Pino goes from selling condos to renting market stalls

If location is the key to real estate success, Sergio Pino knows that flexibility is helpful in tough times. How else to explain how one of South Florida’s most prominent developers, has gone from touting luxury condominium apartments to renting flea market stalls?

The head of Century Homebuilders, which bills itself as the largest Hispanic homebuilding company in the country, is now running Century Marketplace, a west Miami flea market. The collection of market stalls, once called the Flagler Flea Market, was evicted from its former home in the parking lot of the Flagler Dog Track. It was on the verge of folding when Pino stepped in and offered it space on land where he had once planned to build a mixed-use condo-retail development.  

The current market makes that plan unfeasible for the time being, and that inspired Pino’s daughter Jackie to seek a zoning variance, encourage the market to relocate and take charge of renting the stalls.

Sergio Pino said he initially balked.  

“I told her I don’t want to have a flea market there,” he said, because he was concerned about a scruffy image and the effects on neighboring commercial properties. “The bank next door, Ocean Bank — those are my friends.”

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Pino said his daughter upscaled the idea, calling it a “marketplace” rather than a flea market. He didn’t disclose any financial terms for the unusual venture.

“A flea market is a place where you open your truck and you sell jeans,” he said. “This will have kiosks. The people will wear uniforms. It’s going to have a nice restaurant in the middle and nice landscaping.”  

A temporary market is already set up on the property, which Pino has rented to the Republican Party for campaign offices in the past. He’s had more recent forays into the workings of government. In August, he made headlines for lobbying the federal government for a visa waiver program that would grant foreign investors green cards in exchange for financial backing for a mixed-use development in Doral. The Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau of the Department of Homeland Security is working on the request.

Patience — and politics — should help with Pino’s long-term goals. At the height of South Florida’s building boom, Pino was among developers pushing Miami-Dade County to move the urban development boundary closer to the Everglades, arguing there simply wasn’t enough land in South Florida for all the homes he and his partners planned to build. The developers lost that fight last year, but the urge to push outward will likely return when building picks up in a stronger phase of economic recovery.

“He might as well go into a diversified business,” said South Florida real estate analyst Mike Cannon, executive director of Integra Realty Resources. “Now he’s in what I call ‘the second economy,’ the part that’s not reported. In a market like this, you’ve got to diversify into anything you can diversify into.”