Your legal practice revolves around land use and real estate development. How did you survive the recession? Now that the economy is looking up, how has the type of work you’re doing changed?
As we worked our way out of the great recession as a community, the land use and real estate practices began to evolve. As lending institutions adjusted their equity and loan coverage requirements, our clients became more innovative. They also diversified their deal flow. For example, some began establishing private-public partnerships with the public sector. We see more of our clients willing to offer private-sector solutions to address public-sector needs. Also, we continue to see more foreign-based companies interested in developing new large scale projects in Miami. Our practice continues to include the traditional land use and real estate development work.
Public-private-partnerships seem to be all the rage these days, from the downtown museums and park to the Miami Beach Convention Center. Why have they grown in popularity? Are they good deal for the public, or do they risk public money? What kind of value / risk do they offer to private developers?
Many municipalities are entering into public-private partnerships, also known as P3s, as a way to preserve their capital while upgrading public infrastructure. P3s also enable businesses to capitalize and enhance the value of existing public assets, as is the case locally with the Interstate-595 reconstruction and the waterfront Museum Park development in downtown Miami. Often, the private partner is the one that does the planning, financing, procurement and construction of a project. By doing that, the private sector, which finances the development, takes the construction and financial risks away from the public sector. That is great for the taxpayer. Also, the private partner, which has the experience and the logistics in place, often gets the job done in a more efficient manner and at a lower cost.
There is an immense amount of P3 activity currently taking place in South Florida. The public and private sectors have come together to undertake some of the nation’s biggest infrastructure improvement projects, such as the Miami International Airport and Port of Miami expansions; the Miami Beach Convention Center redevelopment; the $300M+ rail car deal with Miami-Dade County and Italian-based AnsaldoBreda; the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park, among others. During the recession, the public and private sectors had no choice but to work together to get projects off the ground. This trend will only continue to grow in popularity, particularly because it is a formula that is proven to work.
The legal profession has been undergoing change, as witnessed in part by recent layoffs at a large New York firm. Has Bilzin Sumberg had layoffs?
Not at all. 2012 was our best year in the firm’s history. We don’t grow by growing offices. When you have the ability to grow across multiple geographies but your overhead is limited by having a single office in Miami, there are economies of scale that can be created. Bilzin Sumberg does considerable cross-border work representing clients in Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East in tax, real estate and corporate matters.
Miami doesn’t seem to have a big black professional class like Atlanta or some other cities. Is that truth, or is it perception? And why?