The Real Deal Miami

Incoming Latin Builders Association head shares her vision

Noelia Moreno talks to The Real Deal about keeping projects in the works and her pledge to look at the Urban Development Boundary
By Erik Bojnansky | November 18, 2009 03:54PM

Times are tough for the construction industry, especially in Florida, said Noelia Moreno, the incoming president of the Latin Builders Association, so she wants its membership to look ahead and be ready.

Moreno, who will be the first female president of the South Florida trade group in its 38-year history, wants its 650 members focused on the region’s future, despite the current battered state of the construction industry.

“We need to think about the fact that the problems we have in real estate are not going to last forever,” said Moreno, who commences her term Dec. 12. Already a member of the Latin Builders Association’s board of directors, Moreno will succeed Anthony Seijas, senior vice president of the Southeast Florida division of nationwide Lennar, the largest developer in Florida. Seijas became president of the LBA in January 2009.

LBA, founded in 1971, represents builders, developers, contractors and other construction related professions. It also lobbies local, state and federal governments on industry issues.

Moreno, senior vice president of Moralmar Kitchen Cabinets, a family-owned business in Miami-Dade County, has been through plenty of ups and downs in the industry, but said this downturn is very different.

“It is not predictable; historically we can count the first quarter of the year to be slow and then pick up,” she said. “As of now, it is very up and down… I know everyone is hoping for an answer.”

Moreno said the turbulent period is a good time for developers to prepare for when the real estate market improves, whether that’s in two years or 25.

“As you know, a development does not just spring up overnight,” she said. “While we have our issues that exist with foreclosures, with some of the vacancies of already built units, this will pass. We have to make sure projects are online so that those projects [get built].”

Among the issues Moreno will look at is the Urban Development Boundary, a border near the Everglades that restricts development west of it. Many environmentalists and urban planners have resisted movement of the UDB, claiming that more intense development in southwest Miami-Dade will further drain resources and endanger wetlands.

Moreno said she believes the UDB’s westward movement makes sense in “certain pockets” and will be good for the economy in the long term. “Construction is vital to our economy,” she said. “Whatever project that is right at the time, we will support.”
Moreno declined to name specific projects or cases worthy of the LBA’s support.

Moreno, though, does not hide her apprehension of Amendment Four, a proposed radical change of the state’s planning process that will be voted on by Florida residents next year. Also known as the Hometown Democracy Act, Amendment Four would give the power of amending city and county comprehensive plans, used to guide an area’s future development, directly to the voters.
Comprehensive plans are now amended by city and county governments, and she supports the mediating influence of trained planners and administrators who won’t be swayed by emotional arguments.

“The voters elect the public officials and the public officials make the decisions,” she said. The specter of a public referendum on comprehensive plans may also make future development “extremely expensive, if not impossible.”

The uncertain future and dismal present are a far cry from the outlook of seven years ago, when nothing seemed impossible for developers who flooded Florida city councils with plans for ambitious residential projects.

Moreno brushed aside a question on whether or not an overabundance of inventory popped South Florida’s real estate market bubble.

“Building is driven by demand,” she said. “During the boom there was a huge demand; people were flocking to Florida.”

She conceded, though, that inexperience among some developers factored into the market collapse.

“There was a lot of excitement about real estate,” she said. “Everyone wanted to be involved and we saw a lot of people with no experience in development. I think we just saw people excited and now we are experiencing the aftermath.”