'Tin-can tourists' of Florida trailer park sell up for $510m

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The Independent US

It is an aptly corny name for a slice of old Florida that has defied the relentless advance of high-end apartments and splashy hotels. Slap-bang on the Atlantic between Palm Beach and Boca Raton, Briny Breezes is a town composed of trailer homes, tired sun chairs and Stars and Stripes on rusting flag poles.

Nostalgia, however, and a cosy community lifestyle is no match for big bucks. And so it is that Briny Breezes, which accommodated its first "tin-can tourists" in rickety caravans towed from the chilly northeastern United States all the way back in 1921, has finally succumbed. Soon, it will be no more.

For the owners of its 488 mobile homes, nearly all of them retirees, the end began with a secret ballot on whether to sell the entire 43-acre municipality to a Florida land developer on Wednesday. More than four out of five residents voted in favour. In that there is surely little surprise. The purchaser, Ocean Land Investments, has agreed to pay $510m (£260m). A quick calculation will tell you that, depending on the size and location of their lots, a large number of the residents stand to walk out of Briny's gates with more than $1m each.

A bonanza of such scale is not what most residents dreamed of when they first took a stake in Briny Breezes. For them, it was simply a patch of Florida to spend the winter months without losing their shirts. Who knew they would end up so handsomely lining their pockets? "It makes dollar sense," conceded Joseph Ursone, a resident for five years. "Everyone has been on pins and needles. It's time to move on."

While the clinking of glasses could distinctly be heard above the lapping of the ocean on Wednesday night, the decision to take the money and run did not come to most residents without due sadness and sentiment. It means putting down stakes somewhere else in the Sunshine State. And even a million bucks does not go as far as it used to on its increasingly glitzy Atlantic strip.

"It doesn't matter how you voted, we're all Brinyites," said Mary Kimber, the president of the Breezes board as she announced the results of the vote. Allowing a tear or two to fall, she added: "We always will be. We'll keep it that way until the end."

No one need move quite yet. Zoning permission has yet to be won by Ocean Land to be able to replace the trailers with apartment towers, a hotel and luxury marina. At the very earliest, the deal can be completed in 2009.

"I don't think there is anyone that lives here that doesn't love Briny," said Gay Sideris, who paid $155,000 for her trailer home in 2001 and stands to net $1.5m.