Alan Faena has no interest in joining the pack of condo and hotel builders racing to construct multiple projects in Miami while this development cycle is hot.
Instead, the former fashion mogul from Argentina and his billionaire partner Len Blavatnik are putting all of their energy into one massive development, Faena Miami Beach. The $1 billion mixed-use project is designed to transform a six-block section of Collins Avenue into a premier residential, hospitality, entertainment and cultural destination.
Faena and Blavatnik pulled it off before, with the redevelopment of 420 acres in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires over a 12-year span. The mixed-use Faena District is now home to some of Latin America’s most expensive real estate. The duo envisions a similar future at Faena Miami Beach.
“This is the perfect time,” Faena said during a recent tour of his Faena Collaboratory, which includes the sales center for the 47-unit Faena House, designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Norman Foster’s Foster + Partners firm, and under construction since February 2013. Faena is quick to point out the aleros, or sweeping balconies, that wrap around each unit. The inspiration for those came from the dream house he built for himself on a beach in Punta Del Este, Uruguay.
“We’re lucky to be here working with the best minds in the world,” Faena said. “This is about smart minds coming together to create a different way to enhance people’s lives. This will be the heart of the city.”
The early returns for Faena House are strong. Nearly all of the units are under contract, with initial buyers reportedly including Goldman Sachs Group CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Apollo Global Management co-founder Leon Black. Through the end of 2013, Faena House contracts totaled nearly $334 million. Not including five sponsor sales, the contract price averaged $2,607 per square foot. Another $111 million in Faena House contracts were secured during the first two months of 2014.
That progress seemed to boost the confidence of Faena’s lenders. In early January, a group of lenders led by HSBC Bank USA provided a $300 million refinancing – including $128 million in fresh capital – for the project’s Faena House and hotel.
Blavatnik planted the seeds for Faena Miami Beach with the $102 million purchase of the former Saxony Hotel site in 2007. About two years ago, he recruited his Buenos Aires partner to conjure up a similar blueprint for that and other properties pulled together in the mid-Beach section. “I thought the development had to be something never seen before, a spectacular project with an exciting legacy,” Blavatnik said. “And that is Alan.”
Always clad in white, including his signature toquilla hat, Faena’s eyes light up when talking about the talented individuals who are helping him build Faena Miami Beach.
“That’s the juicy part, the interesting thing,” he said. “We are all creators with different specialties.”
The team includes “The Great Gatsby” director Baz Luhrmann and his wife Catherine Martin, winner of four Academy Awards for costume, set and production design. The couple worked on the designs that will transform the Saxony, which was one of the first luxury hotels on Miami Beach when it opened in 1948 (and the first with air conditioning). Luhrmann even directed and appeared in a short promotional video for the project.
Another Pritzker-prize winning architect, Rem Koolhaas, designed three additional Faena Miami Beach buildings: an arts center, retail bazaar and a car park. Renowned landscape architect Raymond Jungles is contributing the “Faena Gardens” adjacent to Faena House.
To Faena, there’s no project component that doesn’t require the best and brightest in their field.
The emphasis on detail is something Faena cultivated since he launched Via Vai, Latin America’s largest fashion company, before selling it nearly two decades ago. A few years later, he brought that focus to Buenos Aires.
Puerto Madero was a thriving industrial district during the first half of the 20th century, as Argentina’s economy strengthened, but then languished for nearly four decades amid political instability.
“Buenos Aires was created as a utopian city,” Faena said. “What we did in Buenos Aires was transform an abandoned area into a new way of living. We said we would create the most sophisticated place the city had seen and bring the world to Buenos Aires, and also have a place where Buenos Aires could interact with the world.”
For that project, Faena recruited famed French designer Philippe Starck to design a five-star hotel, which was created by gutting an historic building. Faena Hotel has since become a popular spot for celebrities and other high-profile guests visiting Buenos Aires.
The Faena District also includes multiple luxury residential buildings and Faena Arts Center, a converted factory. Foster, who was part of the team for both the Buenos Aires and Miami Beach projects, says Faena “insists on a cultural anchor” for such developments.
“Not just culture in the visual arts, but in blurring the edges between arts and leisure, between the resident community and the visiting energy of the hotel,” Foster said. “It unites the concepts of public space, civic space and also of optimum urban density. If you join all these dots together, you get something that is socially very responsible and architecturally very exciting.”
With Faena Miami Beach well into construction, the face of the project said he and his partners are evaluating potential opportunities in New York. About 90 percent of the tower’s buyers are from the New York area, according to Faena. That gives him coveted brand recognition, should he decide to venture north.
But Faena has more to do in mid-Beach before moving on. He said he relocated to Miami so he could devote his complete attention to the development. In his mind, the job isn’t finished when the buildings top off.
“Creation is my life; it’s my passion,” Faena said. “We create buildings, and we also create the contents inside of the buildings: every room, every restaurant, every museum, every artistic exhibition. That’s what I love.”