I-Fei Chang, who heads U.S. operations for China’s biggest real estate developer, visited South Florida for the first time this week and scoped out the area, as she analyzes potential new development sites.
Chang, CEO of Greenland USA, told The Real Deal that she met with architects during her stay, as a first step. But she declined to name the architects, and demurred about scouring property for investment, saying it was her first visit, and she is just “starting to test the waters.”
“After spending two days in Miami, I really see an opportunity for Miami to continue to invest in its infrastructure, to bring in more talent here,” she told the audience at the National Association of Real Estate Editors’s 49th Annual Real Estate Journalism Conference on Friday.
Chang, the keynote speaker at a session “Transforming American Skylines: Chinese Developers at the Forefront,” toured South Florida during her stay. She visited the Miami River neighborhood, and drove up to Palm Beach. She said she especially liked the University of Miami’s medical campus. That area, she said, “would attract developers like us.”
“If Miami can invest in its infrastructure, we have the opportunity to bring in more investment from Asia,” she said.
One aspect of Miami she doesn’t appreciate: all the luxury high-rise condos, “that are dividing the community.”
“I hope Miami will have a more sustainable development,” Chang said during he speech. “It’s a great gateway to Latin America. We certainly want to be here, but not just to attract luxury development.”
Greenland USA’s parent, Greenland Holding Group, has experience in 82 cities in China, as well as in the United Kingdom, Canada and Malaysia. In the United States, Greenland USA is currently in the midst of its first two major mixed-used developments, the $1 billion Metropolis Los Angeles in downtown L.A., and Pacific Park in Brooklyn.
The company focuses on mixed-use, urban projects, where it can add preschools, medical clinics, retail, green space, and the like. It chooses “areas of transformation,” she said, with a desire to be “a long-term partner” with the community.
“We are building cities for the next generation to come,” Chang said.
In Brooklyn, Greenland USA is a joint venture partner on its property near the Barclays Center, where it plans a project that will span 22 acres of land, with 15 buildings housing more than 6,000 units, one-third of them affordable housing. One year after the joint venture was established, the project has already broken ground on two of the affordable housing buildings, which will total 599 units, she said.
The targeted audience is young professionals or early retirees who want to enjoy urban living, she said. Greenland USA is also interested in the San Francisco Bay area, but all would depend on the availability and accessibility of land, Chang said. With rising construction costs, “we have to be very cautious about what will be the next opportunity for us.”
In Miami, she said she learned that construction costs can now amount to $250 per square foot. With land costs, soft costs, taxes and fees, she questioned how much is left for profits that would be acceptable to her company.
Chang’s career began when she studied in the United States, receiving two master’s degrees at Yale University.
“Everyone of us in Asia has an American dream,” she said. After her parents sent her here for her education, it opened doors for a career that has taken her to Russia, Tokyo, Hong Kong, China and now the United States. She said she is lucky to have the support and trust of the chairman of her company, who hired her in 2001.
“At Greenland, we share the same dream,” she said.
The goal: “to reimagine the U.S. skyline, with Chinese capital.”