A state compact reached last month to allow Las Vegas-style gambling at the Seminole Tribe's casinos could spur major development on and around tribal reservations.
In negotiating the deal, which still faces political and legal challenges, the tribe announced its intentions to expand the Hard Rock hotels and casinos in Hollywood and Tampa and its casinos in Coconut Creek and Immokalee, said tribe spokesman Gary Bitner. Tribal leaders also have discussed expanded casinos and resorts on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations, though no projects have been approved by the Tribal Council.
Among the landowners who stand to benefit from any development are companies in which Krishna Lawrence is president. Lawrence, who is not a tribe member, is a friend of Tribal Council member David Cypress. In recent months, Lawrence companies have bought and sold hundreds of acres of land near three of the tribe's reservations.
In Hendry County, Lawrence's Greco Roman Holdings, Inc. last month completed the sale of 500 acres of land for $5.5 million, a gain of $3.8 million in seven months. Greco Roman received the property in an April trade with the tribe for a value of $1.7 million.
Lawrence companies still own about 330 acres next to Big Cypress, more than 500 acres adjacent to Brighton and a recently acquired commercial building across from the tribe's original casino on the Hollywood reservation, land records show.
Cypress also has acquired land, receiving 534 acres adjacent to Big Cypress in a trade with the tribe completed this month.
"These are not dumb people. They're not in the altruistic position of just buying land," said Lawrence's attorney, Joel Hirschhorn of Coral Gables. "Obviously, they're hoping something is going on. You can't fault them that they want to be smart investors."
Cypress did not respond to a request for an interview, and the tribe did not answer specific questions about the land transactions. Bitner did say the tribe "looks at hundreds of development opportunities every year, including projects on and off its reservations."
In a series of articles last month about the Seminoles, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported on the close relationship between Lawrence and Cypress.
Lawrence described Cypress as a "great friend." The two bought a boxing gym in Hollywood, which Cypress just traded to the tribe for the 534 acres, and were directors together in two companies.
Lawrence's landscaping business, Five Points Corp., received $18.7 million from the tribe from January 2006 through this May. Five Points works primarily on Big Cypress, where David Cypress has been the elected representative on the council for nearly two decades.
The Sun-Sentinel also reported on property transactions involving Cypress, Lawrence and the tribe. Land records filed in recent weeks provide new detail on some of those deals.
Greco Roman received 514 acres next to Big Cypress in an April trade with a tribal entity, S.T.O.F. Holdings Ltd. Lawrence told the newspaper he needed the land to meet environmental requirements for wetlands to develop an adjacent 315-acre ranch owned by one of his companies.
In the exchange, the tribe received a Hollywood office building owned by Greco Roman. It was considered an even trade, with the building and the land near Big Cypress each valued at $1.7 million.
In a June interview, Lawrence told the Sun-Sentinel the tribe came out ahead. "I'm sitting here with some swamp land," he said. "How much is that worth?"
At the trade value of $1.7 million, the land Greco Roman received worked out to $3,307 an acre. In September, the company sold almost 300 acres to S Ranch Properties, LLC for almost $3 million, or $10,000 an acre.
Greco Roman sold another 200 acres to the same buyer for $2.5 million in November, according to recently filed land records. The company kept about 15 acres on the southwest corner of the property.
Lawrence incurred expenses before the sale and is "going to wind up paying a lot of taxes," said his attorney, Hirschhorn.
Council member Max Osceola Jr. told the Sun-Sentinel in October that despite the resale value of the land, he still believed the April trade was good for the tribe. He called Lawrence "an entrepreneur."