Frank McKinney – “Tapped” to Live a Dichotomous Life
June 28, 2010 by
Filed under Architecture, Blog, Books, Charity, Coast, Construction, Donations, Florida, Front Page, Fundraising, Homeless, Humanitarian, Poverty, Real Estate, Slideshow, Social Action, Volunteers
Frank McKinney isn’t just a man, he’s a full-fledged brand. His name is synonymous with the most expensive, most lavish homes built on speculation in the world. In typical style, Frank McKinney’s Acqua Liana direct oceanfront estate is a not only a $22.9 million masterpiece of architectural design and luxury, it’s also arguably the most environmentally friendly home for the super rich that’s ever been built. As you might guess, Frank McKinney doesn’t do things half way.
But this interview series isn’t about Frank McKinney, builder to the world’s elite. It isn’t about Frank McKinney, extreme athlete (he’s that, too, running an ultra marathon across Death Valley each of the past five years — in his mid 40s). It isn’t even about Frank McKinney, daredevil and showman, dressed as a pirate and descending a zip line at one of his luxury home unveilings. It’s about Frank McKinney, humanitarian.
Blue Planet Green Living interviewed McKinney by phone from his oceanfront treehouse office in Florida. This is part one in a three-part series about McKinney, his Caring House Project Foundation, and his book, The Tap. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Frank McKinney calls himself “dichotomous,” and to my eye he is exactly that. He not only builds mansions for the world’s wealthiest people, but as founder of Caring House Project Foundation (CHPF), he also builds homes and villages for some of the world’s poorest. A grandstander at the lavish unveiling of his multimillion-dollar homes, he also meets with the poorest among poor as his equals.
If his bestselling book, The Tap, paints an accurate picture, Frank McKinney has a life that is very much in balance, despite the mega contrasts of having his feet planted in worlds so far apart.
Building Big In Order to Build Small
When I first saw the press release about his latest creation — “Frank McKinney’s Acqua Liana (Water Flower) – a stunning $22.9 million, 15,000 square-foot ocean-to-Intracoastal mansion that sits on over 1.6 acres of tranquil beachfront property in Manalapan Beach, Florida” — I was skeptical.
Then I checked on the details. McKinney’s website bills Acqua Liana as the “first ultra-luxury home to obtain triple ‘green’ certification through the U.S. Green Building Council, the Florida Green Building Coalition and Energy Star for Homes.” That’s impressive. And there’s more (all quoted directly from Frank-McKinney.com):
Mr. McKinney and LEED-H promote a whole home approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in eight key areas of human and environmental health: innovation in design, sustainable site development, energy efficiency, water savings, superior indoor air quality, environmentally preferable materials, location and ease of use/homeowner education.
- Solar panels, insulative characteristics, environmentally conscious lighting, ultra-high efficient appliances and air-conditioning that cut down on electrical consumption by nearly 60%. On certain days the home will be energy neutral, and will generate enough electricity to run two average size homes.
- A system that collects runoff water from the roof and fills the water garden. The system collects enough reusable water to fill the average size swimming pool every 20 days.
- Ultra-high efficient air-conditioning and purification systems that make the home’s indoor air quality 2x cleaner than a hospital’s operating room.
- Use of enough reclaimed and renewable wood to save over 10.5 acres of rain forest. Renewable woods used regenerate at an average rate of every 5 years vs. every 50 years for many hardwoods (one species of Columbian guada bamboo used regenerates by growing 90 feet in a single year!).
- During construction over 340,000 pounds of debris and trash was recycled. Over 75% of all debris was diverted, and will never reach a landfill.
- An automated “bio-feedback” system that allows the owner to monitor resource consumption in real time.
Though it’s an uber eco-friendly home, I can’t help thinking a mansion so big seems like conspicuous consumption to the max. And it probably is. But that’s okay with Frank McKinney; he sees the issue from another side:
“I don’t apologize at all for what I do, it’s something that’s a gift God has given me, and I’m very good at it,” he says. “I enjoy the creativity and the artistry associated with creating these beautiful homes, but there was a point where it was becoming very empty. Yet, there was a reason I was doing all this.”
By “all of this,” I interpret him as meaning Caring House Project Foundation.
McKinney continues, “My wife has a saying, ‘We build the big houses so we can build a lot of small houses.’ Twenty-five years into this career, I still love what I do for a living, but this offshoot [CHPF], it’s the same business; it’s just that a different person is getting that house. It’s fun to live that dichotomous life.”
