Developer Bill Fuller is ramping up new projects in Little Havana and planning to launch an investment fund, as his feud with Miami commission Joe Carollo takes a new turn.
Fuller and business partner Martin Pinilla have been in an ongoing feud with Carollo over code violations to their properties. And they have recently been striking back.
“He has stifled our ability to do business, but it’s only made us stronger in a sense and we’re more emboldened to do what we set to do,” Fuller said.
In early May, Fuller hosted a press conference outside Miami City Hall, calling for the city to open an investigation into code violations at the commissioner’s Coconut Grove property. Fuller was surrounded by poster boards displaying Google street view images of the property with new roofs and a banyan tree that had been removed.
UPDATED, June 18, 2:23 p.m.: About two weeks later, the city found five violations for work done without permits at Carollo’s home.
Since then, “it’s been very quiet,” Fuller said. “You never know with him. Every time we’ve attacked back he’s always come back with a vengeance.”
Fuller’s claims started after he supported an opponent of Carollo in an election. In a lawsuit filed in October, Fuller and Pinilla alleged that Carollo was going after their properties and businesses in Little Havana as “pure political payback … targeting [them] simply because they dared to support Carollo’s opponent in a run-off election, and because they filed an Ethics Complaint against Carollo,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit will go to trial in February 2020.
Fuller and Pinilla are co-founders and managing principals of Miami-based Barlington Group, a development company that has amassed about 450,000 square feet of real estate since 2004, buying about $15 million in commercial properties a year.
The business partners are in the initial stages of raising $50 million to $100 million to invest in properties in urban core markets, following Barlington’s current model of buying and rehabbing buildings, according to Fuller.
Barlington’s portfolio includes the properties at 1501 and 1521 Southwest Eighth Street, home to Ball & Chain and Azucar Ice Cream; the Tower Hotel at 1450 Southwest Seventh Street; and the creative office and retail space at 1637 Southwest Eighth Street called Futurama.
Fuller also has an ownership stake in Ball & Chain, as well as Toasted Bagelry. Fuller said the bagel and coffee shop is opening two locations — in Miami Beach within the next two months, and near Midtown Miami within the next six months.
Fuller is also a co-founder and managing partner for Mad Room Hospitality, which runs Ball & Chain, and late last year acquired Taquerias el Mexicano at 521 Southwest Eighth Street. Mad Room, whose partners include brothers Zach and Ben Bush, restored the second floor of the restaurant into an event venue and invested money into the business.
The 62-key Tower Hotel, which Barlington owns, has a master lease agreement with Selina, a hospitality brand that combines co-living, co-working, hotel and hostel. It’s set to open within the next six months. Mad Room will run Botanica, a food and beverage outlet at the Selina property.
While Fuller isn’t running the Tower Hotel, he’s considering developing or rehabbing a hotel in the future, but is cautious about preserving Little Havana’s character. The Tower Hotel, he said, will mark the first “overnight experience in the heart of the cultural district.”
“I think the message has gone out that we are not selling our properties,” he said. “At the same time, we’re protecting the neighborhood.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Barlington has an ownership stake in Ball & Chain.