Miami’s Design District turned into center stage for the real estate industry on Thursday, as more than 4,000 wheelers and dealers packed the Moore Building for The Real Deal‘s second annual South Florida Real Estate Showcase & Forum.
Developers touted their projects, brokers displayed their offerings, and real estate professionals hobnobbed amid four full floors of exhibit booths. A standing-room-only crowd filled a forum space on the second floor to hear pros debate the latest market trends during three panel discussions. Among the celebrity attendees: Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez of the Yankees and Miami Heat player Luol Deng.
“It feels like a high school reunion for me, because I’ve been here 25 years, and I can see people I’ve known many, many years,” said Ricardo Dunin, founding partner of Lionheart Capital, which is developing the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Miami Beach. “You have good quality people and you can find out what’s going on with other projects.”
More than 40 sponsor booths brought color to the historic building, displaying huge renderings and scale models. Booths showcased dozens of new condominium towers and brokerage firms, along with interior design experts, financial firms, and even the U.S. Department of Immigration Fund.
Besides giving out brochures, some exhibitors offered an extra dose of panache: Four Midtown and ACC Realty added a prociutto carver from Salumeria 104 in Midtown Miami. Iris on the Bay had models, dressed in French attire, hand out macarons, to highlight the project’s location in Miami Beach’s French-inspired Normandy Isle.
“It’s dynamic,” Donald Denis, an agent with Related/ISG said of the bustling exhibit hall. “You reconnect with a lot of people you only see once a year, here.”
During the panel discussions, attendees heard from some of South Florida’s top developers and brokers, amid a room brimming with people.
“Next year, we’ll build The Real Deal a bigger building,” quipped Craig Robins, president and CEO of Dacra, owner of the Moore Building, during the first panel, “Developers’ Market Outlook.”
Robins, Jeffrey Soffer, Richard LeFrak, Gil Dezer and Michael Simkins detailed their projects and debated the South Florida market. While they remain bullish, they said they recognize the challenges facing the industry.
“In general, not just for retail, in Miami we are at a point in the cycle where our ambition exceeds the capacity for absorption, and we are a risk,” said Robins, who has spearheaded the transformation of the Design District into a luxury shopping destination. “Still, it’s a very solid market.”
LeFrak, who is developing SoLē Miami in joint venture with Turnberry Associates, will eventually have 4,400 units to fill, which he equated to $4 billion of commissionable sales.
“We have to expand the market and not assume it’s coming from Latin America or Russia,” he said. “There are a lot of people who want to come here. Let’s face it — it’s fun.”
He said the market will determine the winners and losers.
“In the long run, what is going to happen is what always happens: the weak will not survive, the strong will survive, and the ones who survive will thrive,” said LeFrak, chairman and CEO of LeFrak.
During the second panel, “Surveying Miami’s top neighborhoods,” Joe Furst, Ana Codina Barlick, Michael Comras, Avra Jain and Nitin Motwani, who are all helping to spur the regrowth of Miami’s top neighborhoods, discussed the challenges and successes of developing in areas like MiMo, Coconut Grove and Overtown.
Furst, managing director of Goldman Properties, said new zoning rules in Wynwood will aide in the development of viable and successful residential projects.
“I think Wynwood in the future will be the most diverse and most interesting place to be in the city,” Furst said.
Comras, who recently sold an assemblage on Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road for $370 million, said linking these neighborhoods is key to Miami’s growth and success. So is walkability, he said, referring to Coconut Grove, where he was a partner in the purchase of CocoWalk in May.
“Being walkable, being sustainable is very important. People don’t want to leave their neighborhoods anymore,” Comras said. “When you look at the number of students – we have 6,000 students coming to Coconut Grove every day.”
And Motwani, managing principal of the 30-acre Miami Worldcenter project, said “the single most important thing we should be focusing on is transit and connectivity.”
The final panel, “New to Miami,” brought together New Yorkers Ryan Serhant of “Million Dollar Listing: New York;” Leonard Steinberg, president of Compass; Bess Freedman, executive vice president of Brown Harris Stevens; Andrew Heiberger, co-founder of Town Residential; and Peter Fine, president of To Better Days Development.
All have expanded their business dealings to Miami, which Heiberger calls “the unofficial sixth borough of New York City.” His firm has partnered with Miami’s Fortune International Group. “A lot of our brokers were interested in the Miami marketplace,” he said.
Brown Harris Stevens acquired Miami Beach’s Zilbert International Realty in June, in hopes of strengthening the connection between its New York clientele and Miami’s real estate market.
“Five years ago there wasn’t that uber luxury here in Miami, and now that we have all this stuff coming: Faena House, the Continuum… all these incredible projects,” said Freedman. “There’s a thirst for it here.”
Ryan Serhant, whose team at Nest Seekers has planted its feet in Miami, also touched on his clientele’s growing interested in local properties. “The reason we started doing more and more business here is because the client base is the same,” Serhant said. “We have a lot of clients saying ‘We’re buying new construction in New York City, we have a place in L.A., now we want to go to Miami.’”
Also, “the sales offices are so cool,” he added. He said he gets a warm welcome at the sales centers in Miami — and the opposite reaction in New York.
“We are all interested in Miami mostly because the clientele in New York is so fascinated with what’s going on here,” said Steinberg, president of Compass. “There is a tremendous synergy that exists between Miami and New York…. and because of that, we’re here.”