“Gen 2” at the Frisbie Group includes Cody Crowell, Katie Frisbie Crowell, Frances “Franny” Frisbie, Ashley B.C. Frisbie and Robert Frisbie Jr. Katie, Franny and Robert Jr. are siblings, and the group was photographed on the rear lawn of the Palm Beach home of their parents, Kim and Robert Frisbie Sr. Hair and makeup by Deborah Koepper, using Deborah Koepper Cosmetics, for Deborah Koepper Beauty, Palm Beach (Richard Graulich / Palm Beach Life)
It’s nearing sunset at the home of Kim and Robert Frisbie Sr. on the inlet at the northern tip of Palm Beach. And what appears to be an entire clan of Frisbies has gathered in the family room, where folding-glass doors open onto a loggia that showcases the sailboats and yachts in the distance. Assembled are three of the couple’s four adult children, plus two of their spouses. Rounding out the group are Robert’s brother and sister-in-law, David and Suzanne Frisbie, who also have a home in Palm Beach.
And except for Kim, everyone in the room works for the Frisbie Group, the family’s real estate investment firm. The only principal not present is Boston-based venture capitalist Rick Frisbie, Robert and David’s brother. He, his brothers and Suzanne are senior directors of the company and for some 20 years have developed and sold houses on Palm Beach, starting with their first near Everglades Island, completed in 1996.
+ “Gen 1” at the Frisbie Group includes Palm Beachers David Frisbie, left, senior director, investments; his wife, Suzanne Frisbie, senior director,
But today, the Frisbie Group’s most prominent project in Palm Beach, by far, is under construction at the east end of Royal Poinciana Way. That’s where a long-discussed mixed-use development is in the works on 1.3 acres, land that for seven decades was home to Testa’s Restaurant, which closed in 2017 after celebrating its 96th anniversary.
Known as Royal Poinciana Palm Beach and developed in partnership with The Breakers, the project will offer retail shops and a restaurant along with six condominiums upstairs. The development is complex, and its history is convoluted. But on this afternoon, with dusk on the horizon, the close-knit family is focused on other things, explains Robert Frisbie Jr., 28.
“Probably the most important decision that we make every day is what are we eating for dinner tonight. That’s not really a joke, and it’s approached in the same way as we approach all of our decisions. It’s a round-table discussion — and if someone feels strongly about something in particular, then that’s the way we go,” Robert Jr. says.
The family frequently gathers around the dining table for dinner in his parents’ home — built by the Frisbie Group — and holds business meetings there, as well. Often on the table, so to speak, are topics of particular interest to those of the millennial generation as they contemplate the future of Palm Beach. They might be discussing the effects of climate change and rising sea levels on real estate or how the town’s building and zoning codes will meet the housing needs of coming generations.
+ Family members and business colleagues at the Frisbie Group gather in the family room at the waterfront home of Kim and
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And whatever the topic, the conversation is likely to be lively and congenial, they all agree.
“We are a very close family,” acknowledges Robert Sr., 64. “Everyone gets along so well that they are, in fact, best friends.”
His children and their cousins — including several who are not involved in the company — share a bond as strong as the unbreakable one he forged with his two brothers when they were growing up outside Garden City on Long Island in New York. Robert Sr., Rick, 68, and David, 66, have done business together since the 1970s, when they first restored brownstones on Boston’s Beacon Hill after their college days at Harvard.
They later spent nearly a decade in the 1990s helping revitalize what was then the sleepy Clematis Street corridor in downtown West Palm Beach. With partner Andrew Aiken, their projects on the thoroughfare included renovating vintage buildings with features such as residential lofts and developing a new mixed-use building at 1 North Clematis and an adjacent office building at 101 N. Clematis, today home to Florida Crystals.
+ A house at 445 Antigua Lane, facing the Intracoastal Waterway in Midtown, was developed by Frisbie Group and sold in 2014
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The partners moved on from Clematis after city leaders, David says, began downplaying the street in favor of the then-new CityPlace mixed-use development on the far side of downtown.
“They didn’t see our vision,” David recalls. “We were sorry, but there would have been too much risk and we couldn’t stay.”
But through it all, he says, the three brothers remained in sync, funding and developing projects in Palm Beach, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, among other areas. Today the Frisbie Group’s projects are focused primarily on the eastern seaboard in the residential, office, retail and hospitality sectors, with a specific focus on Palm Beach, Islamorada and Nantucket, Mass.
