While U.S. companies see opportunity for investment in Asia, Swire Properties last year made its biggest financial commitment in Miami.
The decision to move forward on building Brickell CitiCentre, a $1.05 billion mixed-use project, is based on what Swire sees as the long-term potential for growth in this market.
“The best opportunity we’ve seen is here strangely, not in China,” said Martin Cubbon, chief executive of the Hong Kong-based Swire Properties. “This looked more attractive than the same analysis looked in big cities in China. But clearly there are plenty of others that don’t agree with me because they’ve been buying land in China, not in Miami.”
During 2008 and 2009, when others were pulling back on Miami as the financial and real estate meltdown hit, Swire Properties starting buying up land. Initially, the plan was to build condos. But as the size of the parcel grew so did the company’s ambitions.
“The chance to build something of real scale right downtown in the middle of a cosmopolitan American city is really rare,” Cubbon said. “Regardless of what’s happened in the market place, we couldn’t march into New York, LA or San Francisco and suddenly find nine acres of contiguous space right next to the main highway and the business district, within easy access of one of the best known tourist destinations. That’s very attractive.
“It may take us three or four years to piece all the elements together, but we will certainly do it. We’re not under any pressure from banks or investors.”
The Miami Herald sat down with Cubbon when he was in town in June for the Brickell CitiCentre groundbreaking. Here’s what he had to say:Q. What caught your interest in the Brickell area?
The Downtown Brickell area clearly began to change in 2009, 2010 and 2011. It became much more vibrant as more people began to stay and live in all the condos built in the last 10 years. It gave it a real buzz which I don’t think it had 10 or 15 years ago. It also created a need and the need was for high-quality shopping, entertainment and food and beverage. That had not really been built in a coherent, scalable way in the Downtown Brickell area in the past. That’s what we saw as the opportunity. We have the wherewithal to do it. Maybe we’re going to be proven wrong over the next five years. But we’re going to give it our best shot.Q. Did you look anywhere else in the U.S.?
No. We have a history here in Miami. We have been here a long time on Brickell Key. Our people understand the market. This couldn’t have happened anywhere else because we wouldn’t have had those eyes and ears on the ground looking at the opportunities. Sometimes I think it’s a little bit of serendipity how we got to where we are now. We wouldn’t have seen this opportunity had Steve Owens and his team not had a well-established office here. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity if land prices hadn’t corrected so sharply in 2008-2009. We wouldn’t have had this opportunity if we couldn’t have acquired enough space to do something that’s scalable. Scale is important when you’re talking about retail and entertainment.Q. Your company has built many similar mixed-use projects in Asia like Brickell CitiCentre. Why have you decided to shift from condo development to focus on this niche?