Stephen Owens looks back on shaping Brickell’s skyline

Industry titan has spent seven real estate cycles in Miami

TRD MIAMI /
Jun.June 23, 2016 03:20 PM

When Stephen Owens arrived in Miami, there were “a lot less” elevators, a tall building was 14 stories, and Brickell Avenue looked more like a residential street in Coconut Grove.

That was 1979.

“Miami was really a relatively quiet town,” Owens said during a keynote talk at a Brickell real estate panel discussion hosted by Bisnow on Thursday.

Yet, Swire Properties was out to change Miami’s landscape. Owens, the soon-to-retire president of Swire, said the Hong Kong developer paid only $17 million, or $13 a foot, for what was then Claughton Island.

The plan was to convert the island, which was mostly vacant, into a vibrant community with condos, a hotel and offices. Swire’s high-priced land planners from the Northeast said Brickell Key should be a gated community instead of the public island it is today.

“We always thought that was a little flawed,” Owens said. “Ultimately, we went against their advice.”

Even then, Brickell attracted swaths of Latin Americans. Owens said Brickell Key One “sold out over a long weekend,” with virtually all of the condo buyers coming from Latin America. Those were also the times when Miami earned its reputation as a playground for the wealthy.

Buyers for Brickell Key One came with “Winn-Dixie paper bags” filled with cash, he said. At one point, the project’s single-wide trailer/sales center had $2.5 million in bills sitting in filing cabinets. And that was when condos were selling for $85 per square foot.

Fast forward to 2016. Swire is turning 200 and is on the eve of opening its largest project in Miami to date: Brickell City Centre. It’s a massive $1.05 billion development with residences, condos, a hotel and offices, all centered around 500,000 square-feet of open-air retail. The project’s two 390-unit condo towers have seen steady sales. Reach, the first to open, is so far nearing sellout at more than 90 percent sold. Rise, set to open this summer, is 45 percent sold, the developer said.

The retail portion, which is capped by a massive “climate ribbon” and boasts tenants like Apple and Saks Fifth Avenue, is set to open this November. Whitman Family Development and Simon Property Group are co-developing the retail component.

When moderator and Bilzin Sumberg attorney Suzanne Amaducci-Adams asked Owens about the challenges of developing such a large project, he said, “If you approach it as individual pieces, you’re never going to get it quite right.”

He also mentioned that during his seven real estate cycles spent in Miami, no less than 15 major projects have been announced in Miami, and “so few have actually been completed.”

As for advice he gives to other large-scale developers looking to replicate Brickell City Centre’s success, he said, “Take a real deep breath and jump off a cliff.”


Related Articles

arrow_forward_ios
Daily Digest Miami

54-story Turnberry Ocean Club tops off, Flagler streetscape project to break ground: Daily digest

Brickell City Centr

Allegations of employee theft, retaliation and female harassment at Swire: lawsuit

Michael Fay, John Crotty, David Duckworth of Avison Young with 99 Riverside

Miami River site in Brickell hits market, could sell for $90M, broker says

Jolted: Elevator companies face lawsuits over injuries at two Brickell sites

With SoFla condo sales down, developers sweeten pot for buyers and brokers

City of Miami greenlights Brickell City Centre expansion, Wynwood zoning change

Miami commission gives preliminary nod to Brickell City Centre expansion

SoFla lease roundup: Bloomberg relocates to Brickell City Centre & more

arrow_forward_ios