12390472060?profile=RESIZE_710xAndrew Rivkin’s Ocean Ridge home on North Ocean Boulevard was derided by neighbors as ‘the parking garage’ as construction dragged on. Staff photo

After nine years of construction and angst, online casino magnate gets vital OK from town

By Jane Musgrave

It appears a nine-year nightmare for people who live in central Ocean Ridge will finally come to an end.

In a Feb. 23 email, Town Attorney Christy Goddeau said a temporary occupancy permit has been issued for a 13,000-square-foot oceanfront home that neighbors initially dubbed “the concrete bunker” before deciding “the parking garage” more accurately described the imposing white concrete behemoth just south of Town Hall.

If the owner, wealthy Canadian entrepreneur Andrew Rivkin, installs landscaping, a driveway gate and takes care of several other relatively minor unfinished items in 30 days, a final certificate will be issued for his home at 6273 N. Ocean Boulevard. That will allow Rivkin to avoid a threatened $5,000-a-day fine — up to a whopping $230,000 — that would have been assessed if he didn’t get a temporary certificate by March 15.

Rivkin’s attorneys in early February assured the Town Commission that the longest construction project in the town’s history was nearing completion.

“I think we’ve been rowing in the same direction which has been beneficial to everyone,” Miami attorney Stanley Price said, insisting that the latest of at least 10 requests for building permit extensions would be the last. “We fully intend to meet our obligation to the town.”

But, after nearly a decade of living in a noisy, dusty and traffic-choked construction zone, residents were dubious.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Lisa Ritota, who repeatedly called police when tractor-trailers, cement trucks and water tankers blocked her driveway on nearby Hudson Avenue.

“I’m not holding my breath and I haven’t been holding my breath for the last five years on this stupid thing.”

Jill Shibles, who lives next to Rivkin’s property, which he owns through Oceandell Holdings LLC, said the project has been stressful. Her outside furniture was constantly covered in dust. Outdoor conversations were impossible. Construction workers would routinely wander near and onto her property.

“This whole situation has been absurd and very disturbing to our community as a whole,” she said at one of numerous town meetings that were called to address the ongoing construction project.

Like other residents, Shibles said she can’t understand why the project was allowed to go on for so long.

Work began in May 2015 with the destruction of an existing estate home. The new home was supposed to be completed in at least two years. Instead, when Rivkin repeatedly missed town-imposed deadlines, he simply paid the price.

Although a full accounting has yet to be done, Rivkin was slapped with a $250-a-day fine that apparently has been growing since he missed a July 2021 drop-dead deadline. In 2022, he paid $44,515 to renew his building permits. Also, in a gesture of goodwill, he posted a $450,000 bond to prove he would honor his word and complete the house by June 2023.

This year, after he missed yet another deadline, he wrote a check for $50,000 to compensate the town for tax money it lost when he didn’t complete the house by Dec. 31, 2023.

While the threatened $5,000-a-day fines, part of an agreement he signed last year with town officials, seemed to get his attention, those who have faced off with him said that is unusual.

Like Ocean Ridge residents, others say they have learned that when it comes to building projects, little motivates the 54-year-old jet-setting, polo-loving father of two young children who is often referred to as the father of online gaming.

12390473300?profile=RESIZE_710xAndrew Rivkin intended to build a 1,900-square-foot boathouse at the dock beside his 14-bedroom manor on a lake in Ontario, embroiling a neighbor in a six-year dispute. The boathouse is yet to be built. Photo provided

A lake house in Canada
Lindsay Histrop, a Canadian lawyer who owns a 1,000-square-foot summer cottage next to Rivkin’s 14-bedroom estate along Lake Simcoe near Toronto, said she fought Rivkin’s 2017 plans to build a 1,900-square-foot boathouse to go with his existing 85-foot-long pier and breakwater on the environmentally sensitive waterway.

Officials in Innisfil initially rejected Rivkin’s proposal, with the town’s chief planning official calling it the “poster child for what a good shoreline is not” and a councilor saying, “I don’t like the way this was presented, I’ll call it shenanigans,” according to a 2018 article in the Innisfil Journal.

