Clough: Jupiter’s Harbourside mulls foreign investor visa program

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010

JUPITER — With domestic bank financing scarce, some business leaders are starting to look offshore for investment dollars to fuel new ventures.

They are taking a second look at a program that offers foreigners the chance to obtain a visa, in exchange for a sizable financial investment in U.S. businesses. The program is known as the EB-5 Foreign Investor Visa Program.

Among the ventures eyeing the EB-5 program: Harbourside, the $127 million waterfront development planned in Jupiter.

The ambitious project would include retail, offices, boat docking and a hotel, with a rooftop bar and pool. Harbourside is slated to rise at the northwest corner of Indiantown Road and U.S. 1. Construction is expected to begin by the end of the year.

Normally, a project of this nature would obtain partial financing from banks. But with banks continuing to fail at a record pace, and remaining ones forced to set aside capital for souring loans, Harbourside’s developer has had to be creative. So the developer is asking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to approve the creation of an EB-5 center in Jupiter.

EB-5 programs are certified through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They are a means by which foreign investors and their family members can become residents of the United States and eventually apply for citizenship by investing in domestic companies that create jobs. Some programs require investors to contribute $1 million. But others that are in areas with high unemployment rates can qualify for contributions of only $500,000 per investor. Each investment must create 10 jobs.

Jeffrey Devore, a Palm Beach Gardens immigration lawyer, says EB-5 programs are gaining in popularity. “It’s a way of expanding the economy,” Devore said.

Harbourside’s developer has proposed the creation of an EB-5 center called the U.S. Immigration Fund in Jupiter. The center is angling for approval to require only $500,000 per investor, based on its hoped-for status as a “targeted employment area.” This designation means the region meets certain thresholds of high unemployment.

The initial project would be the Harbourside development, which is expected to create about 2,000 jobs, said Nick Mastroianni, manager of Allied Capital & Development of South Florida, Harbourside’s Palm Beach Gardens-based developer.

But the U.S. Immigration Fund, if approved by Homeland Security, could also be a catalyst for financing biotech manufacturing in Jupiter, too.

With Scripps Florida and Max Planck Florida nearby, biotech manufacturing is a natural next step. Together with the Harbourside project, more than 5,000 jobs over seven years could be created from the center. “We have a jobs creation problem here, and we need to find ways to stimulate our economy locally,” Mastroianni said.

Mastroianni said he’s already met with biotech manufacturers who would be interested in locating in Jupiter. Were they to set up shop in Jupiter, “we would really be fulfilling what Scripps is supposed to be,” Mastroianni said.

Toward that end, Jupiter town manager Andrew Lukasik has written to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, urging the approval of the EB-5 center.

“The Regional Center will strengthen our position in the biotech community by providing much needed financing options” for manufacturing facilities, he wrote in an April 8 letter. The Harbourside project, meanwhile, will allow the town to grow “economically and flourish,” Lukasik wrote.

Harbourside wouldn’t be the first EB-5 program in the county. Another one recently got off the ground in Palm Beach County.

The Palm Beach Investment & Finance Center of Jupiter opened for business in January. It seeks to raise money for three businesses: Complete Energy Systems LLC, maker of solar technologies for commercial and residential use in developing countries; Modul-X Solutions Inc., maker of security barriers for military, government and corporate entities; and TruBamboo LLC, maker of bamboo housewares and home products.

“Business people are looking at this as an opportunity to finance expansion and new business enterprises,” said Al Zucaro, an immigration lawyer and principal in the Palm Beach Investment & Finance Center.

While a number of people have looked at the center, it still awaits its first investors, he said.

Shannon LaRocque, an assistant county administrator, said the EB-5 program was even considered for the planned convention center hotel in West Palm Beach. But research showed the area did not fit the unemployment parameters needed for designation, she said.