In 2016, an eight-bedroom, 12,445-square-foot house they built on speculation at 225 Indian Road — immediately west of the one that would become Kim and Robert Sr.’s home — sold while still under construction for a recorded $32 million. It was the third-highest price ever paid for a house on the inlet or the Intracoastal Waterway, courthouse records show. Two years earlier, a Frisbie family “spec” home on the lakefront at 445 Antigua Lane — with eight bedrooms and 16,350 total square feet — sold for just under $29 million.
+ On the North End of Palm Beach, the Frisbie Group is spearheading on speculation a new house facing about 131 feet
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Joining the firm
Among their own vacation residences, all three brothers have homes in Nantucket, and Rick Frisbie’s homes include one on Jupiter Island. Water is a common denominator, says Robert Sr.: “We’ve always loved to fish together.”
David picks up that thought. “Our folks told us all the time that family was important, and your brothers were your best friends. And they are,” he says. “We’ve got a gene in my family — we are very, very family-oriented. And somehow that anomalistic gene transferred to the kids.”
Robert Sr., meanwhile, says he marvels at the close relationships among his brothers, their wives and their children. Those involved in the family business spend plenty of time together at work and play, and they consistently use a sort of verbal shorthand to keep track of who’s who, referring to the parents as “Gen 1” and their offspring as “Gen 2.”
+ The Frisbie family’s non-waterfront projects in Palm Beach include a house at 350 Indian Road. Like most of the company’s more
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Each member of the younger generation is a managing director in the company, and all have joined the firm in the past few years. Among them is Katie Frisbie Crowell, 31, who handles design and project management for the Frisbie Group. “Part of what makes us so effective in our decision-making is that while Gen 1, for example, will have more experience to enlighten a conversation, Gen 2 may have a unique exposure to something that Gen 1 might not have thought of,” says Crowell, who has taken a lead role in the development of a waterfront house the company is building on speculation at 1610 N. Ocean Blvd., to the east of her parents’ home on the inlet.
She adds: “It really is a collaborative effort. It really doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing this longer than somebody else, you always value the other person’s fresh and distinct perspective.”
She married Cody Crowell, 32, in July 2017 and his duties include helping oversee construction and asset management. Her sister, Frances “Franny” Frisbie, 33, handles leasing and asset management.
Their brother, Robert Jr., meanwhile, is on the investments side and spearheaded the company’s $30.7 million purchase of a retail and office building at 125 Worth Ave. in late October 2017.
Robert Jr. is also a newlywed. He and Ashley B.C. Frisbie, 31, married about a month before the Crowells’ wedding. She oversees the company’s marketing and communications.
+ Among the waterfront homes developed on speculation and sold by the Frisbie family over the past few years was 225 Indian
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Yet none of the younger generation was guaranteed a role in the family’s company, Robert Jr. explains. “Gen 1 has made it very clear that anyone in our family who is interested in working with the family business should have an opportunity to do so. But they shouldn’t take that opportunity for granted. What’s required is that you show enthusiasm and interest in the field and that you go out on your own to equip yourself with the fundamental skill set, so that you can come in and be a real contributor,” Robert Jr. says.
So far among the younger set, just the three siblings — and their spouses — have come on board. Robert Jr., Katie and Franny’s 23-year-old brother, Ricky Frisbie, is a senior at the University of Virginia. Suzanne and David’s two grown daughters, Michaela and Francie Frisbie, aren’t involved, nor are Rick and Lisa Frisbie’s two adult children, Emily Frisbie Barker and Lizzy Frisbie Matteini.
But for sisters Katie and Franny Frisbie, joining the family business was part of a strategic plan. Both earned master’s degrees in real estate from Georgetown University, and both spent time at large real estate firms before they moved from Washington, D.C., back to Palm Beach in 2013 to sign on with their parents, uncles and aunt. Like Franny and her Aunt Suzanne, Katie also is a real estate agent with the Corcoran Group.
“Every step of my career, after getting the master’s,” Katie recalls, “I moved in a direction to gain a well-rounded experience so that I could contribute in a variety of ways to this business — when the time was right, when I was ready, when I felt I had done enough on my own.”
Once they relocated, Franny and Katie purchased a home together on Palm Beach’s North End and renovated it with Robert Sr.’s help. “That was very fun,” Franny recalls, “and it helped us kind of get our feet wet on the development-retrofit side of things. And we still share the house.”
‘A place on the island’
Robert Jr., meanwhile, earned his bachelor’s in economics from Harvard before joining a private equity firm in New York City. When he and Ashley decided to get married, they discussed at length his invitation from the family to join the Frisbie Group, where she could put her own experience at a major New York City advertising firm to use.
