Shareholders back leaders of Daytona’s biggest landowner

DAYTONA BEACH — Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co.’s shareholders on Wednesday showed overwhelming support for the company’s current path, which includes the recent sale of major landholdings along the LPGA Boulevard corridor, when they voted to place all seven of senior management’s nominees on the board of directors for one-year terms.

It was a vote of confidence for current CEO John Albright in the face of a challenge by the company’s largest stockholder, Wintergreen Advisers, which owns a 27 percent stake. Four candidates nominated to the board by Wintergreen, including David Winters, the New Jersey-based fund’s managing member, were rejected by shareholders.  “We are gratified for the support,” said Albright in an interview with The News-Journal at the end of Wednesday’s shareholders meeting, held at the clubhouse of LPGA International.  “I think the momentum we have, and the strategy we have, has been endorsed by the shareholders, and we are excited to get back to work and get this behind us,” he said.  The stakes of the election were also high for Daytona Beach as Consolidated-Tomoka owns 8,200 acres of undeveloped land, making it the area’s largest private landholder.

The company has spurred development along the Interstate 95/LPGA Boulevard interchange after a string of land deals, which include the sites of the Tanger Outlets mall that opened in November and the planned 6,900-home Latitude Margaritaville, a Jimmy Buffett-inspired community for residents 55 and older currently under construction and slated to open in fall 2018. This month, the company sold a 35-acre site to Buc-ee’s, a Texas-based company that plans to build its signature 120-pump, 50,000-square-foot gas station and convenience store there. And last week, Consolidated-Tomoka announced the sale of nine acres to a developer who intends to attract a specialty grocer.

About 100 investors showed up for the shareholder’s meeting, which had been billed as a showdown between officials with Wintergreen and Consolidated-Tomoka after several clashes the past two months, including sending opposing letters to shareholders in an attempt to sway them. The four board candidates nominated by Wintergreen — Winters, Liz Cohernour, the firm’s chief operating officer, and two Wintergreen consultants — had advocated for a dramatic change in direction for the company, including the possible ouster of Albright as CEO and possibly the sale or liquidation of CTO.  Albright accused Wintergreen of wanting to take over the company without any real strategy, whereas Cohernour claimed that there were “weaknesses and problems going on (within the company).”

The meeting, however, was largely subdued after the announcement of the board’s election, which still needs to be certified. There was only a single sharp exchange between Albright and Cohernour, who read a short statement during the comments period. She and Winters maintain that Consolidated-Tomoka’s stock price should be performing better amid an improving economy and real estate market. Wintergreen owns more than 1.5 million shares of Consolidated-Tomoka stock (NYSE MKT: CTO). The company’s stock closed at $55.47 per share on Wednesday.  Cohernour said that Wintergreen was not surprised by the election results.  “The positive thing that happened today is that the company (and board) agreed to work with us,” she said.

During the meeting, Albright spoke of Consolidated-Tomoka’s successes, which include having some 2,100 acres of land under contract and its net earnings last year rising to an all-time high of $2.86 a share.  Local investor J. Hyatt Brown, the chairman of Daytona Beach-based Brown & Brown Inc., said that election results showed overwhelming support for the company’s current management. Brown serves with Albright on the CEO Business Alliance, a group of business leaders involved in efforts to recruit companies to Volusia County.  “The results of this company have been superior,” he said. “And we have only just begun to grow in Volusia County, and their position (Consolidated-Tomoka’s) is paramount, so I’m looking forward to lots of good things.”  He added that he expected the LPGA Boulevard corridor “to blossom fast.”  Albright said Daytona Beach is poised to see more growth after the company’s recent land sales, which have attracted a number of developers.  “It means more jobs, more investment and more activity,” he said. “It’s going to be great for the tax base of the town.”