McKinney began the Caring House Project in 1993, “on a simple premise that stability begins at home,” he says. “As I started in this real estate business in the mid ’80s, I certainly didn’t start at the ultra-high-end level by providing these multimillion-dollar homes to those who can afford them. I started by building or renovating little crack houses, little first-time home-buyer houses that were in some rough areas and were worth more like $50,000 to $100,000. I was at that for five years from 1986 to 1991, until I moved over to the oceanfront and started creating direct oceanfront homes on speculation.”
Soon after, McKinney’s worldview shifted dramatically.
Feeling The Tap
“Right about the mid ’90s, I was reading an article that was written about one of the houses we were doing — or about to do — and in the same newspaper on the opposite side of the page, was a news article about a homeless man. You’ve probably been told that you look like someone, and most of the time that person is too fat or skinny or ugly or doesn’t look at all like who you think you look like.
“But in this particular case, on the opposite side of the page from where this article was focusing on the grandeur and beauty of these oceanfront homes was an article about this homeless man which, there but for the grace of God go I.
“If I don’t shave for a couple of weeks and don’t run a blow dryer through my longer hair, I could look like I lived under a bridge real easy. And there it was. There was what I refer to in my book, The Tap: this epiphanous Tap Moment. “
The theme of The Tap can be summed up in McKinney’s paraphrase of a quote from the Bible: “From those to whom much is given, much will be expected.” He lives this philosophy each day, and pays close attention to what he calls “Tap Moments,” opportunities to take action to make a positive difference for others.
“I took a few right turns when I was a young man instead of a few left turns, or I could have certainly ended up under that bridge, being fed out of the back of a beat-up old van like this homeless man was,” McKinney tells me.
“I was in my mid-30s at the time, and I began to realize, maybe it wasn’t all about filling my garage with more cars and my closet with more clothes and my pantry with more food. Maybe there was a purpose behind the success. Perhaps it was sharing with those less fortunate. Maybe each one of us was blessed to succeed at a certain level, yet those blessings were never meant for our own benefit.
“Being a simpleton, the linear thinker that I am, this was seemed so clear. I thought, Well, listen. Frank, when you strip it all away, all the fancy houses and all the square footage and the beauty, you’re really just in the housing business. Why don’t you provide housing for people who don’t have it? And why don’t you use providing the world’s most wealthy with these beautiful mansions as your platform? Kind of like the modern-day Robin Hood; selling to the rich, so I could provide for the poor.”
“That’s where the Caring House Project Foundation got its start in 1998. After reading that very enlightening article, I started as a volunteer, serving meals to the homeless out of the back of that same beat-up old van that was featured in that story.
Sharing Time and Talent
“In The Tap, I talk about sharing the three Ts: Time, Talent, and Treasure. I didn’t have much treasure, I didn’t have much talent, but I had the time. So, I started sharing that, and then I moved to sharing my talent for fixing up a house. Instead of doing it for profit, I did it for people who couldn’t afford to fix up their own house.
“I moved officially in ’98 to starting the Caring House Project Foundation. We would buy old houses, and instead of fixing them and selling them, we would fix them and rent them for $1 a month.”
“But why charge anything,” I ask, “when the people were so poor?”
“There were two reasons for charging $1 a month,” McKinney says. “One is we wanted to make sure that those who were living in our domestic Caring House Project homes had no substance abuse. They had to have a job or be actively seeking one. And that dollar a month made sure that there was some consideration, or some pride at renting the house.”
The second reason, he explains, was that providing free housing would have qualified the homes as homeless shelters. “I would be more protected if I’d opened an adult book store than trying to open a homeless shelter,” he laments. “I realized, if I charge a dollar a month, it’s not a shelter; it’s a rental apartment. That was my way of getting around those who tried to shut us down.
“At the peak, we never had more than three units here domestically. When we first started, we focused on the elderly. They are a homeless population that you just don’t see because, honestly, they don’t last very long on the street. They don’t survive.
“My very first tenant, was in his 80s, but that man worked harder than a lot of folks I see standing around the corner doing no good. He collected aluminum cans for a living and sold cans by weight. And he was so proud.
“I don’t think we had anybody in a house longer than two years before they were exited. And this is knowing full well that they were renting for $1 a month. It’s pretty powerful.”
Caring House Project helped several people during those years, but for McKinney that wasn’t enough.
“Listen,” he says, “in business you have what’s referred to as return on investment—ROI. In the charity business, which we like to refer to as the self-sufficiency business, you have return on donation — ROD. We realized it was costing us nearly $15,000 per life to provide shelter here domestically.”
That’s when McKinney decided to build Caring House Project homes and villages in some of the poorest nations of the world.
End of Part 1
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Part 1: Frank McKinney – “Tapped” to Live a Dichotomous Life (Top of Page)