A forward-thinking visionary, Robert MacFarlane values many things in life—family and his community being the most significant. His daughter and protégé, Rebekah Barney, lives with her husband Jeff and two adorable toddler boys in Gulf Harbour. Every weekend he visits, taking his grandsons for walks around the community.
Just a short drive down McGregor Boulevard to downtown Fort Myers, MacFarlane’s legacy is reflected over the waters of the Caloosahatchee River. At the height of the market in the 2000s, MacFarlane was instrumental in the development of the downtown area, a vision achieved with his Beau Rivage, St. Tropez and Riviera properties that comprise the Historic River District’s expanding skyline.
He’s not a corporate developer. He runs a family operation driven and guided by his vision to reimagine this small area with big potential. Unrelenting in his support for downtown Fort Myers, MacFarlane’s spent nearly 20 years cultivating strong and essential relationships with city officials from whom he’s received unprecedented support. His daughter says he has a knack, that he has passed down to her, for seeing beautiful buildings where there are none. His experience spans nearly 50 years, with beginnings in New York, Texas, and Illinois, where he primarily revitalized high rises, hotels and historic properties holding close a particular passion for riverfronts. A chance partnership brought MacFarlane to Fort Myers in the early 2000s, and he fell in love with the area and put down roots where he works.
He credits his success to his somewhat Dickensian upbringing, raised by his aunt in Fall River, Mass. MacFarlane grew up on a $13.20 weekly welfare check that paid for his home in an old, wood tenement building with no running water, surviving on a diet of bologna and bruised fruit, with a loving guardian who rationed even his toilet paper usage. That being said, he says he “was well fed and safe.”
These humble beginnings created in him an imagination and an ability to dream that he says still keeps him going. His company tagline “Helping People Live Better Lives” is the business he is in, and it’s something that inspires the planning of each of his projects.
On Prima Luce on the Waterfront, his newest high-rise community in downtown Fort Myers slated to break ground in December 2017, tedious planning revolved around the idea of a day in the life of a resident. How can life be simplified, easy and made better from the moment residents wake up to have coffee on their balcony to the end of their day when a short walk downtown yields a delicious meal at one of many nearby restaurants?
With river views seen from every residence—not just from the more expensive units, but all residences—and resort-style amenities that surpass his previous projects, Prima Luce is also the most affordable high-rise option in Southwest Florida for buyers seeking new construction on the water.
Sharing his vision for the Fort Myers waterfront is not exclusive to MacFarlane himself, but his daughter Rebekah, his son Mark and his wife Emilia have embraced his unwavering passion for the area. From the history to the charm to the water itself, the four MacFarlanes believe in the lifestyle downtown, working together to make Prima Luce, as well as his other project, Campo Felice, a reality.
Rebekah, a poised and knowledgeable presence, is the Chief Operating Officer of both properties and sites historic preservation as one of her great loves. Mark, the Construction Manager on Prima Luce, brings years of development experience and a propensity for problem-solving to the project. A successful business woman in her own right, MacFarlane’s wife Emilia contributes to Prima Luce more than 35 years in international media buying for the likes of BBC, Televisa and more. Fluent in four languages with comprehension in six to complement a strong marketing background, Emilia helps guide promotion for the project, both internationally and domestically.
Family is as much a part of MacFarlane’s life as his day job. He’s the father to eight children and the very proud “G Pops” to 18 grandchildren.
With four projects completed and one in progress, we haven’t heard the last of MacFarlane. As the River District continues to draw great retail, trending restaurants and exciting development, his contribution to the area will, undoubtedly, cement him as a driving force in the changing landscape downtown.
“I’m just grateful to be where I am now,” he said. “I get to live in a beautiful place with a beautiful family.”