Developer improves more than just houses

BELLE GLADE — Four former “camp boys,” whose cane cutter dad brought them from Jamaica to the Glades in the 1980s, have not only seized the American Dream for themselves but are spreading it around.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
This is one of the Rhodens’ recently completed duplexes. They use the same shade of yellow on almost all of their buildings as an economy measure — also because Home Depot knows to always keep it in stock for them.

Fitzroy Rhoden lives in Wellington with his own family, and took the time to sit down at his busy office on Northwest 10th Street in Belle Glade and recount how his father helped establish his and his brothers’ quadruplet companies: construction, leasing/rental, rehabilitation and property management firms.

The elder Rhoden started them all off by purchasing some Loxahatchee Groves property many years ago at a low price — around $50-60,000 — and paying if off from his cane-cutter’s wages which, Fitzroy remembers, were about $4.25 an hour at the time in the field. “We lived on the camp, so housing was free, but … it took him like 15 years to pay for it.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
This is a triplex, recently rehabbed and sold by one of Fitzroy Rhoden’s companies.

“We grew up here in the Glades. My father worked with U.S. Sugar, cut sugar cane for 35 years, and he migrated us here in 1985 from Jamaica. So we grew up in the camp, Runyon Village,” Fitzroy said. “I came here when I was 11 years old; I’m 46 now.”

When sold, that Groves land was worth over a quarter-million dollars.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Fitzroy Rhoden (right) visits older brother Raymond. He was on the job reconfiguring one unit in a complex of 20 that the Rhodens just purchased from a prominent local businessman who also owned a 10-bay strip office center that they bought as well.

So they invested some cash, “and we bought our first property on Fifth Street. We fixed it up and sold it, and then we just kept buying property.”

During that time, he and his younger brothers Bassil James Rhoden and Milton Rhoden joined with their older sibling Raymond to establish the first of their companies with the help of their dad, James Rhoden. It was J&J Enterprises LLC.

Their strategies are simple, and they learned a lot from their daddy. “Our motto is, ‘We grew up poor. We’re not going to give you something that we’re not going to live in.’ So we go to the extreme,” said Fitzroy.

“This is a small family business. We don’t patch stuff. We learned from our daddy: If you’re doing something, you fix it up and you don’t have to do it twice. Don’t patch it, just do it right. Dig it out. You know, we gut everything. We go in with electrical, plumbing and A/C, so we go to the next level compared to our competitor. We try and give them something that they’ll appreciate, like, just little custom tweaks.”

Fifteen-plus years in business
It was back in 2004 or ’06 when they started, he says. Three companies were formed later, after they started achieving more successes. Fitzroy runs the newest one, Rhoden Properties, but some of them overlap. “The reason for that is … we did not want to do one company because if something happens, (someone would) sue the whole entire thing.” They recently broke off Rhoden Properties on their attorney’s advice. The other two are MCJ and Semaj, “which is James spelled backward,” he said.

“The thing is, we all had our responsibility. My younger brother Milton, he does the grass and the maintenance. Bassil James does the work in the field. So he has the eye for basically the finished product. I’m in the office, collect rent, do the administration part, leases, Section 8, the whole nine yards. So everybody plays their role in the business.” Around 40 percent of their properties are included in the federal housing program run by HUD.

He added, asked about the elder Mr. Rhoden: “Yes, my daddy still works! He goes around and he’ll do yard work. He’s 82 — was born in 1937 — but he doesn’t want to sit down.”

Bassil’s got the eye
Fitzroy Rhoden was full of praise for his brother Bassil, whose visions of improved properties keep driving them all forward. One reason is, he often won’t settle for rehabbing just one property when there are others nearby that could be done at the same time. Fitzroy said his father occasionally has questioned Bassil’s expansive plans, but Fitzroy sees the value he brings to their work.

“Bassil sees what we can do with property … he’ll go in and look at the square feet of a place, and he’ll be able to put a washer and dryer in, a little bathroom, a walk-in closet over here and, when it’s finished, people appreciate it.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Bassil James Rhoden (left) acts as the “vision guy” when he and his brother Fitzroy are examining properties’ potential.

He also conceives how they can best structure a deal. Local businessman Richard Baxter recently made a deal with them to sell 10 of his parcels including an office plaza and a 20-unit apartment building. Fitzroy said Bassil and he were able to work out a transfer in which four of the parcels were assigned to owners Mr. Baxter had bought out, thus lessening the brothers’ upfront costs and credit needs for the agreement.

Their website, rhodenproperties.com, says that over their more than a dozen years in business, they’ve done 57 renovations, managed 40 properties and rented 142 units. Fitzroy Rhoden, asked if he knew offhand what those numbers were, couldn’t say.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
From left, Fitzroy Rhoden, younger brother Milton and William, a part-timer living in Pahokee whom they regularly employ, at one of their job sites.

He did know exactly where all their various projects were, once we clambered in his pickup to tour them, though. At 733 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., we found Bassil working on one unit of the building’s 30, executing his vision. They’ve been renovating it for over two years now and are hoping to have it done this spring.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
This is the office complex they recently bought from businessman Richard Baxter.

In addition, they manage property for many out-of-town and even international clients. Fitzroy said they also look to assist people who are having a hard time, helping many families going through changed circumstances and personal challenges through reduced rents or moving them into larger quarters when they have children, for example or extended family. They employ many of their immediate family members, have several other employees and give jobs to itinerant laborers who need cash, on a part-time or repeat basis.

The Rhodens say they’re motivated by their dad’s example, and by God’s love.

“Our motivation is my dad, and to give people what we didn’t have … and to all what we do, it’s God because … had it not been for Him inspiring us. To Him we praise because of the opportunity He has granted us,” said Fitzroy, a Seventh Day Adventist.

“So we take that same initiative and try to help people, to give them quality of living in Belle Glade, which is not always easy to do.”

“I believe that how you treat people is … well, what you sow, you reap.”

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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