Residents of Briny Breezes, Fla., Won't Sell Million-Dollar Mobile Homes, Yet

Deal that would have made mobile home owners instant millionaires is dead.


Aug. 9, 2007 — -- When the snowbirds of the tiny coastal town of Briny Breezes, Fla., flew north this past spring, they left a modest trailer park that had suddenly been transformed into millionaires' row, when a developer offered half a billion dollars to buy all 488 units. Now the deal is off.

Nancy Yocum is one of the few year-round residents at Briny Breezes; we found her reading in a rocking chair by the sea. She told us she voted to sell but isn't too upset by the news. "At first, I was shocked because we were so sure it was going to go through," she said, "but then I was a little relieved that it didn't sell. … We have a very nice place here. We didn't know where we were going to go. So we're not too disappointed."

When we visited Briny Breezes earlier this year, owners faced a life-altering decision: Should they vote to cash in their million-dollar view for a million dollars?

At 71 years old, Joanne Doyle was more than ready to give up her waitress job at the local Steak 'n' Shake, and the trailer home she bought nine years ago for $42,000.

Doyle said she never imagined her home would one day be worth $800,000.

"I've worked all my life, and I've never had anything, and now I might be able to enjoy my retirement years," she said earlier this year.

Blue-collar Americans first began coming to Briny Breezes in the 1930s, in search of a little oasis in the sunshine. Dorothy Mann and her sister met Bob Kraft at Briny Breezes more than 65 years ago. They'd even attended a local school together during long winter vacations.

No one can unseat Kraft as unofficial dean of the Sunrise Committee. He first came to Briny Breezes with his parents back in 1938, when he was just 13 years old. The former high school English teacher from Detroit retired to the town in 1987.

Back in the 1930s, when there was no interstate, it would take Kraft's father almost a week of hard driving to get the family's trailer house here. For a boy from Michigan, Briny Breezes was heaven.

"It was pretty exotic to see palm trees, the ocean and the beach. I had never seen the ocean until I came here in 1938," Kraft said.

Today, "Briny," as the locals call it, is a little corner of vanishing America. Fewer than 1,500 people live there, but no one is ever at a loss for something to do. And no one ever seems to be alone.

As with most real estate, it's the location that makes Briny Breezes so valuable, with pristine oceanfront beaches on one side and a protected harbor on the Intracoastal Waterway on the other.

Today 488 mobile homes are sandwiched on its 43 acres. Ocean Land Investments developer Logan Pierson said this is the last big parcel of undeveloped property on the Florida coast.

"If you can find 50 feet on the ocean, that's special. This is 600 feet of beautiful pristine oceanfront beach here, and then over 1,100 feet on the Intracoastal Waterway. You just can't find that. To find 43 acres of contiguous property like this -- that's almost impossible," Pierson said.

Especially in Palm Beach County, where nearby homes sell for $5 million, $10 million, even $15 million, so the developer made an offer the residents couldn't refuse: half a billion dollars for the entire place.

Mobile homes that went for $20,000 to $40,000 just a few years ago were suddenly worth $1 million or more. Actually, it's the land that's worth so much -- the plan was to level the town to make way for luxury condos, hotels and marinas.

The windfall would have offered financial security to some residents, and money for children and grandchildren. Bill and Cora Miller have a double-wide on a double lot, which meant a bigger piece of the pie: $1.4 million.

"I've done the math," said Bill.

Jack and Bernadine Taylor stood to make even more.

"I believe it will be over 4 million," Jack said.

Although Jack and his wife were among the 82 percent of the residents who voted to accept the developers' offer, 78-year-old Bernadine said all that money could never replace what she'd be giving up.

"I don't want to leave what we have here. I don't want to leave it," Bernadine said. "The money won't buy what we have. It does not."

You hear those kinds of words a lot around Briny. It may not be the fanciest place in Palm Beach, but it might just be the friendliest.

"I know everybody on this street. I know everybody down here. You live in a condo. You don't even know the guy across the hall from you," said Bill Miller.

"This community ... for a blue-collar worker it's been heaven right along. I have the same thing as the people who are multimillionaires. I have a roof over my head. I have everything [I] want," said resident Virginia Brown.

Carol Ellis is one of the minority that voted against the sale. A million dollars? She wasn't impressed.

"I have all I want. I don't want it," Ellis said. "What could I buy ... a big car? Is that gonna make me happy? I have a nice place here and friends and family. I'm blessed. I don't need anything else."

The amount being offered for this land was also a measure of what's happening on the Florida coast. The sums that would have been paid to the current owners would not have been enough to buy a place in the new Briny Breezes, which would have had luxury condos starting at a cool $3 million apiece.

On the scorching summer day that "Nightline" visited the town, most of the residents were gone, scattered across the country until the snow starts to fall again. And those million-dollar checks are gone too, because the developers have walked away from the deal. They faced a deadline of this Friday for a $5 million nonrefundable deposit. When they asked for an additional 45 days to deal with concerns from neighboring communities about the number of proposed condos, Briny Breezes' lawyers said no.

"Like everything else in life, I think it was a combination of lack of communication and time," said Pierson, who said he had no choice.

"We just didn't feel that we had the opportunity to effectively communicate to the board just why we needed the extra time," he said. "And therefore, I think they made their decision, and I respect their decision, but I think they made their decision without all of the information."

Roger Bennett, the mayor of Briny Breezes calls this "a bump in the road," and said a different developer could step in. And Ocean Land Investments isn't giving up either. The company said it had invested two years and $5 million in the deal. They'd like to come back with another offer, but if they can't build as many condo towers as they'd planned, the offer might not be as generous.

Nothing will be decided until Briny's snowbirds fly south again for another winter. But what is clear is that Briny can't remain frozen in time. Many of the aging trailers were badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma almost two years ago, and owners know that a direct hit by a hurricane would be devastating. They are also facing as much as $15 million in assessments for long-needed maintenance if they do stay. Some day, relatively soon, Briny Breezes is going to have to face change.

Nancy Boczon has been coming to this modern paradise for 40 years. Even though she voted to sell, she'll be content if she gets a few more years here.

"Nobody wants to leave," she said. "This is my way of life. I get up and take a cup of coffee to the deck and watch the sunrise every morning." And that, she said, is worth "more than a million."

Portions of this report originally aired in March 2007.