The Real Deal Miami

Flagler breaks ground on Downtown Doral project

By Jennifer LeClaire | December 04, 2008 03:37PM

Flagler Development yesterday broke ground on Cordoba, the first
residential building underway in a 120-acre mixed-use area
known as Downtown Doral.

Incorporated in 2003, Doral is a bedroom community with a certain
country and western character that got its name from the famous Doral
Golf Resort & Spa.

Farms, cows and chickens still reside in the former
swampland-turned-resort area, turned industrial hotbed, then turned
haven for South Americans worried about their own security,
particularly Venezuelans, who comprise about 20 percent of the
population of 30,000.

Although Doral is just a mile from the Miami International Airport and
12 miles from Downtown Miami, the 15-square-mile city didn’t catch the
regional development boom until the past 24 months, and could be
vulnerable to the current economic slide.

Flagler management remains upbeat.

“This is a watershed moment for Downtown Doral,” says Flagler
Development Chairman Armando Codina. “Breaking ground on a residential
building during this type of economic environment is a clear statement
about our faith in this development and the City of Doral.”

The units in the four-story, 224-unit Cordoba building range from 700
to 1,300 square feet. Amenities include landscaped courtyards, a
private swimming pool, a clubhouse with a fitness center, designer
cabinetry and stainless steel appliances. Prices start at the
mid-$200s. Cordoba is scheduled for occupancy in the summer of 2010.

The 120-acre mixed-use community is being developed over about 20
years, development officials said. When completed, it will include
2,840 residential units, and more than one million square feet of
commercial space, including 180,000 square feet of retail and 400,000
square feet of new class A office space.

Downtown Doral will also include a neighborhood elementary school, more
than three acres of parks and open space, a civic center and Paseo
Doral, a pedestrian boulevard that will be the centerpiece of Downtown
Doral.

“Downtown Doral will have a huge impact on the City of Doral because it
will bring a new pedestrian orientation, providing a center — a heart —
for the thriving city,” said Doral Mayor J.C. Bermudez, noting that the
project is a successful example of a public-private cooperation.

Much of the city’s prosperity comes from investments from Venezuelans
fleeing from the regime of Hugo Chavez. Some even call Doral “Little
Venezuela.” Spanish is considered the first language.

But Downtown Doral isn’t the only real estate development making a name
for itself in the new city. Doral-based Shoma Development is building
Park Square at Doral, a $1 billion, 2 million-square foot mixed-use
development in Doral’s town center.

Plans include more than 135,000 square feet of retail space, a
218,000-square-foot, six-story office tower and more than 2,500
townhomes, carriage homes, apartments and lofts. The project will offer
1,000 residential units, priced from the low $400,000s and is scheduled
to open in 2009.

Park Square is catering to Venezuelans in South America and across
South Florida. Flagler’s Cordoba is targeting locals who commute to
Doral to work every day.

Former state senator Steve Geller, a partner in the Fort Lauderdale law
offices of Greenspoon Marder, said Downtown Doral has become desirable,
but remains risky.

“Every city wants the next Mizner Park or Palm Beach City Center,”
Geller said of recently successful developments. “Without sufficient
density to draw on, however, new projects are unlikely to be ultimately
successful.”

Doral may indeed have the density. Although the population is only
30,000, the daytime workforce population is nearly five times that —
and Venezuelans are still making their way to this South Florida town.

Still, Geller calls the timing of the groundbreaking unfortunate, and
said the increasingly grim economy may prevent the full revitalization
of Downtown Doral.

Case in point: Boca Raton-based EB Developers’ Landmark at Doral. This
mixed-use development with its 1,109 residential units and 460,000
square feet of commercial space has failed.

AmTrust filed a foreclosure lawsuit against what looked like a
promising project in November. The project had not yet broken ground.

But skeptics remain about the viability of Flagler’s first phase.

“Unless Flagler is able to obtain premium prices for the location which
includes these amenities, it may make the project too expensive, or
prevent them from ultimately building the amenities,” Geller said. “In
this economy, it will be tough to build even without these added bells
and whistles.”