Stephanie J. Toothaker, Esq.
Stephanie J. Toothaker is a Martindale Hubbell AV-Rated governmental and land development attorney with over two decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, and strategist. However, she is more than an award-winning legal mind regularly recognized as a SuperLawyer by Florida Trend’s Legal Elite. As chairwoman and chief strategist of Toothaker.org, Stephanie’s expertise in complex land development and procurement projects combined with her business savvy have earned her the 2020 South Florida Business Journal Terry Stiles Deal of the Year Award and had her named as a 2020 South Florida Business & Wealth Apogee Award nominee.
With a career that began as a young, unpaid intern opening mail for U.S. Senator, Bob Graham, and launched her into the role as special projects director. After going back to law school, she was later appointed Special Counsel to the Senator, the first female, and the youngest in history to serve in that position. Stephanie’s well-known reputation for making the impossible possible was born decades ago. It’s no surprise then, that she founded Toothaker.org with this as its mantra, building it into an organization with a national reputation for success and unparalleled strategic alliances.
Launched in 2019, Toothaker.org is a Fort Lauderdale-based firm, dedicated to excellence in development, land use, procurement, and politics, with a client base ranging from global billionaires to local entrepreneurs and innovators. Having successfully executed complicated development projects like Tavistock’s reimagining of the iconic Pier 66 and unique public/private partnerships like David Beckham and Jorge Mas’ InterMiami Stadium and Training Facility, Stephanie and her team prove time and again their ability to deliver on tight timelines and difficult scopes. We had the privilege of sitting down with Stephanie to learn more her firm, her role as an industry leader, and the booming Florida real estate development market.
Tell us about your role as the leader of Toothaker.org.
My overarching charge is to find the most efficient pathway to success for my clients. My primary responsibilities are to first recognize challenges to proposed projects, identify the most efficient solutions to those challenges, and then implement those solutions with the highest possible velocity. From my decades in the national political arena and public policy, I have the relationships, resources, and a profound understanding of what it takes to execute complex land deals and developments, so I’m able to seamlessly navigate multi-agency processes, manage the government relations process, and achieve success within aggressive timelines. I represent private equity firms, innovative companies, and entrepreneurial individuals seeking complex land development entitlements. I have specific expertise in innovative activation of property rights, public/private P3 initiatives, complex mixed-use projects, land use plan amendments, zoning modifications, and site plan approvals in the commercial, residential, sporting, and hospitality sectors.
Your clients include Red Bull Global Rallycross, Swatch Volleyball World Championships, Key West Race Week, and the Lauderdale Yacht Club, to name a few. What is one of your most memorable projects in which you “made the impossible possible?”
Every one of my projects has left an indelible mark on me, so I’d have to say all them! But bringing the Lockhart Park/InterMiami Stadium and Training Facility dream of David Beckham and Jorge Mas to life in 13 months—I’m particularly proud of this accomplishment. This was a deal that everyone said could not be done. That made it appealing to Toothaker.org, as we specialize in making the impossible happen. It typically takes two to four years to complete a project of this size and complexity, but the soccer season was scheduled to begin in just over a year, so we had no time to lose. It took a lot of sheer determination and guts and faith, cooperation between the city of Ft. Lauderdale and the ownership group, all of us working closely together to navigate all the moving parts. They were ready to kick their first ball of the season in March 2020.
You’re an acclaimed attorney and an industry leader with a thriving firm, Stephanie. But it all began with picking up trash on the side of the road, correct?
It was. I’ll never forget that day. I had just graduated from University of Florida and I was working as an intern in the mailroom for U.S. Senator, Bob Graham, in the Tallahassee office when the state director came in and said, “Hey, interns, Senator Graham’s office has adopted this stretch of highway and we’re asking you to join us at 6 a.m. tomorrow to help clean it up.” I showed up bright and early, and I was the only intern there. The state director and I walked together, picking up trash, and he said, “You were the only one who showed up, and we really appreciate it. Would you like to work on the senator’s re-election campaign?” I was giddy! After the senator won, I was asked to go to Washington. I packed my car with everything I owned and landed in D.C. as a young Florida girl in the center of the political universe. Within six weeks of answering phones for Bob Graham, I moved to special projects coordinator and then to running the federal judiciary nominating commission under Bob’s leadership. To have that kind of access and be part of those decisions at the highest level as a young neophyte. What an opportunity! I love Bob and Adele Graham like my parents. Later, I served as an attorney on Capitol Hill before founding Toothaker.org in 2019.
What led you from Capitol Hill to the field of real estate development, specifically in Florida, and how does your experience help your clients?
After my first year as a litigator, I really felt like I wanted to find an area of practice that was more in line with my experience and interest. I came from being an attorney on Capitol Hill, so being a lobbyist was the perfect fit—developing properties and practicing in the areas of government relations, representing clients at the federal, state, and municipal levels throughout South Florida. Because of my diverse background, I’m able to merge my success in business and politics—and my intimate understanding of the Florida market as one who was born and raised here—to provide a unique perspective on development, start-ups, and business development.
Your company has seen explosive growth in just two years since its inception. Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the real estate landscape or the pace of development plans in Florida?
This is the busiest I’ve ever been. Business has doubled, at least, and the quality of the projects and the quality of the developer is just unmatched. I look at the list of my clients, and they’re household names across the world: “The real deal, page one, above the fold” names. I’m honored that they trust me to take on these massive projects. With COVID, I’ve found that the developers that are coming here have changed, and they’re more aggressive in identifying and acquiring land and projects for development opportunities. While I’m still serving local developers, many of the people that I’m working with now are big international players, like Kushner Companies, Tavistock, Kolter, and David Beckham, who are all now heavily invested in Ft. Lauderdale and doing projects all over world. Ft. Lauderdale is my home and so many of my clients really do care about the community. To be able to help my clients to turn their visions into realities while adding value to South Florida communities is tremendously fulfilling—and I’m loving every second of it.
Stephanie J. Toothaker, Esq.
President — Toothaker.org