New owner says 550 Brickell ready for development deal
By Marilyn Bowden
New York parking magnate Hank Sopher, who bought the 550 Brickell Building and adjacent parking lot a little more than a year ago, said the market has matured more quickly than he anticipated and he's looking for a development partner.
Mr. Sopher, president of Quik Park of Florida, paid $10 million in 1999 for the six-story, 35,000-square foot property on 1.27 acres and an adjoining 0.2-acre parcel to the west.
At that time, he called it "probably one of the most important locations on Brickell for parking, office or residential development."
Mr. Sopher said he originally envisioned waiting several years for the right market conditions to warrant development. However, with Barclays financial center close to 85% leased ahead of its fall opening date and the incursion of telecommunications tenants bringing other buildings on Brickell to full occupancy, Mr. Sopher said recently that it is time to proceed with development.
"Basically what we're trying to do," he said, "is the same thing we've done in New York for 25 years. I bought properties in Manhattan 25-30 years ago in areas where youÚcouldn't walk at night. Now people are knocking my door down to build on my parking lots.
"I think the acceleration in Miami has been much, much faster."
Mr. Sopher, whose expertise is in parking, says he's open to any kind of a deal except selling.
"We're buying properties, not selling," he says. "As the sign says, we're offering development opportunities.
"We're interested in talking with someone who wants to build a garage in conjunction with an office building, a hotel or apartments. There's nothing else available right on Brickell, so now is the time to find a joint partner."
Edie Laquer of Laquer Corporate Realty, who represents Mr. Sopher in his South Florida land deals, says in her opinion the property is ideally suited for twin towers with a total of 750,00-850,000 square feet.
"A Class A office tower fronting Brickell Avenue, presuming Brickell Park is preserved, would offer unobstructed views of Biscayne Bay a rarity for the west side of Brickell," Ms. Laquer says.
On the west side, she says, the property fronts the site of Brickell Village, Terremark's proposed 2 million-square-foot retail and entertainment center.
"It would be perfect for high-end rentals or condos or even lofts," she says. "But the menu is wide open as to proposals. Any development scenario whatsoever will be considered that includes QuikPark as venture partner."
Ms. Laquer says the Related Group of Florida's plans to build a Class A office building and luxury residential tower at the One Miami site just across the Miami River from Brickell is key to the redevelopment of north Brickell.
"It will link the Brickell and downtown submarkets," she says. "A Chinese wall has historically divided them, but it is coming down."
Edgar Jones, vice president with the office services group at Grubb & Ellis, says the possibility of office development at 550 Brickell is interesting, but Mr. Sopher is unlikely to be able to tear down the existing building for at least three years unless he can buy out the leases of existing tenants.
"In three years, Brickell will be a different market," he says.
Other than Barclays, he says, the only office projects actually under way on Brickell are Esp°rito Santo Plaza and Four Seasons Tower, neither of which will put more than a couple hundred square feet on the market.
But Related Co.'s office tower and a proposed development at 901 Brickell by developer Ricardo Glas could add close to 2 million square feet, he says.
"If they all happen at the same time," he says, "it's a lot to absorb. But history has proven that not all projects announced or under contemplation get built."
Mr. Sopher says he has an additional 5 acres under contract in Brickell and on Biscayne Boulevard.
Details: Edie Laquer, (305) 374-6116.
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