Brian Tuttle’s next act: Longtime “land guy” turns developer

His Royal Palm Beach project plans for 800 apartments, 100 single-family-home rentals and 400K sf of retail

Profile of Land Assembler-Turned-Developer Brian Tuttle
Brian Tuttle and a rendering of Royal Palm Beach (Getty, Facebook/Brian Tuttle, Royal Palm Beach)

Brian Tuttle sits in his home office at a Manalapan home, a large window framing the Intracoastal Waterway behind him, and says he is done being a land guy. 

For over two decades, Tuttle found tracts in emerging neighborhoods across Florida, convinced owners to sell, readied the land for construction and flipped it to developers. 

“It’s so hard and it’s so risky,” he cautioned. 

Neighbors’ opposition can kill rezonings, costly remediations cut profits and financing often comes at high interest rates. And the supply of land that’s not tied up with environmentally sensitive lots or other issues is dwindling. So instead of flipping 200 acres in Royal Palm Beach, he chose a different course: Build it out. 

“I want mailbox money. I want to be able to go to the mailbox and get money every month.”

Brian Tuttle

The project marks Tuttle’s debut as a developer and his latest reinvention. Before his land assemblage business, he did a stint as a police officer and then worked for IBM’s center in Boca Raton after earning an engineering degree from the University of South Florida. He also started landscaping and nursery businesses. 

The project also marks 64-year-old Tuttle’s switch from the high-risk, high-reward land business –– which has left him with a checkered financial record, going from an eight-figure net worth to filing for bankruptcy –– and into income-generating real estate. 

It’s a much safer bet. 

“I want mailbox money,” he said. “I want to be able to go to the mailbox and get money every month.” 

Highs and lows

“I can’t tell you if he is a good guy or a bad guy. But the experience we had with him wasn’t very positive in the end.”

Jeff Greene

On the southwest corner of U.S. 441 and Southern Boulevard, the master-planned Tuttle Royale project is taking shape. 

Since 2013, Tuttle assembled roughly 40 parcels from various sellers and entitled it for more than 1,600 residential units, a 1,500-student charter school and 700,000 square feet of commercial space. 

“It’s a lot for one guy,” he said. 

He sold three development sites, including one entitled for a 392-unit rental complex, which was purchased by the Pérez family’s Related Group and now is the only completed Tuttle Royale portion. 

“I had never built anything,” Tuttle said. “To convince everybody that this project was real, I had to bring in a real developer who built apartments and made real money. And Related did that.” 

For his part, Tuttle, in partnership with Texas-based Lynd Development, started building a 401-unit apartment complex this year. Next, he plans a 400-unit rental complex, 100 single-family-home rentals and the 400,000-square-foot Main Street retail portion. 

“I really respect Brian because he is a hustler, and he has put this whole thing [Tuttle Royale]  together on his own and that usually never happens,” said Lynd’s David Lynd. 

Tuttle did his first assemblage sometime in 2000, flipping to Robert “Bob” Shelley’s development firm Shelby Homes. That scored him a profit of roughly $2 million. 

It marked one of Tuttle’s comebacks. Just a few years earlier he had filed for bankruptcy over his nursery venture. 

“He was hardworking and ambitious,” said Luis Salazar, who represented a bank creditor in the case. “But it just didn’t pan out the way he expected.”

Tuttle suggested issues arose because of inconsistencies in profit projections one of the nursery sellers provided. The Shelley land deal proved to be a teachable moment that showed him that “there were easier ways to make money,” he said. 

Tuttle estimates he has assembled more than 1,000 acres across Florida that he flipped for $300 million, though that’s a gross number that excludes costs.  

The Lulfs family, who are soil-mixers and landscaping equipment suppliers in South Florida and whom Tuttle met through his landscaping business, financially backed many of his deals. 

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

He was on a roll, saying his family trust reached a net worth of $70 million. 

“I made a lot of money,” Tuttle said. “Conservatively, a lot of money.”

Then, the Great Financial Crisis hit. 

In October 2008, Tuttle and two of his affiliates filed for bankruptcy, listing more than $10 million in liabilities. His creditors included Orion Bank, claiming in court that he had defaulted on a $5.2 million loan tied to Palm Beach County sites, records show. Shortly after the bankruptcy filing, Miami-Dade Circuit Court issued a nearly $6 million judgment against Tuttle’s affiliate Tuttle Finance Corporation over debt to Gibraltar Private Bank & Trust for another Palm Beach property. 

