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Worldly Condo Buyers Look, En Masse, to Miami

Developers Answer Call For Housing With Cutting Edge Condo Designs

By Maria Siakavellas, Senior Editor

Miami - For the fabulously rich and glamorous (or even for the moderately well-off and fashion-conscious), where else is there to live, or at least have a second-home condo, but this super-chic city by the sea?

With its perpetually mild climate, sandy beaches, Art Deco architecture, trendy eateries, celebrity-soaked nightlife and cosmopolitan culture, more and more people from all over the world are looking to live in Miami.

Developers, naturally, are responding with an incredible array of high-profile, high-flying condo developments. The Downtown market alone has more than 20,000 units in the construction pipeline to be built over the next three years.

"There are cranes everywhere," said Michael Mulhall, director of Florida development for GDC Premier Communities. "The Miami market is moving very strongly, and the primary development [play] is condominium."

The area's for-sale market is benefiting from a number of factors including low interest rates, a relatively strong economy and, more significantly, solid immigration trends.

"Miami has to be one of the most vibrant, urban-infill, for-sale markets anywhere in the country," said Marc deBaptiste, a principal in the Boca Raton, Fla. office of Apartment Realty Advisors, the national brokerage firm. "And it has a lot to do with in-migration of new residents to South Florida from other parts of the country, combined with European and South American interest."

Europeans have been taking advantage of the drop in the value of the U.S. dollar against the Euro, making real estate here an inexpensive buy for them. Added to that is a demand from citizens of many Latin American countries where weakening economies are fueling a desire to invest money in a more stable environment.

"Miami is a very international city. Latin Americans have always been attracted to investment in Miami real estate. And now with the Euro strengthening, you see more and more Europeans also interested in investing here," said Mulhall.

Just how big an impact does the foreign market have on condo sales here? "Probably 50 percent of our buyers are international, from Latin America or Europe," said Mulhall, speaking of his company's first condo project in Miami, the $66 million, 193-unit Alaqua, in the Aventura submarket.

On the domestic side, Baby Boomers and snowbirds tired of long, harsh northern winters are eagerly snatching up condos here as a retirement refuge or second home. "The Greater Miami area has always been a favorite with [this demographic]," explained Mulhall.

And although condo prices have been on the rise in Miami, the city is still a good buy in the eyes of outsiders, at least compared to other major metropolitan areas in the United States.

"A lot of people buy from the Northeast, and when someone who lives in New York City for $1,000 per square foot comes down to Miami and finds a condo on the ocean for half of that, they perceive it as a good value," said Louis Birdman, a principal of SunVest/Hamilton, the joint-venture developer of the 27-story Emerald at Brickell in downtown Miami.

Up, Up, Up In Downtown

One submarket showing up as a very sizeable blip on the radar screens of many developers is Downtown Miami. Concerted efforts to resuscitate the area's infrastructure have resulted in substantial commercial and residential development.

"There has been a major revitalization of downtown," said deBaptiste. "New leadership has really turned the city around."

While it wasn't long ago that people were reluctant to live here, potential residents are now lining up. "The Downtown area now has become a very accepted [place to live] for a lot of local people, and the Latin American and European buyers are finding their way into this market as well," said deBaptiste.

And the area, once sorely lacking in housing, now offers plenty of options, with many more coming. According to deBaptiste, the downtown area will see significant new construction over the next three years: the Brickell submarket has 7,000 units in its pipeline, the downtown Central Business District has 6,000 and the Arts and Entertainment District has 7,500 units in its pipeline (the figures include all multifamily development although deBaptiste said the majority is for-sale).

Birdman's 142-unit Emerald at Brickell, in the heart of Miami's financial district, is now over 80 percent sold, even though the development's completion is projected for year-end 2005. The area is one of the busiest on Brickell Avenue and one buyers are eager to call home, Birdman explained. "There hasn't been any slowing down in sales," he said. "People want to be here."

Another notable condo development will also grace Miami's downtown skyline soon. The Everglades on the Bay [named in the May issue of Multi-Housing News as one of the 16 most innovative multifamily designs in the nation], comprised of two 49-story towers totaling 870 units, is being developed by CABI Developers, the U.S. subsidiary of Mexican real estate giant GICSA. Jacobo Cababie, director of CABI Developers, noted there is great opportunity for condo development in this part of Miami.

"Downtown is becoming a hot, new development area; there will be major development here in the next two to four years," he said. "Downtown Miami will become like any downtown of any major city in the United States."

According to Cababie, many residents of northern Miami must endure long commutes to work downtown. "And there are nice hotels, the arena and the performing arts center in the area. What has been missing here is the residential component," Cababie added. "With the redevelopment of the area and with new residential and retail components, the place to be will be Downtown."

Flair for the (Design) Dramatic

Miami has long been known for its cosmopolitan style and architectural verve. And as more and more condominiums break ground here, developers are really looking to push the design envelope to create a truly unique product that will stand out in an increasingly crowded field.

"You are seeing some incredibly amazing architecture in Miami," said Mulhall. "Miami has always had flair and, particularly in the high-rise arena, you are seeing a lot of people do exciting things to attract buyers."

Bernard Zyscovich, president of Zyscovich Inc., a renowned Miami architectural firm, agreed: "Design in general has become much more important in condos because there are just so many out there." He added that many of his clients are developers who want to give birth to something truly special. "They're not production builders. We tend to work more with custom-oriented developers," Zyscovich explained.

In one of the firm's newest Miami Beach endeavors, Elan, the drawings of which have just been completed, Zyscovich is including daring design principles to seduce the highest end of the market. "We created each unit as a showcase theatrical set where the fixtures, design of walls and textures are very unusual and give off a certain character," he said. "We avoided using the typical materials of drywall and have gone very high-end in terms of the accoutrements."

Zyscovich explained Miami condo buyers now have a greater fascination with more cutting-edge materials: translucent products such as white glass, shiny metals and textured finishes are among the routes he is taking in new projects these days.

"And it seems like everyone wants polished concrete floors and European plumbing fixtures," Zyscovich added.

In The Meridian, a South Beach luxury loft project developed by Flagler Holding Group, Zyscovich has designed wide-open spaces ideal for custom design. Being built on a scenic triangular site where Meridian Avenue meets Dade Boulevard, the 111-unit Meridian will overlook the Bayshore Golf Course. Among the many features and amenities are 12-foot-high ceilings; sleek, Euro-styled designer kitchens; a lushly landscaped rooftop pool; spa; gazebo with outdoor cooking; and penthouse-level fitness center.

"Every time we get a project, we are looking for something unique about the location of that will enable us to create a more innovative experience," Zyscovich said. "We think that design and innovation is what separates the people we work with from the rest."

CABI Developers' Everglades on the Bay will also be an icon of modern Miami architecture. The two buildings will feature retail components including a bank and high-end supermarket and offer residents waterfront views. Lofts, flats and apartments of one, two and three bedrooms as well as a penthouse unit will sell for $169,000 to over $1 million.

The two towers are connected by a low-rise structure, the roof of which will feature a lagoon-style pool with bar overlooking the bay, a lap pool, afternoon/quiet pool for peaceful retreat and a 15,000-square-foot health spa with treatment rooms, sauna, steam room and plunging pool. And the development's lobbies and amenities will be designed by Romero Britto, a celebrated Pop Artist whose bold work is meant to help attract Miami's artistic circle.

"What we are looking to do here is develop a signature building with high-end finishes rather than the thing of the moment," said Cababie. "We are looking to see this building stand out in downtown Miami for the next 20 years.


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