After a private meeting with Rivkin’s lawyers, town officials reversed course, approving the boathouse. Left on her own, Histrop unsuccessfully appealed the decision to various government agencies, citing safety and ecological concerns. Her crusade ended in February 2023 when her final appeal was rejected by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

In what Histrop described as hollow victories, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources found that Rivkin’s breakwater was not built according to the approved plans and fined the contractor, according to the Barrie Today newspaper. Histrop said the fine was $10,000.

Another agency, Transport Canada, charged with protecting navigation on Canada’s waterways, said in an email that it ordered Rivkin to remove some of the boulders that were not shown in the breakwater’s approved plans.

The boathouse hasn’t been built and Rivkin is currently listing the estate for rent for $82,500 to $88,776 a week. Histrop said she stopped following his boathouse plans, but suspects he will pursue them.

The boathouse battle took its toll, both emotionally and financially, Histrop said. “You do get worn down and it’s difficult when someone has bottomless resources,” she said.

Histrop, who summers at the cottage built by her grandfather, said she and her family would have been willing to compromise. They would have helped Rivkin find a better way to bring his fleet of speedboats to shore.

But, he never talked to her, appeared at government meetings or tried to address her concerns.

“It’s obnoxious when you want what you want and you don’t care what your neighbors think,” Histrop said. “He’s just a guy with lots of money and he’s used to getting what he wants.”

Her comments echo those made by Rivkin’s soon-to-be neighbors in Ocean Ridge. He never offered to meet with them to discuss their objections to the stark, white house that features a large gray triangle that looks more like it belongs in a shopping plaza than among Ocean Ridge estates, residents said. He never apologized for upending their lives with the nearly decade-long construction project.

“He just wants what he wants,” said Ritota. “He’s obviously got more money than God and doesn’t care about anyone else but himself.”

The man behind the house
Rivkin, through Price, declined comment for this story. But, in online posts, he has said he cares deeply about others and uses his wealth to give generously to various causes, such as combatting breast cancer, heart disease and other illnesses, particularly those that affect children.

In a 2013 post that came long after he made his first millions, Rivkin described how he uses polo to help others.

“As an athlete and innate competitor, I love playing the sport of polo for the highest honors of the season,” he wrote. “But what I love even more is when the competition in which

I participate is beneficial to charitable organizations and those in need.”

One of his other attorneys, Gerald Richman, said Rivkin, who spends much of his time at his home near London, didn’t intend the project to drag on for years. Richman described the delays largely on circumstances beyond Rivkin’s control.

Rivkin belatedly found out that FPL and Boynton Beach Utilities couldn’t provide sufficient service for the home without extending lines by drilling under State Road A1A, a process that required state and federal permits.

“Rivkin is just a victim here,” Richman said. “He’s cooperated fully. The client has literally done everything he can do.”

But, Richman acknowledged, Rivkin was also distracted. “He has a lot of things going on and it wasn’t something he was focused on,” Richman said.

Rivkin’s business interests are far-flung.  He and his brother are widely credited with helping create the $63.5 billion-a-year online casino gaming industry.

Using a technology they developed as teens working in their parents’ basement, in 1995 they launched CryptoLogic. While the publicly traded firm initially provided security for businesses doing online transactions, it quickly morphed into one of the first online gaming platforms.

Before the brothers stepped away from the company and cashed in their shares, it attracted 500,000 users worldwide and processed more than $4 billion in transactions.

But Rivkin wasn’t done. He co-founded FUN Technologies, which became the world’s largest online provider of casual games, such as Solitaire, and fantasy sports. When Rivkin and his partner sold it in 2006 it was valued at $484 million.

Since then, Rivkin has served as a consultant for Mood Media, a multifaceted international company that provides such services as music people listen to while on hold or while shopping. In 2009, he founded Rivkin Asset Management, which invested in real estate, media, technology and renewable energy.

Along the way, Rivkin learned to play polo. A regular at the Toronto Polo Club, he was also occasionally seen riding alongside professional players at the now defunct Gulfstream Polo Club in Wellington.

