THE WIZARD OF OCALA

GARY MORSE TRANSFORMED 22,000 ACRES OF FLORIDA SCRUBLAND INTO A $2.9 BILLION PERSONAL FORTUNE.

BRENDAN COFFEY

AERO-IMAGING/NEWSCOM

CATERING TO SENIORS’ EVERY whim at the world’s largest retirement community, near Ocala, Florida, has made H. Gary Morse a fortune of at least $2.9 billion. Morse’s development, known as The Villages, consists of 44,414 homes spanning three counties. His holding company owns the local newspaper, a television station, a mortgage lender, more than 4 million square feet (375,000 square meters) of rented commercial space, a realty firm and medical centers.

Analysis of public documents and estimates based on other homebuilders indicate that Morse likely has pocketed $988 million in after-tax profit on $8.2 billion in new home sales. The sale of Morse-built amenities and utilities to residents, facilitated by at least 40 municipal bond offerings, has netted him another $955 million. Commercial real estate and other activities also add to his fortune. He didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Happy residents refer to The Villages as “adult Disney World.” Andrew D. Blechman, author of a book on retirement communities, uses a different reference. “He’s kind of like the Wizard of Oz: He’s the man behind the curtain.”

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