Tibor Hollo is chairman and president of Florida East Coast Realty. The developer of Brickell’s first high-rise tower, Rivergate Plaza, Hollo is currently evaluating plans for Villa Magna, a condo and hotel project on Biscayne Bay in Brickell that was postponed during the fallout from Miami’s real estate crash in 2008.
When and where were you born?
July 13, 1927, in Hungary.
Where did you grow up?
In Hungary and France. I was not quite 14 when I went into the [concentration] camps. [Auschwitz] was liberated a few days before the end of the war. I was just 17.
When did you move to the U.S.?
1948. I went to New York alone. I had no family.
How did you get into real estate?
I was an architect by profession and I couldn’t get a job, so I worked for a contractor for a little while, and then I decided I would like to be a contractor myself, so I started a business with $274 I had saved. Our first client was Grays Steamship, repairing piers on the East River.
How did you land in Miami?
I was there in 1956 and I liked it very much. I had to be at work for the U.S. Air Force at Cape Canaveral. I had a wonderful year as a contractor — the space industry was booming — and made lots of money. I decided that if I were a developer, I could pick my own venue. I picked Miami.
What do you remember about Miami when you first arrived?
If you left the office after 5 o’clock, you saw three people rolling up the sidewalks. The city was eerie; it was left alone until the next morning when the sun hit it again. They didn’t want to be caught dead downtown past 5.
In 2009, after the real estate market crashed, you agreed to lease the site of Villa Magna, which was approved in 2004, to the city for three years for one dollar per year. Now that the three years have passed, what are your plans for the site?
That time has passed and we are now concentrating on the development of the site. We are just analyzing the market now and deciding on the proper use.
You have seen plenty of ups and downs in the Miami real estate market over the years. Was the 2008 collapse like anything you’d seen before?
These things are more or less all the same, but this last bust lasted longer than the rest because of external forces. It wasn’t only indigenous to the U.S. It also involved Europe and the problems in Europe; Greece, Spain, Portugal, France. If China sneezes, we catch a big cold. We are now starting to have the effects of the global economy, and I think that elongated the problem.
Your career has spanned 64 years. Any plans to retire?
Well, in my company so far 13 people have retired, and all but one retired very poorly, dying within three to five years. Those are pretty bad odds. You need to have your mind working, not just reading a book but also by being creative in your thinking, and I believe that keeps me going.