Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, a former journalist, first joined the Miami City Commission in 1996, and was elected to two successive terms, until running a successful campaign for mayor in November 2009, defeating former Commissioner Joe Sanchez with more than 71 percent of the vote. Much has changed in Miami real estate since his election, headlined by a number of large-scale projects like Genting’s purchase of the Miami Herald site, and the UM Life Science and Technology Park, where The Real Deal caught up with Regalado at its official opening yesterday. The mayor talked to The Real Deal about the impact of the park, the changing development climate in Miami and new projects in the Design District and Omni.
What kind of impact do you think the UM Life Science and Technology Park will have in Overtown?
It will be a cascading event for the city, because NW 7th Avenue used to be one of the most neglected areas of the city, and it stands between Allapattah and Overtown. You have I-95, which is like a buffer or a barrier, and no one had, in the past, looked at 7th Avenue as UM has done. The next component is [non-profit poor and homeless charity] Camillus House. What Camillus is doing, with help– it’s great, because they’re going to have apartments, and a comprehensive care center for people. That will bring more trust for people to invest in downtown Miami, in Overtown, because the homeless will not be an issue anymore, when Camillus is done. And this, I’ve seen [at the UM Park], people from Taiwan — and I was in Taiwan just two months ago — I’ve seen the interest of companies that want to come here. So seeing these people here, shows that the world is looking at Miami and Overtown.
What kind of impacts do these kinds of projects have on the greater real estate market?
Whenever there is an anchor project, people show interest — we have seen that now with the Genting project, that everybody’s trying to buy land in the Omni area. We know that here, on NW 7th Avenue, there’s a lot of people looking at buying property, and that is important, because there’s a lot of old warehouses and abandoned properties. So this is the best thing that could happen to Overtown.
How much has the development climate changed in Miami?
I think it’s changed a lot. If you look at the [city’s] building department, that’s the thermometer for development, and the Building Department had some projections and those projections have been really bigger than we thought. Actually, we’re budgeting for next year, more revenues from the building department, because they have been overwhelmed by people wanting to build. So I think Miami was the first [place] to fall after the bubble burst, but I think that Miami will be the first one to recoup.
Are there any other initiatives on the real estate side that your office is working on?
We’re trying to help and accelerate the Swire [the developer of Brickell CitiCentre] project. That is a very complex project that we have committed to work with them on so they move forward. Of course we all know about the Genting [project] and the possibilities in the state of Florida, but we’re also working on several projects around the Omni area, and the Design District, that will be announced soon.
We’ve seen a lot of foreign investment in Miami. What’s been drawing foreigners, and what can be done to generate even more interest?
I think it’s about that their investment is safe here. Number one, taxes are low, and their perception is that we have a city that is growing and growing, and investors want to take chances with bargains — and we have seen a lot of bargains. In downtown only, the [residential] occupancy level is 85 percent now, so you don’t see any more dark condos at night in downtown Miami.