Developer Terry Stiles dies at age 70 after battle with cancer

Paul Owers,

Terry Stiles, the prominent South Florida developer who helped shape Fort Lauderdale's skyline, has died after a battle with esophageal cancer. He was 70.

Stiles had fought the disease for three years and experienced complications last week, his son, Ken, said in an email to the roughly 325 employees of the Fort Lauderdale-based real estate firm. Stiles passed away peacefully Monday in his sleep, his son said.

"Dad was larger than life and loved each and every one of you as if we were one big family," Ken Stiles wrote. "It is a sad time for all of us but he would want us to remember the good times and take a moment to smile and laugh at all the times we had together."

Stiles' portfolio includes more than four million square feet of development in the Las Olas Boulevard corridor, the company said.

Signature office projects include the New River Center, which opened in 1990, while the Bank of America Plaza at Las Olas City Centre followed in 2002. The firm also built the AutoNation headquarters in 2006.

In recent years, Stiles built shopping centers, luxury apartment towers, municipal buildings and auto dealerships. The company said it's responsible for more than 43 million square feet of office, residential, industrial, retail and mixed-use projects throughout the Southeast.

"He helped our town mature into a city," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said Tuesday. "When Terry Stiles proposed a project, I knew it would be well-received by the community. A lot of people have learned that when you do something right in Fort Lauderdale, you do it the Stiles way."

J.J. Sehlke, a partner with Stiles in the ownership of the Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, said the developer was known for letting residents have their say and making sure their concerns were adequately addressed.

Sehlke, Stiles and auto magnate Phil Smith also were partners in the Enclave at Coral Ridge Country Club, a new community being built adjacent to the country club.

The project began about 12 years ago and was put on hold during the housing bust and Great Recession. When development plans finally moved forward, rumors began to circulate that Stiles wanted to put a 500-unit condominium on the site that would block residents' views.

But associates say Stiles never intended to build a condo, and he explained to the neighbors that Enclave would have only 36 single-family homes. He also preserved a golf course on the site and donated a park to the city.

"Terry always listened," Sehlke said. "He wasn't going to do something that wasn't in step with the residents."

In a Facebook posting, Dan Lindblade, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, said he was grateful for the opportunity to know Stiles.

"Over 30 years doing what I do you meet a lot of impressive people," Lindblade wrote. "Terry Stiles was as authentic as they come."

Despite an understated demeanor, Stiles was driven to make deals happen, said Steve Palmer, the chief operating officer who has worked with Stiles for nearly 39 years.

Palmer said Stiles created an organization that anticipates $350 million in revenue this year and expects to begin 2018 with a backlog of $370 million worth of work.

"Sincere, genuine, self-depracating — he was extremely special," Palmer said. "We all feel very special to be a part of something that is much bigger than any one of us."

Jim Stine, president of Ram Realty Advisors in Palm Beach Gardens, said Stiles hired him when he was 25 years old, and he would go on to work at the firm for 25 years.

"The thing he always hammered home to employees is, 'Our reputation is everything,'" said Stine, 56. "If he gave you his word, that was as good as any paper contract.

"So many business people today are just purely focused on the bottom line, but Terry always took a longer-term view and treated people fairly."

Stiles joined his father's construction company in 1968, a move that almost didn't happen.

He wanted security and health benefits and nearly took a job as a canoe guide at Walt Disney World, he recalled in a 2006 interview.

After taking over the firm following his father's death, Stiles said he learned how to bid for projects and hired executives who would spend decades working for the company.

In 1985, Stiles won the Sun Sentinel Excalibur Award, annually presented to top business leaders who also demonstrate outstanding community service.

In the early 1990s, the real estate recession hit the company hard.

"We were upside down in just about all of our projects," Stiles said. "I had to sit down with the banks and negotiate. I hated coming to work in 1991.

"It taught me that you need to be very careful with risk and that this industry has cycles. It's not utopia forever."

Two years ago, Stiles announced a succession plan that had been a decade in the making, company officials said.

Ken Stiles became CEO, while President Doug Eagon was promoted to vice chairman. Scott MacLaren, president of Stiles' North Carolina operations, was appointed as Eagon's successor.

"As an organization we have planned for this moment over the past few years and I am confident in the structure and leadership we have in place to make him proud as he looks down on us from above," Ken Stiles wrote to employees.

"They will sorely miss his leadership," Stine said, "but they are set up to thrive for years to come."

Aside from Ken Stiles, Terry Stiles is survived by his wife Jamie, daughters Carrie Tidwell and Tresa Stiles and six grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.