Ship Comes in for Chattanooga Developer

By Elizabeth Ryan

At a time when many in the real estate industry are just trying to stay afloat, the ship literally is coming in for real estate developer Franklin L. Haney.

The 68-year-old businessman, who began his development business in Chattanooga where he still maintains an office and residence, is awaiting delivery this month on an Italian-made yacht near an ocean-front mansion he bought this spring near Palm Beach, Fla.

In a recent interview from his company’s office near the Capital in Washington, D.C., Mr. Haney said he expected the drop in the real estate and stock market over the past year and positioned his holdings in advance of the downturn.

“I saw this coming two or three years ago, so I went to cash,” he said.

Through his family-owned FLH Co., Mr. Haney still controls a portfolio of more than 15 million square feet of offices, apartments and parking garages and a multibillion-dollar share of the toll road to Dulles Airport in suburban Washington.

After four decades of often highly leveraged business deals, Mr. Haney has accumulated enough assets to live quite comfortably, especially for the son of a foundry worker from Cleveland, Tenn.

In April, he bought a palatial estate in the Palm Beaches of Manalapan, Fla. — an Italian Renaissance mansion designed by famed architect Maurice Fatio for Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan in 1929. Mr. Haney said he bought the 52-room Villa Venezio for $22 million after the former owner — the widow of one of the heirs of newspaper icon William Randolph Hearst — defaulted on mortgages used in a $30 million purchase of the home in 2000.

“I think it’s the most famous house in South Florida,” Mr. Haney said. “I’ve lived in Manalapan in the wintertime for about 30 years, and this was just a wonderful opportunity.”

The residential estate, which Mr. Franklin jokingly noted includes a guest house that rivals his 7,538-square-foot home on Lookout Mountain, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and fronts both the ocean and the intracoastal waterway.

Mr. Haney soon will be able to take his family on voyages aboard a new 167-foot yacht named for Mr. Haney’s wife, Emeline. The $50 million ship is en route to South Florida from the Codecasa Shipyard in Viareggio, Italy,  where the 565-ton ship was built.

He hopes to cruise the Caribbean and travel to Maine aboard the ocean-faring yacht, Mr. Haney said.

Through a career in politics and business, Mr. Haney has not always had clear sailing.

He lost his bid for Congress to U.S. Rep. Bill Brock in 1966 and was defeated by Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1974. In the business arena, Mr. Haney defaulted on the bonds used to finance what is now the Marriott Hotel at the Trade Center in Chattanooga, although the bonds were insured to prevent losses from the bondholders. He was an unsuccessful bidder on everything from the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Alabama to the Washington Nationals baseball team in Washington, D.C.

But his colleagues credit Mr. Haney’s tenacity and intelligence for his eventual success.

“Franklin has always been controversial, but he has been a great citizen for Chattanooga and is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant financial minds I’ve ever known,” said Jim Hall, a former associate who has known Mr. Haney since the two were fraternity brothers in Sigmi Chi at the University of Tennessee. “I saw him go up against people on Wall Street who thought they were taking advantage of this hick from Tennessee. And Franklin ended up cleaning them out.”

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