Creating a destination: Downtown Doral

Robert Given and Ana-Marie Codina Barlick
Robert Given and Ana-Marie Codina Barlick

On a recent Saturday morning, the sound of a child playing at Downtown Doral Park was accompanied by the cacophony of construction equipment and workers building the townhome component of the $1 billion Downtown Doral mixed-use project.

For Downtown Doral’s developers, the ideal end game is creating a western Miami-Dade County version of Miami’s Brickell area, which is always rife with residents, professionals and tourists thanks to feverish construction during the last and latest real estate booms.

And if the 120-acre development is not ambitious enough, a joint venture between Codina Partners of Coral Gables and Miami-based Lennar Homes recently raised the stakes by promising to create a new “city square” for Doral, an 11-year-old municipality.

To Ana-Marie Codina Barlick, the CEO at Codina Partners, the development just east of Trump National Doral is already the “downtown” of Doral. The area is anchored by a new City Hall and three acres of public park space. The square includes $2 million of playgrounds, parks and a massive sculptural pavilion by artist Michele Oka Doner dedicated earlier this year.

“It really is the public art and the public spaces that give Downtown Doral its soul,” Codina Barlick told The Real Deal.

The profitability of Downtown Doral will depend on the retail, office and residential components all linked by pedestrian-friendly walkways. By the end of a staggered construction schedule, about 180,000 square feet of retail, 2,840 residential units, and 400,000 square feet of office space will be added to the area. Townhomes are expected to open by the end of 2014, followed a year later by the first phase of retail. The first condominiums could be completed by early 2016.

To further create an all-encompassing downtown destination, Codina Partners added a charter elementary school to Downtown Doral. The privately financed school will be administered through the Miami-Dade Public School system and is slated to open in time for the 2015-2016 school year.

“What Codina and all of us envision is to bring to Doral the same energy and impact that has been created in Brickell and in Downtown Miami,” Silda Villaamil, the Southeast Florida Area Manager for Lennar Homes, told TRD. “We have affluent buyers in the area who would love a nightlife like one would get in” downtown Miami.

Over the last three years, the city of 50,213 residents has grown about 10 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The bureau found that as of 2012, more than half of Doral’s population had at least a bachelor’s degree and the city’s median household income, at $71,695, is about $24,000 more than the state average.

Beyond the demographics, Doral is being targeted by residential developers as a market largely free from speculation, according to Fairchild Partners principal Jose Juncadella, the incoming president of the Commercial Industrial Association of South Florida.

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“These are different types of buyers,” Juncadella told TRD. “They are opening up new businesses. These are real people who are going to live there.”

Both Codina and Lennar reported a mix of locals and international buyers. Doral is home to some major companies, like Carnival Cruise Lines and Univison, so Downtown Doral’s developers are hoping employees might want to live close by.

Nearly all of the phase one townhouses are sold. Codina Barlick also reported strong sales at the project’s first two condominium towers. She declined to disclose specific sales figures.

The same is said about the retail portion, although no announcements have been made regarding tenants. A push is being made to lure a major supermarket.

Downtown Doral’s developers will have to differentiate the project from its competition to the south.

The Related Group and Shoma Group’s CityPlace Doral has similar mixed-use plans. The White Course, a 100-acre golf course with mixed-use zoning adjacent to Downtown Doral, is being shopped around to potential buyers. The Codina and Lennar partnership submitted a bid for the golf course, but Codina Barlick said it might pass on the opportunity, citing a potentially overheated market for developable land in the area.

Downtown Doral and the eventual development of the White Course would help create a much-needed “core” for the city, according to CBRE vice chairman Robert Given. For families, Doral is more affordable than coveted Miami-Dade residential markets like Coral Gables, Miami Beach and Pinecrest.

“It is already a destination where people want to raise their kids and the public schools are very good,” Given told TRD. “These two mega-projects in Downtown Doral and Doral White are going to provide necessary retail amenities to the city.”

Ultimately, Codina Barlick sees all future nearby developments as complementary to Downtown Doral.

“There are many people who want to live in a true live, work, play and learn community, away from the traffic woes of Miami-Dade County.”