While his profound personal commitment to each project has made him one of the most sought after developers of quality real estate in America, his enigmatic life story has also made him a favorite subject of journalists across the country.
Singh was born Paul Arthur Labombard in 1952, in Fitchburg in central Massachusetts. From the ages of 7-11, Paul lived in foster care. Like many people in that small factory town, he grew up poor. But from earliest childhood, even in the most difficult circumstances displayed an unusual intellectual curiosity. He yearned for adventure and challenge. He taught himself to read at the age of five and the local library was a favorite refuge and source of dreams. According to Singh, “I dreamed of someday traveling the world. I also learned early in life, that if you want to learn anything you can always find it in a book.”
Long before he developed his first property as Pritam Singh, Labombard, as a teenager in Brunswick, Maine, was interviewed by Walter Cronkite in 1968 for his role in discovering illegal signatures on a petition to place the segregationist George Wallace on the presidential ballot in Maine.
In 1969, at the age of 17, Singh made his way to Key West, where he spent several months sleeping on the front porch of a local inn. Though it would be 17 more years before he developed his first project there as Pritam Singh, Key West captured the imagination of the young and penniless Labombard, and over the years he would be drawn time and again to this string of coral reef islands.
Also in 1971, Singh was arrested and spent several days in jail with a group of anti-war protestors protesting the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C. His early political activism was always combined with a parallel spiritual search and Labombard entered a Sikh Ashram in Massachusetts a couple of years later at the age of 21, remaining until he was 24. While in the Ashram, he married Kaitlin Briggs. It was also during this time that he took the name Pritam Singh. Pritam means “God’s Beloved” in the language of the Sikhs, and Singh, meaning “lion,” is the surname all Sikh men adopt.
EARLY WORK IN PORTLAND, MAINE
In 1978 Singh emerged from his long period of meditation and study in the Sikh commune and moved to Portland, Maine. In Portland, he and Kaitlin had two daughters, first Siri Sahaj Kaur and then Charan Kamal Kaur. Kaur, meaning “Princess,” is the surname of all Sikh women. In 1979, after a period spent traveling to India, he bought his first house in Maine - a building that had been condemned after a fire - using a loan from his lawyer, a mortgage from the seller and $500 on his credit card. Singh turned the building into ten apartments.
He formed a company called Great Bay and began turning low cost and foreclosed properties into a series of small-scale development successes, and his career as one of America’s most talked about real estate developers began. From the very beginning as a small New England builder focusing on historic preservation, Singh displayed the deep reverence for beauty and tradition, as well as for quality design and craftsmanship that continues to distinguish his projects today.
Singh was a principal force in the revitalization of Portland’s downtown district with a series of acquisitions, each larger and more ambitious than the last. He took four historical buildings called Frothingham Yard and turned them into 16 affordable condominiums that sold out in two days. He purchased, renovated and quickly sold historic buildings like Carroll Mansion. He took two buildings in downtown and turned them into the Oakview Condominiums. Then came 35 condominiums at 99 Silver Street.
One of Singh’s investors in the 99 Silver Street project in Portland was a Wall Street executive who was impressed with Singh’s ability and approach. As a result, Singh secured financing in 1983 for an ambitious project to acquire ten buildings then known as the Harvard Manor apartments in suburban Portland. He undertook a meticulous interior and exterior renovation, and then sold them as Ammerdown Place. The project was a remarkable commercial and critical success. While completing the Ammerdown Place project, Singh added a son, Tyler Reynolds, to his growing family.
In developing the Storer Brothers Condominium project in Portland, Singh turned a distressed five story historical building into a successful mixed use complex with retail and office space at the street level and 33 luxury condominium units on the middle three floors plus an additional fifth floor of premium office space at the top.
The Storer Brothers Condominium and other Portland projects earned Singh the highest praise from preservation societies like the Greater Portland Landmarks for its respectful restoration of the original vision of its famed architect, John Calvin Stevens. With Freeport Crossing in Freeport, Maine, Singh received rave reviews from architectural critics for his breakthrough vision of this 48,000 square foot outlet mall as a picturesque New England streetscape. The property is considered one of the most successful outlet mall projects in the country and was given the prestigious M.A.I.A. Award for excellence in architectural design and development.
Singh’s next project, the 44-room Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was his first hospitality venture. He went about it in his singular style, creating a world-class hotel inspired by the great summer estates created in the 19th Century by the architect John Calvin Stevens. The project earned Singh another M.A.I.A. Design Award.
Singh was unstoppable, and his projects grew in scale and scope across the country. From 1983 to 1985, his company purchased and developed a remarkable $72 million worth of property in Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico and California. Even after many years, however, the island of Key West continued to exercise its charm’s on Singh’s imagination. One day, while reading in The New York Times about an interesting property auction soon to be held there, a plan formed in his mind and he acted with the speed that has made him a legend.
