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Bankrupt Developer Forges Ahead With 48-Story Project In Fort Lauderdale

A New Jersey-based development firm that operated as a Ponzi scheme isn't letting its ongoing bankruptcy stop it from advancing a proposal for a soaring apartment tower in Fort Lauderdale.

National Realty Investment Advisors wants to build a 429-apartment tower in Flagler Village.

An affiliate of National Realty Investment Advisors, which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring since June 2022, wants to build a 48-story tower at 203 NE Third St. in Fort Lauderdale’s Flagler Village neighborhood. NRIA submitted the proposal as many of its investors are fighting in court to recover funds after the developer was found to have engaged in fraud since at least 2018. 

The planned tower would rise from a vacant 0.7-acre site an NRIA affiliate purchased for $9.3M in early 2023, property records indicate. The acquisition was executed with approval from NRIA’s bankruptcy counsel and its court-appointed receiver, the South Florida Business Journal reported.

NRIA and Louis DeLucia, an attorney at Ice Miller representing the liquidating trust for NRIA, didn’t respond to Bisnow’s request for comment. 

NRIA filed for bankruptcy in 2022 as the FBI, Securities and Exchange Commission and state financial authorities investigated the developer for allegedly misleading investors

The firm agreed in December 2022 to enter into an administrative consent order with New Jersey authorities that barred it from securities trading. Part of the agreement required NRIA to accept as public record that it had engaged in a $630M Ponzi scheme run by the firm’s “shadow” CEO, Thomas Nicholas Salzano

Salzano pleaded guilty in February to securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. as part of a wide-ranging scheme to mislead investors.

“For years, Salzano told lie after lie to investors, continuously deceived them, and operated his business as a Ponzi scheme, through which he stole money from thousands of investors,” U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger said in a statement after Salzano received a 12-year prison sentence. “His greed and flagrant disregard for the law caused staggering losses.” 

NRIA’s bankruptcy case is pending in a New Jersey court. Judge John Sherwood — the same judge overseeing WeWork's bankruptcy — approved a liquidation plan in August and closed proceedings against several NRIA-controlled entities, but the case remains open for National Realty Investment Advisors LLC, the same entity that submitted the site plan. The next hearing is scheduled for May 21. 

The 545-foot-tall tower would have 2,710 SF of ground-floor retail space.

The Fort Lauderdale Development Review Committee will work with NRIA on the tower proposal before voting to move it along to the city commission for final approval. 

NRIA’s planned 545-foot-tall tower was designed by Fort Lauderdale-based FSMY Architects and Planners. 

It would have 429 apartments ranging from studios to two-bedroom units, along with a seven-story parking podium above a lobby with 2,710 SF of commercial space, according to plans submitted to the Development Review Committee, which first considered the proposal Tuesday.

An amenities deck would sit on the ninth floor, with 6,420 SF of indoor space, a pool and an outdoor deck with landscaping and seating around the tower’s exterior. Landscape design came from Fort Lauderdale-based Architectural Alliance.

City planners highlighted a number of hurdles the proposal needs to clear, including the addition of affordable housing units — or the payment of a fee to waive the housing requirements — and confirmation that the plan meets requirements for building in a high-risk flood zone.

In 2021, another NRIA affiliate proposed a 42-story apartment tower at 200 NE Third St., across the street from its latest plan, but the project hasn't advanced.

Flagler Village is a relatively new neighborhood just west of Downtown Fort Lauderdale that has seen a wave of apartment development over the last decade. Most recently, Hines and Urban Street Development locked in a $200M construction loan in January to build FAT Village in the neighborhood.  

The mixed-use project, located a few blocks from the NRIA parcels, spans 5.6 acres and will ultimately include 601 apartments, 70K SF of retail space and a 180K SF office building built across two phases.