by Martha K. Huggins, Ph.D........
Commissioner Jimmy Weekly has announced a “Plan B” for the City’s involvement in Peary Court: A “family business” is interested in purchasing Peary Court with Key West City government kicking in 12.5 million in Land Authority money to sweeten the deal. For its $12.5 million portion of the Peary Court purchase, Key West government would lock the Robert Cornfeld “family business’” into a deed-restriction requiring that existing Peary Court properties be dedicated in perpetuity to ‘affordable’ rentals—that is, “affordable” for better-off workers. Apparently, there is no deed stipulation that Peary Court’s prospective buyers not build totally new up-scale housing on the property. [Rents at the high end "middle-income affordable" rate could be as high as $2709/month for a 2-bedroom.] And there is certainly no provision that Peary Court’s rents be “affordable” for the poorest of Key West’s wage workers. Jimmy Weekly’s “Plan B,” as it is being worked out, again signals our Commissioners’ operational definition of “affordable housing”: A housing plan that uses at least some local government funding to enhance the life-quality of middle-income employees, with no contribution from the local and (inter) national businesses here. They consistently under-pay their workers in order to enhance their own business profits and then look to government to help close the wage gap.
The Cornfeld “Family” Business: Images and Realities
I know family businesses when I see them; the Cornfeld Group is not one--except for being a family-run conglomerate. Having between 17 and 32 “family owned” limited liability corporations, the Cornfeld Group is way more structurally complicated than real local “family- owned” businesses. The Cornfeld Group is not Key West’s “Sandy’s” Cuban eatery nor is it Jimmy Weekly’s Fausto’s Food Palaces. Robert M. Cornfeld, the founder of the Cornfeld family’s corporate empire--a former orthodontist--is president of the largest share of Cornfeld Group corporate entities. Jeffrey (AKA: Jeffry) heads the remainder of his father’s corporations. With executive offices at 3850 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, Fl., the Cornfeld Group and most of its associated corporations seem to share the same geography with one another—a rather average-sized corporate office space. The corporations’ lawyer and advisor, Franklin L. Zemel, is a University of Miami-trained lawyer and partner at Arnstein & Lehr LLP, which operates out of Ft. Lauderdale. Given that Attorney Zemel oversees an extensive number of Cornfeld Group corporations,(2) one must assume that he and his law firm are the go-to people within Robert Cornfeld’s financial domain.
The Cornfeld Group—a corporate umbrella of family-owned corporations tightly run by Robert Cornfeld himself—is no less of a corporate behemoth than the “White Street Partners” who now own Peary Court (see Huggins, “Who Owns Peary Court?”). Both conglomerates have large networks of interlocking corporate entities, backed by corporate LLC legal powers, protected by lawyers, and sheltered by secrecy. According to “Corporationwiki,” Robert Cornfeld “has been associated with fifty-one for-profit family-owned companies [, formed] over a fifty-two year period with the most recent being incorporated two years ago in December of 2013. [At least] seventeen of the [51 Cornfeld] companies [are] still active…. In one of the Cornfeld companies--TNG Holdings— Robert Cornfeld is simultaneously, President, Director, Treasurer, and Secretary. Does anyone else find this overlapping of executive roles a questionable management model? For a diagram of Robert Cornfeld’s corporate holdings,(4) click here.
What do Cornfeld Corporations Do?
The Cornfeld Group is far more inaccessible to peering eyes even than “White Street Partners”: I found it literally impossible to locate more than the most superficial information about Cornfeld’s various companies. Missing from cyberspace is what each corporation specifically does, for whom, and toward what end. Sometimes a corporate entity’s name seemed mis-attributed, such as Cornfeld’s American Federated Title Corporation (AFTC), which has been described as “a small organization in the miscellaneous retail stores industry located in Hollywood, FL…[with] approximately 11 full-time employees and generates an estimated $1.2 million in annual revenue.”(5) Being a “Title” corporation, in this case, seems to mean that the Cornfeld Group earns revenues from properties to which it holds titles, rather than a business that primarily carries out title searches (see also http://business-finance-restructuring.weil.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Am-Fed-Title-Corp-v-GFI-Management.pdf). For more of, what’s in a name, several of Cornfeld’s corporations use alphabet letters only, which would not be a great problem if information existed somewhere to describe these ‘alphabet soup’ corporations’ business activities.
How would any potential client know whether to procure one or another of the Cornfeld Group’s corporate services? And who would do business with a corporate conglomerate offering no information about its operations? But apparently, “Plan B” Key West Commissioner, Jimmy Weekly, is quite satisfied doing so in the absence of such information. In the end, one is left very uninformed, with Attorney Zemel left to explain “matters” to Key West’s Mayor and Commissioners. It is clear that the Cornfeld Group has achieved a very high level of self-sufficiency: it has family-owned corporate resources in finance (Filmore Investors, Cambridge Asset Management Corporation, LJS investors, LLC); holding companies (Hollywood Real Estate Holding Company, TNG holdings); real estate management (Universal Realty Management Corporation [Eladio Arencebia, VP] and the Filmore Realty Corporation); and business consulting services (JDC Partners). But as Disney’s “Wile E. Coyote,” says, “That’s All Folks!”: I cannot tell you what’s not there about the Cornfeld Group--the corporate entity that apparently lures the support of some Key West “Plan B” Commissioners.
Family Businesses: For the Family or the Larger Collective?
In political scientist Edward Banfield’s 1967 book, The Moral Basis of Backward Society—a study of Southern Italy’s Chiaromonte Village, a town dubbed by Banfield, “Montegrano”—the political scientist describes village society there as a ‘family-centric, self-interested social microcosm, within which the public good was viewed as secondary to nepotism and immediate family benefits.’ Pointing to this as placing family interests over those of the larger citizenry, Banfield called such actions, “amoral familism.” Banfield, a Cold War conservative, was therefore loath to compare the wider corporate roots of ‘a-morality’ to what he recorded in the small Italian village. Yet those who romanticize “family” businesses as somehow more socially compatible than corporate ones, need to consider the tendency of family businesses to see their own family’s good fortune as preeminent over community interests. Let’s hope that Key West Commissioners will work together with their critics to solve our city’s crisis of un-affordable housing before they enrich the bank accounts of those whose zero-sum economic approach to wealth blocks possible life quality gains by poorer KeyWesters and their allies.
4 For those Cornfeld companies in which Jeffry Cornfeld is President, click on,
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