Tuttle claimed he was not at fault or default but got caught in the crisis. His banks wouldn’t extend maturity dates and other lenders weren’t refinancing, especially for land deals as the collateral generates no revenue. 

In Sarasota County, he lost 5,800 acres to the seller that took back the land in a foreclosure over $36.9 million in seller’s financing. 

“The value of land dropped by 70 percent, so nobody knew where the value of land was going to stop, so you couldn’t make a new loan,” he said. “It was terrible.” 

Tuttle dismissed his bankruptcy filing in late 2009 but trouble persisted. In 2016, IberiaBank, which by then had bought Tuttle’s collapsed lenders, was after him for more than $5 million in judgments over land deals done during the crisis. Tuttle had lost some of the properties, including two homes, one of them his homestead, in Palm Beach County’s Banyan Lakes subdivision, in foreclosure, but a balance on the debts remained, the bank claimed. 

The suit had some telling language: Tuttle had rebounded from the GFC but restructured his finances to avoid his dues while continuing a “lavished and luxury lifestyle,” including using affiliates to pay $800,000 for a yacht docked at his oceanfront home for which he paid $35,000 a month in rent, according to the suit. “Tuttle has engaged in an extensive cat and mouse game with his creditors,” Iberia said in the complaint. Court filings show Tuttle denied the allegations, saying that the bank’s suit merely amounted to claims that Tuttle provided “expertise” on land deals but this really generated profit for other companies and not Tuttle himself. The bank later dismissed the suit. Tuttle told The Real Deal he paid and settled with the bank. 

Shelley, of Shelby Homes, said that coming out of the GFC, rather than being embroiled in it, might actually be more telling about Tuttle. 

“He is a fighter and I will say he has gotten through a lot of these storms and he was able to do that,” Shelley said. 

His financial woes have extended beyond his land deals. In July, Tuttle was slapped with a nearly $2 million judgment over his former landlord’s allegations that he stopped paying the $35,000 monthly rent for an oceanfront Hillsboro Beach home where he lived from 2015 to 2020, failed to do promised improvements and left the property in poor condition. In court, Tuttle said the landlord had agreed to lower the rent to $20,000 and that it was difficult to find a new home in 2020 because of the pandemic. He did, in fact, renovate the home, and any alleged damage existed when he moved in, according to his court response. Tuttle said he is appealing the judgment. 

Tuttle hasn’t endeared himself to everyone in South Florida real estate. In July, he sued the landlord of the Manalapan home he was renting since 2021 for $22,500 a month saying the place had termites, mold and other issues. “The owner refused to fix anything,” he said. 

Developer Jeff Greene, who is affiliated with the ownership group, said he never met Tuttle but based on what the property manager said, Tuttle was happy with the place for the past two years but then suddenly alleged there are issues and wanted to end the lease early. The ownership entities countersued Tuttle for non-payment of rent. 

“I can’t tell you if he is a good guy or a bad guy,” Greene said. “But the experience we had with him wasn’t very positive in the end.” 

Upstream market

In his land business, hard money lenders who offer short terms and high interest rates sometimes were Tuttle’s only option. 

“Half of them are just good lenders and half of them are what we call predatory loan-to-own, meaning that they loan the money hoping you default so that they can get the land,” he said. “That’s why they are hard.”

Case in point: When Alfo filed a foreclosure in 2019 over a $12 million loan it had issued for Tuttle Royale land, Tuttle argued in a countersuit that the post-maturity and the post-default interest rate of 28 percent coupled with a $600,000 late payment fee were “criminally usurious” under state law. 

Although a judge sided with the lender and issued a $22 million judgment against Tuttle’s entities, he was able to avoid the scheduled foreclosure auction with a last minute $28 million loan from Index Investment Group. Index also purchased the charter school development parcel for $4.5 million. 

Now that he is entering the development arena, bank and institutional lenders are at his disposal, as he is seeking financing for income-producing real estate. In May, Tuttle and Lynd took out a $126 million construction loan for their apartment complex from S3 Capital. 

Yet, Tuttle also is entering the construction financing market at a time when loans are expensive due to the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest hikes since last year. 

For the rest of his project, he hopes to start building soon and is in talks with potential partners, as well as banks in hopes of scoring “the best deal,” Tuttle said. 

Shelley said the success of Tuttle Royale largely depends on whether apartment and retail rents continue to go up enough to cover the cost of capital. 

“If you have one hiccup, unfortunately it could ruin a project,” Shelley said. But “I can only say this about Brian: Brian is a dreamer and he doesn’t take no for an answer.”