David Martin, 35, is chief operating officer and a principal and co-founder, along with his father, Pedro Martin, of Terra Group. The development company has $2 billion worth of projects underway, including six residential developments in Doral; the ultra-luxe Glass condo tower in Miami Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood and the Bjarke Ingels-designed Grove at Grand Bay, a pair of 20-story, hourglass-shaped condo towers whose progress Martin likes to monitor from his Coconut Grove office window.
What is your full name?
David Paul Martin.
Where were you born?
In Coconut Grove.
Give me a run-through of your day.
I wake up around 6:30 a.m., watch CNBC for about 30 minutes and then get my son and help him get dressed, feed him and take him to school, and then go straight to the office. So I’ll be in the office around 8 a.m. and I’ll be working till around 10 p.m..
I understand you just had a baby. How does your wife [Christy Martin] feel about your schedule?
I’ve always worked this way so she’s used to it and I spend a lot of quality time with my son in the mornings and on the weekends, going to the beach or playing soccer. We’ve just had a baby so it’s become more difficult. With mobile devices, it’s very hard to disconnect from your work life, but I enjoy it so much that it’s good, but it is something that’s discussed with my wife continuously.
Right now, we have over $2 billion of development. We’re closing units and homes now and in 2014 and ’15, so the next three years are very important for the company and for the family.
How did growing up in Coconut Grove influence your views of the neighborhood as a developer?
Well, it’s probably the most intellectual, creative neighborhood maybe in Florida with the University of Miami connection to tech companies to having these amazing elementary and high schools. There’s so much that this neighborhood has that is not communicated, and it’s like, in a way, it’s okay.
I think preserving that local Caribbean, Bohemian look and feel is important for the charm to stay in the Grove. It’s gone through its ups and downs. I think it’s a great development opportunity but there needs to be the historic preservation discussion because I think gentrification is not the optimal choice for the greater Coconut Grove.
What is different about this real estate cycle in South Florida from the last one?
There was no building in the Grove during the boom so that’s what it makes it so amazing to build here or in Miami Beach. Scarcity makes it special, but it must also be conceived appropriately. You need to leave money on the table for your buyers but also have enough money to develop a product.
My family raised us not to throw away money; the approach was very conservative. Both my parents came from Cuba. As my dad always says, “When I built my house, I had to pay as it was getting built.” I think we’ve evolved into a safer development model with the predication that the developer has more responsibility now to be cautious, careful and transparent in the execution of the project.
When did you decide to become a developer?
I got an MBA and a law degree and then I opened up a coffee shop, right in the heart of the campus at University of Florida. Just driving by and seeing what I created and seeing it in operation gave me this fulfilling kind of emotion that I felt that I could accomplish so much more. My dad was an attorney for Greenberg [Traurig] for over 30 years so I got to meet the top 10 people in the state, friends of his. Then, there was a time at this 50-story building we were building, Quantum, where there was a fire on the 49th floor. I drove there and ran up 49 flights of stairs to see what the damage was. I was with the fire department, they let me up. And when I felt that, it was this energy, this sense of a huge passion. I don’t know what it is. Sometimes I think I’m a masochist because it’s so much work.
What would you advise a young person who aspires to do what you do?
Learn more about themselves in order to determine [long pause]….I could give you the obvious answers, but it’s really more of a lifestyle of taking risks, and you need to have a certain type of personality to go about it. I would make them ask themselves why they want to be a developer and see if they can prove to themselves why they’re going to be capable, because you have to have tough skin sometimes, be creative, litigate; you have to manage expectations of stakeholders. It’s a very difficult role to have because it’s very fluid. It’s not for everyone, but I love it.
What do you hope to be known for as a developer?
This conversation I have all the time with my friends is, do people want to have more? They don’t need to have more, but people want to be more, so the question is, how do you touch them creatively? How do you touch their souls? We can just continue to develop the same boxes that look and feel exactly the same. I think I want to be the guy who gets the most amazing architects and introduces them to the psychographics of the people who live here. Developing these relationships and not treating people like they’re numbers or paper or whatever is the secret to succeeding today. My dad always told me, “David, people can either do things for you because they love you or fear you, and you have a choice.” So many people have this mission of breaking employees in order to succeed. I have a longer-term approach.