Not so long ago, banks were the prime tenants in Brickell and the downtown Miami corridor.
But the recession has those banks in retreat, leaving a number of high-profile law firms as the anchor tenants in a rapidly filling downtown office market.
“The reason there is a lot of attention now to law firms is that in our market, we don’t really have lots of enormous corporate headquarters,” said John Sumberg, managing partner at Bilzin Sumberg, which signed a 15-year lease for 80,000 square feet at 1450 Brickell. “The financial institutions really backed out of the market when the financial crisis occurred, and they stopped leasing, stopped expanding, stopped going to new space. So the law firms became the prime tenants in the market.”
Miami’s law firms have been playing a bit of musical chairs of late. With leases expiring and a glut of new space on the market, some of the city’s highest-profile firms, like Bilzin Sumberg and Greenberg Traurig, are leaving their buildings in search of newer, more efficient space — that is, more open, and not cluttered with columns or corridors. Like most companies in the recession, law firms are not hiring much but are taking advantage of these attractive vacant spaces to expand.
Bilzin Sumberg announced the lease of 80,000 square feet in Rilea Group’s 1450 Brickell over the summer, moving from 75,000 square feet in the Wachovia Financial Center.
Sumberg said the firm’s lease at Wachovia was about to expire, and with new buildings opening downtown, it was time to make the change.
“We needed to do something,” said Sumberg. “We were looking at three new buildings, including the building we were in, but there weren’t any other options that 80,000 contiguous square feet plus room for expansion we would want during the lease term.”
Sumberg also said a number of factors, including the relatively quiet traffic at the southern end of Brickell Avenue, along with the building’s high-strength hurricane walls, made it a good fit.
“Downtown has become increasingly congested, and ingress and egress is an issue,” Sumberg said. “You can get [to 1450] without ever going through downtown or Brickell.”
Law firm Ratzan and Rubio has also announced a move to 1450 Brickell, signing a lease to relocate its headquarters in 6,303 square feet of space.
According to a recent report from Colliers International, the current vacancy rate in Miami-Dade County is around 15 percent, with rates for the county hovering around $30 per square foot.
At 1450 Brickell, for instance, rates have been quoted from $40 to $50 per square foot.
The circumstances were different for Greenberg Traurig, which is moving to the new Wells Fargo Financial Center on a lease that is in excess of 10 years.
According to Flagler’s Jack Lowell, who represented developer MDM in Greenberg’s lease, Greenberg was looking for more efficient space.
The firm, located at 1401 Brickell, is going from 169,000 square feet to just 125,000 in Wells Fargo.
The firm had acquired the Brickell Club as part of its previous lease in 1401, giving it a private lunch club. But the JW Marriott Marquis in Wells Fargo offers the same catering options, meaning there is no need to pay for its own club, Lowell said.
Also moving to Wells Fargo is Chicago-based McDermott Will & Emery, which was looking for premium space, a high floor and a high-profile building. Its lease, also beyond 10 years, is on the 45th floor of the building.