Competing visions fuel boom in South Florida

May 10, 2013 10:00 AM

Miami’s Brickell and downtown

Competing visions for South Florida are fueling a building boom here, with starchitect skyscrapers rising over Biscayne Bay and ritzy hotels and name-brand condos crowding into the ocean-side suburbs north of Miami Beach.

Cash-paying, mainly overseas buyers putting half down as a security are helping to finance various urban experiments across South Florida, with some developers selling the sophistication of a bustling city while others promise exclusivity and space.

Carlos Rosso, head of Related Group’s condo division, is among those who herald the urbanization of Miami through the growth of Brickell, the financial corridor connected to edgy Wynwood and downtown by the Metro Mover, the city’s rarely used, free elevated train. Related has nine projects in the pipeline, including the Philippe Starck-designed SLS Brickell, the haute hotel brand’s first residential development, with 450 units, and the 42-story Millecento, designed by Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott.

Rosso thinks South Florida’s new landlords and tenants want the sense of independence and exposure of living in a city like his hometown, Buenos Aires.

“The tendency toward a European style of city is growing. People say, ‘hey, I don’t care about the view; I want the action,’” Rosso said.

Terra Group’s expensive glass-paneled construction Glass in South Beach, designed by Miami architect Rene Gonzalez, and the Porsche Design building in Sunny Isles Beach, a slick luxury condo tower where every appliance is chosen by Porsche’s German design team, express a contrary impulse.

Each Glass unit owner will have a private floor (or three) and a 360-degree view of the Atlantic, the bay and South Beach’s neon-lit Art Deco buildings.

One owner, a Brazilian investor who asked not to be named, described it as a “sanctuary.”

“It’s two different worlds — you can face the ocean and feel the tranquility of the sea, and if you feel lonely, you can walk the other direction and feel the warmth and excitement of the city. The perspective is like you’re flying,” he said.

The Porsche Design’s luxury innovation is a smart car elevator that delivers drivers unseen into their apartments, further protected by obsidian glass, that range in price from $4.5 million to $25 million.

“There’s nothing like it,” said Gil Dezer, the Porsche tower’s developer. “It’s a really over-the-top scenario, but at those prices, it has to be.”

Rosso of Related credits foreign clients with infusing South Florida with their urbane customs and culture. In exchange, the region, and the U.S. more broadly, offers safety and a growing economy, he said.

“The Latin influence has been good for it. It feels like the home they’d like to have,” Rosso said.

Whether the influx of cash for developments molds South Florida into miniatures of buyers’ home cities or creates something entirely new may be determined by whose vision adheres faster.

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