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.