“We talked about how she felt about moving down to Palm Beach. And we had a very honest and serious discussion about Palm Beach for our generation, and whether or not this is a place where we want to raise a family or want to make a serious investment,” Robert Jr. says. “Together we spoke with Franny, Katie and Cody and decided this is where we want to be — with our family — and we’re hopeful Palm Beach can be a place for us and our generation to raise families and live on a long-term scale as year-round residents. We want to do everything that we can to become a positive contributor to the community — and encourage others like us to come down and do the same.”
His wife agrees. “We want to be in a place on the island that makes sense for our future family, close in proximity where we can be active and positive members of the community,” Ashley says. “That’s super-important to us.”
It’s also important to the Crowells, said Cody, who has a business degree from Vanderbilt University. He had visited Palm Beach frequently while he and Katie dated, but having a home on the island, he says, has increased his focus on the challenges facing the town.
“Living here, we certainly see how important it is not only to be vocal but a participant in the community,” he says. “Being a participant is really understanding what matters and the different perspectives of everyone involved and being able to make overall decisions based on that — not just for us, not just for future generations, but for the community in general.”
Toward that end, he and Robert Jr., on their own initiative, presented an extensive PowerPoint presentation to the Planning & Zoning Commission in November 2017. Their talk focused on rising sea levels, climate change and the potential economic effects of catastrophic hurricanes. They urged officials to be proactive in addressing those issues by encouraging more communication among residents, town leaders and scientific experts. If enough homes and commercial buildings on the island were destroyed by flooding or devastating winds, it woulddecimate property values, which in turn would depress tax revenue — and reduce the level of government services Palm Beach is known for providing, Robert Jr. told commissioners.
The two men also encouraged officials to undertake a comprehensive look at the town’s building and zoning codes to strengthen and protect properties here from a catastrophic storm, going even beyond new federal requirements that buildings be built higher off the ground. “We need to update our codes so they are working for us, not against us,” he said at the presentation.
‘Where do we want to be?’
In the same way, both generations at The Frisbie Group are focused on ways to ensure that the town’s aging commercial corridors remain viable, not only as a means of generating tax revenue, David says, but also to protect the town’s vibrant character, a key element in attracting new residents. And — not surprising for someone in the real estate business — he says state-of-the-art condominiums in a mixed-use setting could be an answer. He points to the rise of online shopping and other technology that is upending traditional retailing by changing how customers shop and bank.
“For the sake of argument, if retail is going to be challenged on Worth Avenue, what often is a positive for retail is a mixed-use concept. So if you suddenly had a (residential) community on Worth Avenue, if we encouraged residential (units) on the second or third floor, those folks would go downstairs and have coffee and shop the stores. Unfortunately, our code today doesn’t encourage that at all,” David says.
And that situation doesn’t necessarily bode well for longterm tax revenues, adds Suzanne, who is president of the Palm Beach Board of Realtors.
“Tweaking this code is actually insurance for making sure that the revenues continue,” she says. “It’s really sort of an annuity. You are protecting the value of your real estate, and therefore you are protecting the value of your tax revenue.”
Her nephew Robert Jr. acknowledges that grappling with these issues will be key for his generation. The future, he says, is literally on the line.
“I think Gen 1 has this incredible connection with the island and they’re passing it on to us. But at the same time they’re saying: ‘This is now your responsibility. And your generation is going to become the new steward of this island. So with that, you need to start thinking proactively and be excited about creatively coming up with solutions for a lot of 21st-century issues that you’re going to face.’ So they’re trying to prepare us and instill in us the confidence and drive to work through those issues,” Robert Jr. says.
He adds: “We have brilliant people in Palm Beach. We have brilliant minds here. But we need to collaborate. This should be the most innovative place in the world. We should be able to have the best ideas coming out of Palm Beach.” Like Robert Jr., the other Gen 2 members also are focusing on the future, whether it’s a big-picture challenge like sea-level rise or a less-grand issue, such as the type of floor plans that will appeal to buyers of homes on the island.
“When we look at the next 10, 20, 30 years, we ask — where do we want to be? And Palm Beach is where we want to be,” Cody says. “It’s beautiful, it’s safe, it’s secure. And so that’s really what makes important for us, to find a place not only where we can live but hopefully our future families can live. And where we will have a business to make it happen.”
Note: This article appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of “Palm Beach Life” magazine.