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The Real Deal Miami

Construction mogul Walid Wahab talks about the Standard Hotel job, high-end construction and spec building 

By Alexander Britell | February 01, 2011 04:09PM

Walid Wahab’s construction company, Wahab Construction, has had a hand (and laid cement) in some of the highest-profile projects in Miami, from Andre Balazs’ Standard Hotel remake to the office interiors of LNR Partners (formerly Lennar’s distressed investment firm) and Playboy TV in Miami Beach. In a difficult construction market, Wahab says people are moving from spec homes to end-user luxury-home purchasing — that is, people are buying lots to build on for themselves, not for investment. The Real Deal talked to Wahab about the state of high-end construction, the strongest building submarkets in Miami and his work with Balazs.

What is going on with high-end construction?

In the commercial market, people that used to build those beautiful, high-design oriented offices have now toned it down. But when it comes to private homes, as far as we are concerned, it hasn’t been affected. The market that has stopped a bit is spec homes; if you were building very expensive homes and then listing them on the market and selling them for a lot of money, that calmed down. But people that design their own lots, buy them and build them for themselves; that is a strong market.

Which parts of Miami are more active on the home front?

Coconut Grove is always very powerful, Miami Beach — all of the islands — Coral Gables is always strong.

Talk about the unfinished spec home market.

We are taking on a lot of those [in Miami]. A lot of houses that are not finished, meaning just a shell is up, with none of the interiors or doors in — we’re taking those over and finishing them up for the end user.

Where is the majority of your work coming from right now?

Half of our work is penthouses and apartment interiors, where our client would buy an apartment that was raw space or finished, and we would go in and build to their specifications. The other half is houses from the ground up. We are doing very little commercial lately — those companies are doing only what is absolutely necessary to keep their offices running and they’re not spending much money on architecture and design.

How did you end up with the Standard job?

I had met Andre Balazs years ago and had done some work in Miami Beach for another hotel he had purchased called the Royal. I ran into him at Art Basel and asked him what he was doing. He said, ‘I’m building this great hotel, why don’t you come and look at it?’. It was a very interesting renovation. There was a brilliant designer who works out of LA, Shawn Hausman, that Balazs had recruited along with us.

What was the nature of the Standard renovation?

The interesting thing about the Standard was it was a very superficial renovation in many ways. We did not do the windows , the roof — even some of the plumbing fixtures of the old hotel [the Lido Beach Club] remained. Balazs had a vision of renovating the hotel and making something new and trendy without giving it a 100 percent facelift — more like a 75 percent facelift. A lot of the old features are still there. It was an interesting project, especially working with the City of Miami Beach trying to keep many of the existing features.