THE TRUMAN ANNEX
In 1986 Singh purchased the fabled Truman Annex, a 43-acre waterfront parcel located on the southernmost point of Key West, for $17.2 million dollars at a public auction. Together with Ann Johnston, he formed The Singh Company shortly afterward and began turning the dilapidated former Naval Station into its signature project. Decades later, this project is the one with which Singh is most closely associated in the media and by the public.
No real estate project in the history of the Florida Keys has ever gained as much national attention, nor generated such intense public interest as the Singh Company’s transformation of the Truman Annex. Massive in scale, the complex eventually grew into a $200 million mixed-use project encompassing 525 resort units and 60,000 square feet of commercial space.
More than 20 historic structures, most notably the Little White House museum, commemorating Harry Truman’s love of Key West, were eventually restored with careful attention to detail. Several are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today the redeveloped Truman Annex successfully preserves Key West’s pedestrian-friendly street pattern and historic Conch architectural style.
On April 4th, 1987, Singh and Johnston were married on the lawn of the Little White House in a grand wedding in the traditional Sikh style. Dozens of locals attended the large ceremony, which was celebrated with a memorable Sikh vegetarian feast and music and dancing that carried on through the afternoon. Almost 20 years later, people still talk about what seemed to be so much more than a private wedding. For many, including Singh himself, the wedding symbolized what he calls his “covenant with the City of Key West.” Two children soon appeared. The first, Jiwan Noah Singh, was born on December 22nd, 1988, a birthday he shares with his father. Jiwan’s sister, Simran Johnston, was born on July 16, 1990.
The Singh Company’s national reputation for expertise in the planning and development of large-scale resort communities was firmly established with the decade-long Truman Annex project, whose neighborhoods include a wide variety of housing types, including luxury single-family homes, upscale condominiums and apartments and quality affordable homes.
THE KEY WEST GOLF CLUB
In 1994, as work on the Truman Annex project was drawing to a close, Singh added The Key West Golf Club to his portfolio. This $118 million resort community offered charming and attractive homes on the only 18-hole championship golf course in the Lower Keys. Combining the architectural design excellence that is a Singh Company hallmark with world-class amenities, The Key West Golf Club sold more than 150 out of a total of 390 homes in its first year of development.
True to form, Singh oversaw every detail of the project personally, from the traditional streetscape to the more than 200 acres of lush tropical landscaping in and around the golf course and a gated community he called The Sanctuary at The Key West Golf Club.
The scale and scope of Singh’s real estate acquisition and development projects had grown enormously since his modest beginnings in Maine. By 1994, he had spent 15 years in a relentless cycle of non-stop work on project after project and his material success had been remarkable. As work on The Key West Golf Club was getting underway, Singh had another life-changing experience when Ann Johnston introduced him to the work and thought of the acclaimed scholar, peace activist and Zen Buddhist Master Thich Naht Hanh. Johnston gave Singh several books by Hanh, most notably the well-known Peace is Every Step.
Such was Singh’s enthusiasm and appreciation for Hanh’s work that he would eventually edit several of the scholar’s later books, including Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers (1999); Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames (2001); No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life (2002); Creating True Peace (2003) and Taming the Tiger Within (2005). In 1997, 600 people from Florida and around the nation gathered at the Key West Golf Club for a silent weeklong retreat hosted by Singh and guided by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Singh’s next project in Key West was the Roosevelt Annex, a protected enclave of single-family homes and townhomes situated on the western shore of the island and sited for exquisite views of the setting sun over the Gulf of Mexico. Roosevelt Annex continues to be a unique and exclusive tropical resort community, featuring an intimate neighborhood of homes surrounded on three sides by water and achieving rare tranquility and beauty.
THE VILLAGE AT HAWK’S CAY
Singh’s remarkable success in Key West led to an invitation in June of 1999 by the owners of the storied Hawk’s Cay Resort and Marina for Singh to design, develop and build a community of 275 upscale vacation homes on a parcel of land adjacent to the hotel. Located on Duck Key about 60 miles north of Key West, The Village at Hawk’s Cay is a vibrant resort community that uniquely combines waterfront lots with traditional architectural styles and luxurious amenities.
MARATHON AND KEY WEST
Perfectly tucked in between Miami to the north and Key West to the South, Marathon offers a convenient airport, protected state parks with sun-drenched beaches, perennially turquoise seas and some of the best sport fishing and diving in the world.
Here, The Singh Company developed Tranquility Bay, 87 beachfront homes on 12 lushly landscaped acres overlooking the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico and featuring a pristine white sand private beach. The Homes have now all sold and resold at prices ranging from $575,000 to well over a million. Combining vacation home ownership with luxury resort accommodations, this $62 million project offers vacation homebuyers and resort guests an exclusive haven that encompasses first class living, a seemingly endless array of activities and unparalleled beauty and elegance.
