The crop of billionaires who call Florida home has more than tripled in the past 10 years to 31, and their combined assets have quadrupled from just over $15 billion to more than $67 billion, a Tampa Bay Times review of the latest Forbes ranking of world billionaires shows.
One billionaire stands out: Malcolm Glazer and family. A decade ago, the Glazers were rich, yes, but they did not yet even make the elite Florida list of those worth at least $1 billion. Now they have catapulted to No. 2 in the state, tied with Dirk Ziff at $4.4 billion and behind the $5.7 billion of Florida's perennial No. 1 Micky Arison of Carnival Corp., the giant cruise line business.
Sure, the Glazers' ownership of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has proved a winner. They purchased the NFL franchise in 1995 for $192 million. It's now worth more than $1 billion, though only 18th highest among pro football teams.
What really leapfrogged the Glazer wealth was the family's daring (some say controversial), high-debt, $1.5 billion purchase in 2005 of Manchester United. The wildly successful pro soccer team in England is considered one of the most widely supported sports franchises worldwide. The leap in wealth occurred last August when the Glazer family took Manchester United public via an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange.
As of Wednesday, the sports business that now trades under the MANU ticker symbol boasted a market value of $2.8 billion. That's more than what Forbes pegs the most valuable U.S. franchise of any pro sport, the $2.1 billion Dallas Cowboys.
Most of the recent wealth building by the Glazer clan has been orchestrated by the children of Malcolm Glazer, now 84 and long out of the spotlight following a stroke in 2006.
What of the other Florida billionaires? A few highlights:
• Miami's Micky Arison remains the richest billionaire in the state despite a spate of bad publicity for the Carnival Cruise Lines business (he's CEO) ranging from the sinking of its Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy one year ago to last month's crippled and befouled Carnival Triumph being returned to shore by tugboat.
• The vast majority of Florida billionaires live in southeast Florida, from the Palm Beach area to the north down to Miami and Fisher Island. Otherwise, they're clustered in Naples.
• Of the 31 billionaires in Florida, only two live in the general Tampa Bay area. Tampa's Edward DeBartolo Jr., 66, is a shopping center developer worth $2.7 billion. And Carol Jenkins Barnett, 56, is worth $1 billion thanks to her ties to the Publix Super Markets empire in Lakeland.
• The youngest Florida billionaire is Chicago chewing gum magnate Bill Wrigley Jr., 49, who recently relocated from Chicago after selling his business to Mars.
In 2003, nobody from Tampa Bay made the statewide list of 10 billionaires.
Today's list of 31 billionaires is sure to continue growing in Florida — especially if the stock market continues to push into record territory.
Still, there's a wide gap between the wealthy and the superwealthy. Combining the riches of all 31 Florida billionaires, $67 billion, equals Bill Gates' wealth, despite his giving away many billions over the years.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.