Histrop said Rivkin raised polo ponies on a farm he bought near his lakeside estate near Toronto. According to Florida records, he and a professional polo player formed Rivendell Polo Florida in 2015 for the purpose of “buying and selling horses and teaching lessons.” The company, which listed the address of his still uncompleted home, was dissolved two years later.

Lingering doubts
Ocean Ridge residents said they are frustrated not only by the delays but their inability to find out the reasons behind them. Some question whether the house meets the town’s codes.

Town Attorney Goddeau has repeatedly said that no rules were broken. “There were approvals by building officials, re-submissions for changes,” she said during a June 2023 meeting. “They’ve all been approved. Based on those approvals, they constructed what’s there today.”

If Rivkin completes the remaining punch list items by the end of March, she said she and town officials will address the outstanding code enforcement case. She didn’t respond to an email, seeking comment about the status of the $250-a-day fine. But, if it has been accumulating since July 2021, it could reach well over $200,000.

Vice Mayor Steve Coz said mistakes were made. But, he said, there was no easy way to rectify them. The town could have seized Rivkin’s $450,000 bond and used the money to demolish the house, as some residents demanded.

“But let’s face reality,” he said at one contentious meeting. “If the town ever went to level that property we’d be in a, what, five-year legal battle.”

Instead, he encouraged residents to embrace the unconventional house that is built around a 5,000-square-foot reflecting pool. “It’s stunning,” he said.

Further, he suggested, Rivkin should make peace with his neighbors.

“When you finally finish it out, you should have an open house for the town residents,” Coz told Rivkin’s attorneys.

The look-see would be illuminating to critics. “You can understand why it took so long to build,” Coz said.

 

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Comments

  •  Well said, Martin. 

  • Architecture and style are clearly personal choices and there can be objective discussions but at the end of the day it is an individual choice.

    Personally, I am very much a fan of contemporary architecture, as well as contemporary and modern art as indicative by the art sculptures in my own front yard.

    What is not up for personal interpretation is that a nine year construction on a residential home is outrageous and unacceptable. For Vice Mayor Coz to suggest that the construction of a 5000 square-foot reflection pool somehow constitutes the need for a nine year construction nightmare, that impacts the neighbors and community as a whole is utterly ridiculous and shows how dislodged he is from his own constituents.

    Let me put this in perspective for you: The 3/8 mile long reflection pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial at the Capital was built in two years. The time it takes from being granted the rights to host Olympic games to when several stadiums have to be built, Olympic villages have to be erected and infrastructure has to be put in place is less time than it took Mr. Rivken to build his home.

    The endless delays in construction were absolute failures of our town and the lack of having our own building department. It was under a contracted building department, the very same company that is been used today again, that did not enforce our own town code and granted outrageous changes to the original plans presented to the architectural review board back in 2014 and 2015.

    The story here is not that Mr. Coz is clearly buttering up the owner of the home for a potential listing to a certain someone in his own family. It is about the fact that Mr. Coz and Mr. Pugh both were instrumental in creating animosity towards our own building official, the one that enforced the building codes, OUR Ocean Ridge Building Code, the one Mr. Coz and Mr. Pugh are in charge of. But because the building official actually did his job and did it exactly to the letter of the laws the one Misters Coz and Pugh are in charge of, he was vilified and eventually replaced with the very company that is responsible for 6273 N. Ocean Blvd and the 9-year construction disaster.

    That company, HyByrd has been picked by Mr. Pugh, who frequently has business in front of them with his pool construction company, here in Ocean Ridge, which is a gigantic conflict of interest as well as other jurisdictions that use HyByrd services.

    The message to the town is simple. Stop putting people in charge that have personal interest that contradict the greater benefit of our community. Demand from your Commissioners that they hire our own Building Official instead of wasting money on outside service companies that do not care about our town or even know our town building codes. Mr. Guy, our former Building Official, created a $400,000 surplus in his last year with close to $1M in revenue and was replaced for a company that has shown gross incompetence if not neglect in how they handled building permits and construction revisions leaving us with the parking garage of a shopping mall also known as Mr. Rivkens house.

    Martin Wiescholek
    Former Commissioner Ocean Ridge

This reply was deleted.

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