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Fisher Island sold to French real estate firm

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http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/10471782.htm

REAL ESTATE

Fisher Island sold to firm that knows the value of a euro

An international real estate company headed by a 28-year-old French citizen has purchased Fisher Island. The firm can develop more than 200 luxury condominium units on existing land.

BY MATTHEW HAGGMAN

[email protected]

A company headed by a wealthy 28-year-old French investor has snapped up Miami's exclusive residential enclave Fisher Island, a sign of Europeans' growing buying power across the Atlantic.

Euro Fund Properties purchased the exclusive 216-acre island from the father-son ownership team of John and Daniel Melk, said David Aim, the company's founder and chief executive. The deal was finalized and residents were informed about the transaction Tuesday.

Saying his company is private, Aim would not divulge the price tag. The Melks bought the island -- once a retreat for railroad executive William K. Vanderbilt, now the playground of millionaire industrialists and entertainers -- in 1998 from Mutual Benefit Life for a reported $50 million.

Aim is new to the South Florida real estate scene.

Born in Paris into a wealthy Moroccan family with a range of financial interests including shipping and telecommunications, he worked in the family shipping business in Hong Kong and the Congo. In 2002, he started Euro Fund Properties in London.

Aim's company becomes owner of the island's inventory of condominiums currently for sale, its yacht slips and marina, the Fisher Island Hotel & Resort, the remaining memberships and management contract for the Fisher Island Club, and land on which to build more than 200 luxury condominium units.

Fisher Island has 672 homes, John Melk said.

There have been persistent rumors that the Melks were on the verge of selling the island. A year ago, John Melk hired a brokerage firm and said that ``everyone and his brother has knocked on the door.''

He finally decided to sell to Aim's company.

''These people are younger, aggressive and committed to making the island even better than it is now,'' said Melk, who lives on Fisher Island. ``I think he will bring a European flavor, which is good.''

Located immediately south of Miami Beach's South Pointe, Fisher Island has long been home to the famous and super-rich. Earlier this month a five-bedroom condo sold for $8.7 million, considered the biggest condo resale price in Miami-Dade County. Island residents' average age is 48, Melk said.

Accessible by ferry or helicopter, Fisher Island's famous residents have included the likes of Oprah Winfrey and former tennis star Boris Becker.

The deal may signal heightened European interest in an already hot South Florida real estate market because of the weak dollar.

Under current exchange rates, one euro buys $1.33 in the United States. By comparison, in October 2000, one euro bought 83 cents.

Aim, who has no other South Florida real estate holdings, said the Fisher Island deal was driven in part by the euro's lofty value. He said he plans to aggressively market Fisher Island in Europe.

''This is a good example of buying luxury real estate with the euro at a discount,'' Aim said of the deal, which wasn't handled by a broker. ``We are looking to buy more U.S. property.''

Aim said he purchased a Fisher Island unit in June and subsequently inquired about buying the whole island.

His company invests and manages real estate assets in France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Morocco. Euro Fund Properties owns property in Las Vegas and is exploring other investments in the United States and the Dominican Republic.

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