Also in Marathon, Singh has created a living experience unlike any other in the Keys with the spectacular Indigo Reef Marina Homes - 67 oceanfront homes with deeded boat slips in a private gated community and featuring an experienced onsite dock master. Designed for both function and beauty, these homes are intended for anglers and water lovers who want to live directly on a marina but who also value the privacy and comfort only a private home can offer.
In keeping with the maritime theme of Singh's Marathon communities, The Singh Company also developed The Coral Lagoon and Boathouse Marina. Located on nearly six acres of lushly landscaped property and on a private marina, our charming and intimate Florida Keys resort offers 25 richly decorated, yet casually themed, classic Key West Conch-style cottages and marina homes. Each unique, waterfront two- and three bedroom home includes exceptional amenities such as gourmet kitchens, dining table for 6, first and second level private shady porches offering spectacular water views, 42 inch plasma TV in the living room, premium cable service, DVD/Stereo system and original art inspired by the Florida Keys.
In Key West, The Singh Company developed at a cost of over a $100 million the Parrot Key Resort. Traditional yet fully contemporary, this group of 74 one to three bedroom hotel condominium residences are planned for those who want to live in comfort and style within minutes of Key West’s many attractions. Located among five acres of lush topical landscaping and palm groves, the exclusive Parrot Key Resort features the traditional detail and character of classic Key West "Conch-style" homes, with shade dappled front and back porches that overlook the water and spectacular sunsets. This magical island paradise surrounds four private swimming pools nestled in a garden paradise, as well as white sandy beaches by day and the eclectic happenings of Key West by night.
RECENT AND UNDER CONSTRUCTION
The Marker Hotel in Key West was completed in 2014. With a development cost of $20 million and acquisition cost of $15 million, The Marker sold within 60 days of completion for $96,250,000 or $1,000,000 per key. Beautifully situated on nearly two acres at one of the most desirable sites in the state of Florida, The Marker Hotel has become the crown jewel of the Key West Historic District. Ninety Six guest rooms built in classic conch style architecture surrounded by three pools, a restaurant, fitness center, meeting space and extensive tropical landscaping. The Key West Bight Historic district is home to Key West’s fleet of historic tall ships, a must visit for visitors. The Marker Hotel, only steps from the city’s Harbor Walk offers immediate access to entertainment, fresh seafood, art galleries, boutique shopping, and all the sights and sounds of a thriving harbor. Mixing classical architecture and luxury with a truly breathtaking location, Marker Hotel has risen to the forefront of the Key West hotel and travel experience.
Currently under construction and completing in December 2016, is the Oceans Edge Key West Resort and Marina. With a development cost of $65 million, and featuring an unparalleled 20 acre open Atlantic waterfront location in Key West, Florida, Oceanside Marina & Resort will be the islands premier destination resort. With 199 rooms built in classic conch architecture, each with luxury furnishings, award winning tropical landscaping and breathtaking ocean views. Six pools and a world class restaurant will be adjacent to a 115 slip marina, located less then three miles from the last living Great Coral Reef in North America.
PHILOSOPHY AND INTERESTS
Singh is an ordained Minister of the Order of Inter Being of the Unified Buddhist Church in Plum Village, Loube’s - Bernac, France, where Thich Nhat Hanh spends much of his time. He also serves as Chairman of the Buddhist Committee on Dialogue and Understanding at the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California and at the Maple Forest Monastery in South Woodstock, Vermont. Pritam has traveled extensively throughout the world with Thich Nhat Hanh.
Singh and his wife, Ann Johnston, live in the Florida Keys and Woodstock, Vermont, and two of Singh’s children work in the family business. They are all heavily involved in philanthropic work. The Singh family has given away millions of dollars to charities. Singh is passionate about the environment and social issues. He is a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a past member of the Board of Directors for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
Closer to home in the Florida Keys, Singh collaborated with The Middle Keys Community Land Trust to renovate and sell housing on a historic site at the Overseas Village in Marathon. This successful public-private partnership between the Land Trust and The Singh Company created the first new affordable housing community in the Middle Keys in a decade.
Also within the Florida Keys, Singh has lent his support to family service organizations, including the Grace Jones Day Care Center in Marathon. Affordable day care and child care as well as a Head Start program are now available in this historically segregated school, which was re-designed by one of Singh’s top architects as a castle - complete with spires and turrets - so that the children who attend will feel like little princes and princesses.
Singh’s lifelong journey of self-discovery has perhaps been the greatest influence on his real estate development approach. One of the things he sees are neighborhoods where people can live in harmony with their natural environments. “Mine is not a legacy of buildings,” he says, “it is a legacy of neighborhoods.”