Taking the Long View

Dealmaker pivots away from quick-turn investments

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larry davidson

As an attorney, entrepreneur, businesswoman and community servant, Kim Rivers, in all that she does, is about assessing possibilities.

Dajanae is 14. Her mother works in the call center at the Department of Revenue. There, she earns enough money to make her ineligible for food stamps, but scarcely enough to pay the rent, feed and clothe her children and keep the lights on.

She does her job well and earns accolades, but that means only that she is treated to lunch from time to time. There is no path to advancement for her. She is trapped and so, too, are Dajanae’s siblings.

Kim Rivers would like to change the community conversation.

An attorney, businesswoman, entrepreneur and dealmaker whose projects change the face of neighborhoods and may even shape societal mores, Rivers has become closely familiar with the problem of generational poverty.

She lives it. That is, Dajanae lives with her and Rivers’ 7-year-old son. Dajanae’s grandmother is close by; she works for Rivers as a nanny.

“A huge section of our population in Tallahassee is stuck,” Rivers said. “As a community, we are becoming more and more bifurcated. We have the elite and well-educated, and we have the poor. The number of people living below the poverty line in Tallahassee is increasing.”

Rivers concedes that the problem is a stubborn one not amenable to short-term solutions.

“That’s part of the reason we don’t talk about it more than we do,” she said. “We’d rather talk about shiny new developments. But if we don’t tackle this issue, we are destined to become a tale of two cities.”

Rivers comes by her desire to help others honestly. She was born in Jacksonville to a police officer and a public school teacher, both of whom, like Rivers, are Florida State University graduates.

As a high-schooler, Rivers submitted just one application for admission to a college or university. She was inclined to consider the University of Florida in addition to FSU, “but Dad told me at the time that there was no way he was going to write a check to Steve Spurrier.”

Rivers was student body president at FSU before straying to Florida for law school. Fittingly, she worked for Tallahassee attorney and Florida grad Steve Uhlfelder during the summer immediately preceding her enrollment at Gainesville. Uhlfelder saw to it that she had an in-person meeting with the dean of the law school before starting classes.

As a law student, Rivers completed a legislative fellowship in Tallahassee, thinking that she might become a lobbyist. But she abandoned that idea upon discovering that she had limited patience for the “good-old-boyism” that prevailed at the Capitol. She went on to clerk at the large Troutman Sanders law firm in Atlanta, where she would start her law career and find a liking for transactions versus litigation. As part of a 12-member team that specialized in putting deals together, Rivers found her niche among 400 Troutman attorneys and acquired a taste for the “big-deal high.”

Rivers married a fellow attorney she met in Atlanta and the couple moved to Tallahassee, his hometown. Rivers worked for her in-laws’ real estate firm and had a child. But neither home-selling nor marriage would prove to be long-term ventures. She departed both amicably and, poised to reinvent herself, she considered becoming a major-gifts procurement specialist with the FSU Foundation.

Rivers consulted an acquaintance, J.T. Burnette, in hopes that he could get her a meeting with Steve Evans, then the interim president of the Foundation. Burnette, however, upon studying her resumé, told Rivers, “You need to come to work for me.”

Burnette and colleague Chad Kittrell soon took Rivers on a trip to size up foreclosure property “in the middle of nowhere” as a possible investment.

“It was a random RV park, and the guy who developed it was one of these doom-and-gloom, world’s-coming-to-an-end, kind of guys,” Rivers smilingly recalled. “He had built a compound with his house underground, and it was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen in my life. There was a little train that traveled the property.

“I was like, ‘No, this is the worst deal ever.’ Everything was screaming, ‘No, No, No.’”

Rivers feared that she might lose out on a chance to join Burnette in business, but when asked over lunch for her assessment of the RV park, she was frank.

Good answer. The Rivers/Burnette partnership had its genesis. They would work for a time together with Kittrell under the Hunter & Harp Holdings umbrella before striking out to co-found Inkbridge, Inc., a “financial engineering firm.”