David and Leila Centner’s real estate strategy expands beyond schools

Miami Beach power couple recently paid $5M for Edgewater restaurant space, adding to a commercial portfolio that includes a Brickell gym and a south Miami-Dade farm

David And Leila Centner Expand Commercial Portfolio
David and Leila Centner, 488 Northeast 18th Street (Getty, Aria on the Bay Condominium, Loopnet, David Centner)

David and Leila Centner are building a commercial real estate portfolio in Miami-Dade County beyond their private schools. 

The Miami Beach power couple — who’ve garnered headlines over their anti-vaccine stance, and more recently, for their connection to an ex-Miami elected official facing public corruption charges — recently bought a ground-floor restaurant space in an Edgewater condominium that will house two new business ventures, Centner Regener8 Café and Centner Wellness. 

The $5.5 million acquisition of the 11,071-square-foot commercial unit at Aria on the Bay at 488 Northeast 18th Street is on the heels of two other purchases last year. The couple bought a gym inside a Brickell condominium and agricultural property in south Miami-Dade County, for a combined $8.2 million, records show. 

The plan is to draw in clientele who are all about eating and living healthy at all three properties, David Centner recently told The Real Deal.

“We have big aspirations for our new farm-to-table concept, using food sourced from our farm in south [Miami-Dade],” he said. “Hopefully, this will be the start of many of these cafes. We have great ambitions to scale this.” 

Centners’ portfolio valued in the hundreds of millions

In South Florida and New York, they have amassed a real estate portfolio worth “well over nine figures,” Centner said. 

“We tend to purchase our real estate,” he said. “When you lease something, at some point the lease ends, and the terms get renegotiated. Purchasing sets the terms permanently for ourselves, and we get to enjoy the appreciation in the real estate, as time goes by.” 

The Centners own three properties in the Miami Design District, Wynwood Norte and Miami’s Arts & Entertainment District that serve as campuses for their private school company, Centner Academy. Four years ago, the couple faced criticisms over school policies that included threatening to fire teachers who received the Covid-19 vaccine, as well as asking students who received the vaccine to quarantine for 30 days, a decision they reversed. 

In September, the Centners garnered renewed scrutiny when then-Miami city commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla was arrested and criminally charged with bribery, money laundering, campaign violations and other felonies. Diaz de la Portilla, who was removed from office and subsequently lost reelection in November,  allegedly engineered a no-bid deal for the Centners to build a $10 million recreation center at Biscayne Park, a city-owned site adjacent to one of their schools. 

The Centners allegedly paid $245,000 to an entity controlled by their lawyer and lobbyist, William “Bill” Riley Jr., who then funneled the money to Diaz de la Portilla-controlled political action committees, according to an arrest affidavit. The Centners, who are identified as witnesses in the affidavit, have denied any wrongdoing, as well as noting the recreation center and the park will be open to the public. The Centners denied having knowledge of Riley’s contributions to the PACs.

At its upcoming meeting next week, the Miami City Commission is set to vote on a measure to rescind the agreement with the Centners

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Centners investing in multifamily, dev sites and retail

Notwithstanding their controversies, the Centners have ramped up their real estate game in recent years, including wheeling and dealing in development sites since at least 2013, when the couple bought a 13,000-square-foot building at 3465 Second Avenue in Miami for $3 million, records show. The building is currently being renovated into Centner Academy’s Wynwood Norte campus. 

Keiti Silva with Miami-based Apex Capital Realty has brokered multiple Centners deals since 2018, including their recent purchase of the Aria on the Bay unit and two Edgewater development sites.

“The Centners started buying, selling and building very actively in Miami about six years ago, many of these transactions with myself,” Silva said. “I’ve found them to be remarkably astute investors and creative developers with the ability to move very quickly, systematically and intelligently.”

The couple are building a commercial real estate portfolio that aligns with their various business ventures, Silva said. “They have so many seemingly diverse interests, not to mention their personal holdings,” she said. “Within a few years, you’re going to see the maturation of all of their businesses, all of which are designed to scale.”

Between 2019 and 2021, the couple purchased four vacant lots and a four-unit multifamily building near the Centner Academy school in the Miami Design District for a combined $2.7 million, records show. 

In 2021, the Centners also bought an eight-unit apartment building in Miami Beach that was completed in 1957 for $1.5 million. A year later, they paid $6.5 million for three low-rise apartment buildings in South Beach with a combined 32 units. They also sold a development site in Edgewater to Amit Kort for $16.5 million, as well as another one in the same neighborhood to Oak Row Equities and Lndmrk Development for $18.7 million

“We have bought a lot of stuff for residential and commercial,” Centner said. “I guess we are actively looking for opportunities that fit our criteria for investment and development purposes.”

Also in 2022, the Centners paid $2.9 million for a 34-acre farm at 17300 Southwest 177th Avenue in the Redland, an unincorporated neighborhood, and dropped $5.3 million for a 14,627-square-foot commercial unit at the Brickell Bay Club Condominium in Miami, records show. The same year, the couple formed Centner Development to manage their real estate projects. 

The agriculture site, known as Centner Regener8 Farm, is fully operational with conventional field crops, as well as honey harvesting from bee hives and fish production via an aquaculture operation, Centner said. Products are sold to Centner Academy, local farmers markets and restaurant food wholesalers, he added. 

The couple recently opened Centner Wellness in the Brickell Bay Club building, which is a spa offering detoxification, cellular regeneration and stress and inflammation reduction services, Centner said. The Aria on the Bay commercial unit will be divided into Centner Regener8 Cafe  and a smaller version of Centner Wellness. 

“The two will work hand-in-hand and encourage people to visit the larger wellness center and visit the farm to see all our great programming,” he said.