Developers outline plans for western Brickell in forum
By Charlotte Libov
When it comes to Brickell, it's all about the brand, and developers are sure they can extend the avenue's caché to the residential, office and shopping projects cropping up to the west.
"It's incredibly exciting to be involved with downtown when you think about Brickell. Brickell makes an enormous contribution. It's what's driving downtown. It keeps the brand strong," said Dana Nottingham, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority who served as moderator for the Developers' Forum, in which four developers presented their projects.
The Brickell Area Association sponsored Monday evening's event, which attracted about 75 businesspeople, most involved in development, real estate, construction and finance. The forum was designed to show "what is happening west of Brickell, where people can't always see it," said Carl Walters, vice president of Facchina-McG, the evening's organizer.
The developers spoke about the rewards and the challenges of constructing large-scale projects in the Brickell area.
"It's exciting to be in Miami with all these other developers. After we open, there will be (other projects) opening, which will make it even better for us," said Marcos Freire, general manager of Mary Brickell Village, a 192,000-square-foot retail center.
"We tried to hit all the notes so that we can take care of the community," he said, adding that PF Chang and Regions Bank are to open at the beginning of April "and we hope to be going full force by Christmas."
"We'd be crazy to ignore the tourists, but our main focus is the community," he said. "We will try to be a fun, pleasant place, and I'm sure our entertainment will bring tourists in. But our main focus is the community."
Mr. Freire said he doesn't like to quote lease rates because they can vary, depending on the type of tenant he is trying to bring in, but "our goal is to be above $400 per square foot."
"Our sales have been impressive. Ours is the model others are trying to build out there," he said, referring to outdoor shopping centers, which have become fashionable elsewhere. "But we have the weather here."
Carl Rosso, vice president of the Related Group, said his company has three projects in construction or planned for Brickell - the Plaza on Brickell, 500 Brickell and Icon on Brickell. He said the Plaza and 500 Brickell are sold out and under construction and only 300 of 1,800 units remain at Icon on Brickell. The Plaza and 500 are to open in January 2008, he said, with Icon to open at the end of 2008.
"We certainly believe this idea of urban living will catch on in Brickell. People are tired of using their cars for everything," he said. "Brickell will be the motor for Miami."
He said it is difficult to know how many units in the Related projects wee sold to speculators. He said earlier projects Loft I and Loft II were priced below market value to enable city employees to live there. Some workers who bought units, he said, then quickly sold them at a profit. "Were these users or investors? It's hard to tell." He said. "What defines one category becomes blurred."
Alan Ojeda, president and CEO of Rilea Group, said his company's project, One Broadway, is the product "of a contrarian mind" because instead of being a condominium, it is a "36-story, extremely upscale rental project."
Due to the cost of land and construction, he said, an upscale rental project "does not work in the short term" but his company is in the project "for the long term."
"In the short term, we have no competition because everyone has gone condo," he said. "Any competition we have will be from the people who buy these condos and then rent them. So I will need to raise the pampering quotient.''
His company is involved in Phase 2 of One Broadway, construction of an office tower, which will be "glass, and very corporate." Since it is glass, Mr. Ojeda said, "we are going way above the requirements of code, not only in the type of glass we use but the way it will be anchored.
"In our opinion, our location is the best location," Mr. Ojeda said. "I will create the best building I can, as all of us are creating this growing city."
Evangeline Gouletas, chairman and CEO of Skyline Equities Realty, which is constructing the 35-story, 360-unit Skyline at Mary Brickell Village, said "there is no bubble" and demand for the type of luxury condos she is building will remain strong.
"I've been in South Florida for a long, long time, and I've done seven projects here," she said. "When I looked for my dream place, I decided that if I chose Miami, I wanted to be on Brickell Avenue."
She said that the type of urban living under development in the Brickell area is the type that will have lasting appeal.
"I was born in the Mediterranean, and people enjoy a way of life where you don't need to use a car to get a cup of coffee or go to the bank," Ms. Gouletas said. "It's unique, it's human, it's the way we should live today."
She lauded her fellow panelists, saying, "Development is a war, and, if I am in a war, I want people like those sitting to the right and the left of me who have the battle scars."