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'I'm Doing My Part': Lottery-Winning Developer Making Mark in Fort Lauderdale

Miguel Pilgram Hopes to Revive Sistrunk Neighborhood
April 20, 2018

Developer Miguel Pilgram is planning a Memphis Blues lounge as part of a redevelopment effort in Fort Lauderdale’s Sistrunk neighborhood.
Credit: The Pilgram Group.

Miguel Pilgram was a cruise line security executive and, before that, a Navy man. But he was destined for real estate.

"My grandfather said, ‘A great way to wealth for anybody is buying dirt, because they don’t make any more of it,’" Pilgram recalled this week from his downtown Fort Lauderdale, FL office. "I love building things people say you can’t do."

Pilgram is certainly passionate about building – with three projects, two of which are in the city’s long-neglected Sistrunk Boulevard corridor, a historically black neighborhood northwest of downtown. The investments come eight years after he walked into a South Florida Shell gas station and found out he was holding a winning quick-pick lottery ticket worth $52 million.

The 48-year-old father of two owns a pair of sites across from each other in Sistrunk, and wants to build transformative projects that will include boutique shops, a restaurant, a Memphis blues lounge and a performing arts center.

"It inspires creative juices in children," he said of the center. "I’m going to do my part."

'You’re a Multimillionaire!'

Pilgram’s path to Sistrunk started in 2010, three years after moving to South Florida.

With his girlfriend waiting at home, he dashed over to the North Bay Village, FL gas station looking for a bottle of wine to go with the chicken cacciatore they were having for dinner.

The clerk told him that an as-yet-unidentified jackpot winner had bought the ticket at that store. He urged Pilgram to check his numbers, though he was more interested in getting home to avoid cold cacciatore.

Still, Pilgram pulled a wad of tickets out of his glove compartment and traipsed back into the store, where the clerk sorted through them.

A few of the tickets won small amounts of money, but Pilgram paid little attention. Then the clerk found a ticket with 15-16-20-32-45-50.

"You won the 52!" he exclaimed.

But his Portuguese accent made it hard for Pilgram to understand him. He thought he had won $52,000.


"No," the clerk said, "You’re a multimillionaire."

Pilgram said he immediately went into "Navy mode" and that night started contacting military friends who would help him prepare for what was to come.

The next day, he drove to lottery headquarters in Tallahassee, FL to claim the lump sum prize, totaling, after taxes, $29,244,436.

Most lottery winners immediately march into the boss’ office to quit. Not Pilgram.

He stayed with the cruise line, drawing his six-figure salary for six more months, giving his commander time to find a replacement.

It was that Navy discipline, he explained.

Pioneering Developer

Sistrunk Boulevard used to be a vibrant place where celebrities stayed when they came to town, according to D’Wayne Spence, manager of the city’s Northwest-Progresso-Flagler Heights Community Redevelopment Agency. In fact, he said, Muhammad Ali opened a restaurant franchise there in the late 1960s.

In the ensuing decades, however, the area fell into disrepair. Now there are rundown and vacant buildings throughout the neighborhood.

The CRA even bought lots in the area and offered them to investors for free, provided that they show a financial commitment of their own. But few people took advantage of the program, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said.

Still, Pilgram’s projects and others have offered a glimpse of what could be.

Spence said he’s eager to see the Sistrunk corridor in another year or two. He said he likes Pilgram's plans because they seek to better the community without changing its character.

"Pilgram is kind of a pioneering developer into the (city’s) northwest area," Spence said. "We have a few small investors looking in that area, but his investments and his projects are a cornerstone to getting development to push westward quicker."

Trantalis said he remains optimistic.

"In the end, we're hoping to see a wonderful response and interest and economic vitality in an area that's been dormant for a long time," the mayor said.

A Community Benefits

Pilgram said Sistrunk reminds him of Memphis, where he grew up after his family moved from Los Angeles.

He sees the performing arts center as the perfect place for a struggling artist to offer instruction to children. The artist and the students then would have the opportunity to play at the blues lounge across the street.

"On both fronts, the community is winning," he explained.

Pilgram owns multifamily properties in Pompano Beach, Tamarac, Lauderhill and Coral Springs. He owns a home in Coral Springs, but also spends time at a condominium on Fort Lauderdale beach.

His firm, The Pilgram Group, is putting the finishing touches on a jazz lounge and a restaurant next door to his Fort Lauderdale office. He also dabbles in other ventures, with a men’s clothing line and a stake in a sustainable energy business.

But he said that real estate and Fort Lauderdale remain his focus. He plans to buy more property, and he’s fielding calls from other developers who want to partner with him on entertainment venues on their deals.

The projects are piling up, but he insists he doesn’t mind.

"I’m a serious guy with energy," he said.

Paul Owers, South Florida Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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