Navy Veteran Wins 52 Million, Creates Company to Transform Sistrunk and Downtown Fort Lauderdale Areas
Fort Lauderdale, Florida– “I didn’t create it because I had to, I created it because I wanted to,” explained Miguel Pilgram of his eponymous real estate company, The Pilgram Group. Pilgram, who is developing a trio of properties in the Sistrunk and downtown areas of Fort Lauderdale, started his career in the military and served as a Petty Officer in the US Navy in Desert Storm. While serving, he learned the skill that would be the key to his success today, which, according to Pilgram, is to be “fully committed to what you are are doing, and don’t leave anything to chance.”
After the Navy, he put that knowledge to use working security in the casinos in the US and Asia. But he missed the travel the Navy afforded, so he jumped at the chance to work abroad for Star Cruises, a Chinese/Malaysian company. That job brought him to China, where he tackled Mandarin, traveled extensively, and learned the way business is conducted in Asia. In 2002, Star Cruises purchased Norwegian Cruise Lines. Pilgrim was tapped to assist in the handover of the global security/surveillance program. “Not only did I have years of experience, it really helped to have an American who had been successful working within the Chinese mindset,” Pilgram explains. “The Chinese are extraordinary in that they are always thinking like entrepreneurs. Even if they work a 9 – 5 job, they aspire to be the best…they own it. They act collectively by instinct, and never think twice about sacrificing personally for the greater good.”
He worked for NCL for a decade, becoming second in command of Global Security and Surveillance in 2007. “Since I was constantly on a plane,! I had time to noodle around with my 401K in the stock market a bit, and developed rigid parameters,” says Pilgrim. His systematic approach to picking stocks provided an exponential return on a small four-figure investment that enabled Pilgram to buy his first property.
But as good as he was at picking stocks, he turned out to be even better at picking lottery numbers, winning a $52 million jackpot in the Florida lottery back in 2010. He elected to take the lump sum of $29 million and eventually wound down his responsibilities with Norwegian Cruise Lines to focus full-time on The Pilgram Group. In business since 2010, TPG focuses on renovating commercial, residential and maritime real estate, mostly in the Fort Lauderdale area, and tapping opportunities that help the community. TPG’s first substantial project was a 16-unit residential property in Coral Springs, which was sold after 3 years for a 35% gain. In 2015, TPG created the New York Subs and Wings brand, and launched a food truck to support the brand while they ready a new space. One of the biggest projects to date was the renovation of a marina and residential property in Las Olas on Hendricks Isle…that is, until now.
Currently, Pilgram is placing his faith — and his money — in the Sistrunk and downtown areas of Fort Lauderdale. Sistrunk used to be the richest black community in the area and has a robust, exciting history. Then in the 1980’s, the neighborhood saw a downturn. “Now that it is enjoying a renaissance,” Pilgram asserts, “I am immensely proud to be a part of that.” His company recently purchased three properties in the downtown and Sistrunk areas, all to be renovated and re-purposed by the group. “We’re taking advantage of proximity to the courthouse complex by offering services that are sorely lacking in the neighborhood,” he adds. First to open in early summer 2017 will be an executive office workspace called The Pilgram Group Executive Offices at 111 SW 6th Street. Vast expanses of marble in warm tones and bleached hardwood floors contrast bright orange walls for a modern, but not cold, feeling. Offices are available to rent for 6 months or more, and all have access to high-end amenities such as a 16-seat conference room equipped with the latest video conferencing equipment, a receptionist, a kitchen and a high speed copier.
Next will be the new home of New York Subs and Wings, a “fast casual” restaurant in a former office building at 100 S.W. Sixth Street that will bring the same food from the previous Oakland Park restaurant. That building will also house a jazz lounge called NYSW Jazz Lounge which will feature both indoor and terrace seating, a bar menu, and a wide range of jazz styles, as well as spoken word performances and Sunday afternoon movies for local kids. “We’ll present all sorts of musicians but will always try to showcase local talent.” Both the restaurant and club are slated to open no later than Labor Day of 2017. When asked about future projects, Pilgram explains, “I’m always looking for properties that will fit the portfolio and lift up the community where I live and work!” In fact, The Pilgram group just closed on a property in Sistrunk at 1448 NW 6th Street, and sold a parcel at 100 SW 6th Street to a developer who intends to put up a 30-storey residential tower. According to Pilgram, that property was purchased for $800,000 and sold three years later for $2 million – but while he doesn’t mind playing “The Pilgram Group Monopoly” when he receives an offer he can’t refuse, his heart is in developing the area to meet the needs of the community, and in so doing, provide the higher tide that lifts all the area’s boats.
Many people ask why he still works, when he could be “living the life”. The answer comes easily to Pilgram, who brought his children and other relatives into the business with him. “I lived in a great place and drove a Benz before I won the lottery, thanks to hard work and discipline. Now that I have even more means, I feel a responsibility to give back, not only by helping my family through meaningful jobs, but also by creating a stronger, more vibrant a community.” He still works 12 – 14 hours per day, but does it happily, because he is seeing his vision come to life. “My family is a military family — my Dad was in Vietnam, my sister and I were in Desert Storm, my brother served in the Navy, and now my son is in the Navy — so the idea of discipline and service to something greater than yourself is in my DNA,” he asserts.” That’s why along with his business, Pilgram spends considerable time on charitable initiatives.
Not surprisingly, Pilgram’s community support mirrors his personal interests. Mission United is an organization that offers one-on-one mentoring to veterans, with a special focus on those who want to be self-employed. Because of the fond memories of how the YMCA taught him how to swim, he has been active with the Y and the Boys and Girls Club. “Writing checks is certainly part of it, but I love to become personally involved with the organizations that I support, and gladly give as much of my time as I can,” Pilgram says.
Pilgram signs his emails “A Man of Honor” and he truly is the embodiment of this sentiment. From his discipline in assembling real estate holdings, to his creativity in renovating/repurposing them, to his passion for helping those who need a hand, he is a unique force in the South Florida business world. “My goal is to leave a legacy,” he states, with typical succinctness. “I want to leave my ‘communities’ — both my family and the Sistrunk/downtown areas — stronger, happier and more vibrant than before.”