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Danville Leadbetter stands at the walkway of his company’s creation. Behind him, crews are finishing the construction of the swimming pool and community clubhouse. Ahead of him are dozens of the 129 rental units.

It’s a couple of weeks before Odyssey by Soltura celebrates its grand opening at 10131 Soltura Drive, off Forum Boulevard in Fort Myers, and Leadbetter is breathing a sigh of relief. Everything’s about finished for a new concept of rental living that’s arriving to Southwest Florida after catching on in California and Arizona after the Great Recession.

“It feels great,” Leadbetter says of pioneering the concept in the region. “When we first walked into this, I was astonished that this isn’t already in Florida. We had this little window, where the apartment guys were doing apartments, and the homebuilders were getting into the rental space, but they were just renting their own product. It was fun to be able to change that.”

And change it they have.

Leadbetter and business partner Arron Simon created Soltura Development Group. Their business model is to build communities that resemble luxury apartment complexes … but imagine that the apartment units are plucked out of one mega structure and built instead as tiny homes. “Horizontal apartments” is the term for a concept that’s generating some buzz.

After Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, devastating the coastal areas, the phones started ringing with displaced Sanibel Island residents on the line, looking to rent these tiny homes. “Our property sustained very little damage and never lost power,” Leadbetter says. “All standing inventory was immediately leased by those displaced from the storm.”

At Odyssey, each unit has its own backyard with artificial turf and its own four walls. The concept means Soltura can buy odd-shaped pieces of land at lower market prices—such as the Odyssey land, which was narrow and long, not ideal for building a traditional apartment complex. Soltura paid $650,000 for the 12 acres in February 2021, about $54,166 per acre.

In May of this year, Soltura bought another 12 acres for $3 million, about $250,000 per acre, for land sandwiched between Interstate 75 and Champion Ring Road—a much higher price, as the land fronts the interstate. Soltura already has broken ground there on Altair by Soltura, which will have 160 units. Some of those will be two stories.

“Rather than doing one big building with all the units, we’re kind of deconstructing that building, putting those units on the ground, putting four walls around them,” Leadbetter says.

In May 2021, Soltura bought about 31 acres for $1.6 million off Schoolhouse Road in Fort Myers, under the name FL Schoolhouse Investors LLC. Only about half of that land will be developed, for environmental reasons. Because it was an odd shape, Soltura was able to buy it at below market price, about $51,612 per acre. This will be the third Soltura development and could break ground by the end of next year.

“This was a great piece to start on,” Leadbetter says of Odyssey. “It’s kind of linear. It’s just a long rectangle. It allows us to figure out the space between the units.

“For us, there wasn’t a lot of competition. It’s coming now.”

The competition is coming from Marquesa Capital Partners. It recently broke ground on the Villas of Gulf Coast, a 140-unit rental community that should welcome its first tenants in the fall of next year, off Alico Road and east of Interstate 75.

Marquesa paid $2.24 million in October 2020 for that 16-acre site at the southwest corner of Alico Road and Centerplace Boulevard, about $140,000 per acre. Marquesa’s plans to develop were set going into 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“We used that timing in the market to get this under contract,” says Peter Olesiewicz, principal owner of Marquesa. “We closed relatively quickly by October. It took us some time to take it through the entitlement process with Lee County. From a zoning perspective, it doesn’t fit neatly into a box. Is it single-family or multifamily? They went with single-family.”

The city of Fort Myers went with multifamily for Odyssey. Monthly rents are competitive with those of other luxury, traditional apartment complexes. A 750-square-foot, one-bedroom starts at $1,994 per month. A 1,031-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bath leases for $2,594, and a 1,245-square-foot three-two is $3,199 per month. There are 40 one-bedroom units, 57 two-bedroom units and 32 three-bedroom units.

Carisa Barrett just moved from South Carolina into a two-bedroom unit at Odyssey with her 13-year-old son.

“I wanted to rent something,” Barrett says. “But I also wanted to not have a neighbor right up on you, where you hear every boom-boom, pounding noise either next door or above you. Or a dog barking. I used to have an old townhouse, and I liked having my own, separate spot. It’s just more quiet and more peaceful.”

The concept of four separate walls has been a main draw, said Joshua Novo, 35, who just moved into a one-bedroom unit. He just relocated from Connecticut, and is the institute director for student success at Hodges University.

“I was a homeowner for a few years,” Novo says. “I wanted the feel for having a home again. It felt like a one-bedroom house, which is something that you don’t feel too often in the apartment complexes. It feels great to have a backyard again. Just the feeling of having a little privacy.”

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