While new high-end condominium towers have sprouted in Brickell and downtown Miami in recent years, nearby Little Havana has largely been untouched by the building boom.
But with so many foreign buyers seeking to invest in Miami, developers Henry Torres, 59, and his son Peter Torres, 37, founders of the Astor Cos., thought it was the perfect moment for a condo project in the blue-collar neighborhood.
“We bought the land in 2011 with the purpose of building after the recession,” said the younger Torres, vice president of Astor, at the sales office at Southwest Eighth Street and 19th Avenue, which will become the InTown condominium, scheduled for completion by early 2016.
Salespeople greet visitors at a hall where there is a mockup of the project and where they offer Cuban coffee and a cup of ice cream from Azúcar, a well-known Little Havana business.
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“It’s a project that will give residents looking for luxury and a contemporary lifestyle the opportunity to live in one of the more diverse and vibrant areas, at a central location and at more reasonable prices,” Torres said.
Torres mentioned the nearby Tower Theater, Domino Park and the stores, art galleries and restaurants that have opened in recent years.
Construction of the 14-story building will begin in September. It will have 320 residences, with designs from Interiors by Steven G. and prices from $190,000 to $300,000.
“Little Havana is in many ways the heart of Miami, and it’s a district that until now has lacked really luxurious residences,” said Alicia Cervera Lamadrid, member of the board of Cervera Real Estate, the company hired to sell the condos.
The ambitious InTown project, which will cost about $95 million, has already sold 50 percent of the first stage of construction, according to Torres.
“The real estate market has recovered, though the financing does not have the flexibility it used to have,” Torres said. “It’s understandable. That was part of the crisis in this field. Most of the purchases have been made by foreign investors, aged between 40 and 50, many of them from Venezuela.”
Astor’s other projects have included Brickell Vista, Gateway to the Grove, Valencia and Nordica. The next one will be Merrick Manor, a condo development in Coral Gables featuring $1 million apartments.
The family was not always in the construction business. Henry Torres came from Cuba in 1958 with his father, and they settled in New Jersey. Ten years later, they came to Miami, where they launched Empire Seafood.
“The company founded by my father and grandfather used to buy seafood at foreign markets and sold it wholesale in the United States,” said the younger Torres, who took charge of the administration of Empire Seafood after graduating from the University of Miami in 1998 with a business and marketing degree.
The family sold Empire Seafood in 2001 to Performance Food Group, and father and son took a break before entering the field of construction, beginning with low-cost housing projects.
“I always loved real estate,” Torres said.
“My father and I know each other so well that we have no problems,” he added. “Each of us knows what the other is thinking at the moment of making a decision.”