Abe Fort is director of development for Jacksonville-based Fort Family Investments, which owns and manages 225,000 square feet of commercial properties while focusing on apartment development, primarily in South Jacksonville and one in Jacksonville Beach. Its seven completed projects comprise 1,860 units. Its next project is the 464-unit Luxor Club in Flagler Center.
Donald Fort, my father, started the company in 1972. He did everything from warehouses to shopping centers and single-family developments. In 1989, we got into the apartment business and that is our primary focus today.
I grew up in Jacksonville. I worked for him summers and weekends since before I could remember. I grew up around construction. I love it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it, and it’s in my blood. In college I realized I wanted to be in the apartment business or some facet within the industry.
I joined the company in 2003. After college at Florida State University, I moved to Atlanta and worked for two apartment owners up there on-site. A position opened in 2003 and he offered it to me.
Each project has its own set of challenges. No two days are the same. It’s a lot of work. There is a certain level of risk involved. We like to think it’s a calculated risk, but there is risk. It’s exciting. You are building a product that you can truly be proud of. It’s just nice to see, once a project is finished and it’s filling up, that people enjoy all that you did.
The planning involved in a project, whether it be the site selection, the architectural style, the floor plans, is massive. Then you get into the construction side. There’s a lot more to it than just four walls and a roof.
It’s changed dramatically. We’re seeing smaller units but we’re also seeing much nicer units as far as creature comforts. You didn’t see the amenity packages 20 years ago. Now everything seems to have granite or quartz countertops, stainless steel appliance packages, nine-foot ceilings, sometimes 10-foot ceilings. The pools are just spectacular. There are fitness centers, health clubs, and dog parks are real popular.
The customer base is demanding it. As people are becoming much more refined in apartment living, that’s what they want and if that’s what they want and they can afford it, that’s what they’re going to get.
The renter of 20 years ago was saving up to buy a house. What we’re seeing is a shift of demographics where people are preferring to rent versus own. The single-family market is doing well, but we are seeing multifamily apartments booming. All the studies show this is not going away any time soon. People are seeing they can rent an apartment and get the amenity packages they could never do in a single-family home.
I stay very, very busy. A typical Saturday in the fall would be watching football. In the spring I try to do weekend trips, if I can, whether it be going to Orlando or Daytona. I enjoy scuba diving, all types of water sports, jet skis, water skis, snow skis. You name it, I enjoy doing it.