The agency must issue a permit in order for the Long Bar Pointe project to go forward.

Asked about that possibility, Lieberman explained last week that Beruff is "always conscious of potential conflict to the extent that, before we even went to the county with our plan, Mr. Beruff had several officials of Swiftmud view the site, and he said to them: 'If you have a problem anywhere with what we're doing, you tell me, and we will not do it.'"

Beruff has been an active Republican, and served as a delegate at last year's Republican National Convention in Tampa.

"I have been politically active all my life," he told the crowd in Cortez.

He is a regular contributor to political campaigns.

Last summer, Beruff said at the GOP convention that he had met the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Romney's ties to the company called Bain Capital Partners became controversial on the campaign trail.

Beruff has connections there, too. He has a partner of 23 years, a retired Bain Capital partner, and two partners who are senior members of Bain Capital.

His vision for the Long Bar project?

A "beautiful, majestic hotel, coastal-looking," and a unique development worthy of its site, he said.

"This property's developable, we're going to develop it," he told the Bradenton Herald editorial board last month. "The property's going to be developed, there's no going around it. We want to do something spectacular, not just a routine subdivision."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745 7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.