Tony Cho exits Magic City Innovation District project in Little Haiti

Cho reportedly sold his shares to Dragon Global’s Bob Zangrillo

From left: Future Cities' Tony Cho, Plaza Equity Partners' Anthony Burns and George Helmstetter, Dragon Global's Bob Zangrillo and Plaza Equity Partners' Neil Fairman (Future Cities, Plaza Equity Partners, Dragon Global)
From left: Future of Cities' Tony Cho, Plaza Equity Partners' Anthony Burns and George Helmstetter, Dragon Global's Bob Zangrillo and Plaza Equity Partners' Neil Fairman (Future of Cities, Plaza Equity Partners, Dragon Global)

Developer and broker Tony Cho is no longer involved in the $1 billion-plus Magic City Innovation District mega project he once spearheaded in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, The Real Deal has learned.

Miami-based Plaza Equity Partners, Montreal-based Lune Rouge and the project’s investors, including Dragon Global’s Bob Zangrillo, are moving forward with Magic City sans Cho. Cho reportedly sold his interest in the project to Zangrillo, a source told TRD. That would give the Zangrillo family control of nearly half of the ownership interest in the 18-acre mixed-use project.

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Cho, CEO of his two companies, the Future of Cities and Metro 1, co-created the Magic City development and was the first to assemble properties for the project beginning in 2006. He shepherded the development through its contentious approvals process that was finalized in 2019.

In a statement, Cho said he was exiting the development as “an official partner” to focus on other projects, including the Future of Cities platform. He launched Future of Cities during the pandemic to focus on finding solutions to climate change, social inequality and affordable housing, with a number of planned projects throughout the Sun Belt. Future of Cities and the Metro 1 brokerage are both still based in Little Haiti.

Cho’s spokesperson declined to confirm Zangrillo as the buyer of Cho’s shares or disclose other details, citing the “private” deal.

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Cho owned 15 percent of Magic City Properties II LLC, the company developing the project, according to an ownership chart filed with the city in 2016. With his shares, Zangrillo and a trust benefitting his daughters likely now control close to 49 percent of Magic City. Zangrillo’s stake, alone, grew to about 34 percent with Cho’s exit.

Zangrillo was one of the parents allegedly involved in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, and faced charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud for his alleged role, until he was pardoned by former President Donald Trump. In the wake of the indictment, Zach Vella took over as manager of Zangrillo’s MCD Dragon, and Zangrillo remained a passive investor in the project.

Remaining investors Neil Fairman, a partner and co-founder of Plaza Equity, declined to comment, and Guy Laliberte, the Canadian billionaire businessman who co-founded Cirque du Soleil and leads Lune Rouge, declined to comment through a spokesperson.

The developers of Magic City secured their final approval in June 2019 for a special area plan that will allow them to build their project with residential, office, retail and other commercial uses in Little Haiti. Opponents sued the city shortly after the project was approved, but lost in 2020.

Cho was key to the SAP’s approval, promising that the development would benefit Little Haiti’s population. He officially brought Zangrillo on in 2016, though records show Zangrillo began buying properties years earlier.

“I am committed to seeing the area revitalized in a responsible way,” Cho said at a commission meeting in 2019.

The developers have completed adaptive reuse projects of some buildings in the district, including the factory at 6300 Northeast Fourth Avenue, which is leased to a specialty footwear cleaning and restoration business, and the warehouses at 300 to 301 Northeast 62nd Street, according to Magic City’s website.