Tony Puente landed at Miami Tower at the worst of times. When he took the assignment as leasing manager for the iconic downtown skyscraper two years ago, Bank of America had already decided to consolidate its space and leave the tower. Puente faced 50,000 square feet of empty office space.
The Miami office market has only worsened since then.
The vacancy rate in January hit 15 percent in Miami-Dade County, the highest level since 2004. And the worst may not be over yet. Two mega office towers — 1450 Brickell and Met 2 Financial Center — come online this year and Brickell Financial Center could open in 2011.
“With rental rates being what they are, a lot of tenants that go into a new building can occupy less space and there are associated
cost-savings with that,” said Danet Linares, executive vice president at Miami-based Blanca Commercial Real Estate and leasing agent for 1450 Brickell.
Puente, senior vice president at Fairchild Partners in Coral Gables, has his work cut out for him. He’s leaning on his experience leasing and marketing over 1.76 million square feet of space in Miami-Dade County. But this market is testing even the most seasoned professionals.
“I started my career 20 years ago in a weak market, but it was a market where there were tremendous opportunities,” Puente said. “I’m an optimist, but I’m also accepting of the world around me. I think 2010 could be another year of depreciation before we hit a new bottom. So keeping tenants in place is critical.”
Puente has managed to ink significant renewals in his tenure at
Miami Tower, including nearly 35,000 square feet to UBS Financial services last May. The five-year lease is worth $7.5 million and marked the largest renewal in Downtown Miami’s office market in the first half of last year.
“For Tony to be able to retain his tenants is impressive. He has to keep looking at what he can do to compete,” Linares said.
More recently, Puente closed five lease renewals and expansions at Miami Tower, accounting for nearly 10,000 square feet of office space for tenants in Miami. In total, Miami Tower’s finalized transactions accounted for 62,000 square feet of Class A office space in Miami in 2009.
“We haven’t lost any tenants since Tony came on board,” said Vince Croce, general manager for Wealth Capital Management, owner of Miami Tower. “Having a broker like Tony who understands the market and is well-connected and has a pulse on the city — and has the alpha gene — has made a huge difference in what is now a tenant’s market.”
Puente has been a proponent of capital improvements to attract new tenants and keep existing ones in place.
“You have to communicate consistently with tenants through the entire lease term, but we’ve been engaging tenants a little earlier that we typically would. We want to make sure we understand where they are at, instead of waiting until six months before their lease expires to find out they don’t like the building because it lacks some amenity,” Puente said.