Dean Saunders, Founder of SVN | SRD has worked on several development sites and deals while still pursuing his Florida conservation mission. Even earlier in his career, Dean’s love for the Sunshine State would shine through in his huge role relating to the development of Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. Listen above for the full podcast.
How are some of these deals controversial? We're a state of 22 million people, and they don't always like what I do. Some guy wrote to us and said, “these guys are frauds and all they do is sell it out for development.” Well, we're service providers. When a landowner comes to me with entitlements to their property, some of those rights may be for development and other people don't necessarily like it.
Everybody has their own ideas and thoughts. Sometimes there are people who want things that are objectionable. Well, there's a process for that objection. There's a government process that a lot of that stuff has to go through. So you may not like it, but if I'm hired to help either a seller or a buyer, I'm going to do what I'm tasked to do.
How did Bright Futures begin? One of the things people were upset about was the lottery. It was designed to go to educational enhancements, but the individual school districts went to the legislature and said, “we don't want you to define enhancements for us. We want you to just give us the money, and we'll define the enhancements.” The legislature bought that argument and now, we don't have a definition. Then suddenly, we have a recession. Now we're not collecting as many tax dollars and that enhancement money looks like it gets commingled.
There was no singular definition of what program that was funded that you could say, “this was because of the lottery dollars.” So one day I’m with my buddy, David and his boss at a Florida football game. We're talking and I said, “you let your daughter go to Georgia?” Well, he said, “let me tell you about the Hope Scholarship.” He went on to describe how the state of Georgia had taken their lottery dollars and defined it by creating a scholarship program that was merit based. You could get your college tuition covered as long as you went to a state sponsored school. “That's the idea.” So I got in the office on Monday, I picked up the phone and called the commissioner of education. He said, “I've already got my staff working on drafting a similar bill. Why don't you carry that for me in the house?”
I've got this idea and I know it's the right thing to do. With merit-based, they can earn their way. So, the legislature signed on Bright Futures in 1997. One year later, it's now the funding bill when Lawton [Chiles] signed the bill and handed me the pen.
How did your business begin? When I got out of the legislature, I opened up my own real estate office in Lakeland. I was working out of my house, but it's really hard to work out of your house. I did it for about a year and a half, but it didn’t work. Eventually, I sublet an office that was upstairs of a shopping center.
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