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Building optimism



Vanilla Ice

Vanilla Ice is positive about the growth of Port St. Lucie where he owns properties. He plans on building more homes when the timing is right. PHOTO PROVIDED

Rapper Vanilla Ice confident PSL housing industry on road to recovery

BY JERRY SHAW

When housing construction begins its comeback in Port St. Lucie, there’s one real estate investor, house builder and home designer who will be taking advantage of it — rapper, actor and reality TV host Vanilla Ice.

Ice, also known by his real name, Rob Van Winkle, owns several properties in Port St. Lucie and throughout St. Lucie County, and over the years he has bought and sold many homes here. He’s holding on to those properties, getting ready for the next housing wave.

“I’m letting them marinate and waiting for when the values get up more reasonable,” he said. “St. Lucie will be making a good comeback.” It’s had a slow recovery in housing construction from the 2008 bust, he pointed out.

“St. Lucie is a nice, big county with good infrastructure,” Ice noted. “It has a big master plan and another wind is coming there.”

Ice was part of the building boom in Port St. Lucie. “There was rapidly growing St. Lucie West that came out of nowhere. Then Tradition was growing rapidly, then the bottom fell out when the brakes kind of hit,” Ice recalled.

“Palm Beach did well during the recession because of all the money there. St. Lucie was a little bit slower out of the floodgates to come back like that.”

Ice, who lives in Wellington, moved most of his building projects in Florida to the Palm Beach area, but he’s keeping his eye on Port St. Lucie, which he believes will be a “hot spot” during the next housing boom.

“I research where people move and where they can afford to move, and other important things for investing,” said Ice, who frequently drives through the Treasure Coast area.

Building in Palm Beach has been “very good and lavish but expensive,” he noted, so he foresees an influx to the north, including Port St. Lucie and other areas in the county, for more affordable housing. “There’s a lot of potential there in St. Lucie.” In Port St. Lucie, “there’s a big infrastructure there to accept the wave of whatever is coming,” he said.

“I do have property (in Port St. Lucie) and can build homes when everything catches up to itself. I think it’s close to it now.”

While he works on multimillion-dollar estates on the ocean in Palm Beach, he also works on projects in other areas, including Brevard and Martin counties. His building efforts have been featured on his DIY Network television show, The Vanilla Ice Project, now in its seventh season.

His 1990 single Ice Ice Baby was the first hip-hop song to reach the top of the Billboard charts. The song includes the line, “So I continued to A1A Beachfront Avenue,” and he finds it amusing that he has since built homes along that address.

In his show and seminars, Ice talks about designing, decorating and investing in homes. “They want to see home design but also investment, and the way you think about investing gets people back into the frame of mind of the American dream, how to decorate a home and raise a family there.”

“I love the fact that we have such great ratings on this show and that people really are inspired,” Ice said. About 70 percent of the viewers are women because he often concentrates on designing special interior rooms and closets that fit their accessories.

The legendary rapper also lends his talents to charity work. He helped a Palm Bay family install a therapeutic pool and provide a state-of-the-art wheelchair for 4-year-old Owen Johnson, who was paralyzed from the neck down after being hit by a drunken driver. For the past 12 years, he has hosted his Little Smiles block parties for children.

“I have fun doing it,” he explained. “Everything I do leads to smiles, and I believe smiles are contagious.”

He went to the Amish community in Ohio to build homes for the needy. There was no electricity or cell phones. “I never missed my cell phone,” Ice said. “I had the greatest time ever.”

Aside from the friendliness and warmth of the Amish people, Ice also found that they “make a helluva apple pie.”

Incredibly, he manages to keep the music persona in his life. In the 1990s, at the height of his hip-hop popularity, Ice dated Madonna and appeared in photographs in her book, Sex. He was also the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in 1991 and appeared in the movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, which he called one of his “coolest experiences.”

He maintains a loyal following.

“On the weekends, I’m a rock star and I’m doing concerts,” he said. His shows take him around the country as well as to Europe and Australia. But that’s “only on the weekends. During the week, I’m in construction.”

What makes Florida so attractive for potential home buyers are the palm trees, sunshine, and enjoying a pina colada on the beach, Ice said. Even if you’re looking for affordable homes a few miles inland in St. Lucie West or Tradition, you “can still have a pina colada on the beach.”