Tony Cho, the founder of development firm Metro 1, takes a pragmatic and spiritual approach to Miami’s future. He spoke exclusively with INDULGE about how he got to where he is and where he’s going next.
Tony Cho’s Vitals
40 years old. A native of Sebastian, Florida, Tony Cho was adopted at birth by Ma Jaya, his maternal grandmother, and raised at her Kashi Ashram, whose fans included Julia Roberts and Arlo Guthrie. Cho went on to study business at Northwestern University and study abroad in Argentina before moving to Miami and enrolling at Florida International University. He worked as a nightlife promoter for Miami Beach clubs in the 1990s, eventually taking an interest in real estate. In 2005 he founded Metro 1, a real estate venture that’s become a significant development instrument in Wynwood and now in Little Haiti with an urbanization project called the Magic City Innovation District. A devoted meditator, Cho dedicates time to expressing his gratitude to the world. A frequent traveler, he carries with him crystals, especially rose quartz, which is associated with heart chakra, unconditional love and positive energy.
HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO? “My work is like a symphony. I make transformational real estate projects. I’m a real estate artist: I build communities.”
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED? “I bought my first building on Biscayne Boulevard with a high-interest loan from a Hialeah loan shark. Then the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts went up. That allowed me to sell my building for a high profit, and that’s how I got involved in Wynwood.”
‘I’m a real estate artist: I build communities.’
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR PROJECTS? “It’s cosmically connected. It’s about getting involved from the ground level. I arrived in Wynwood in 2001 and bought my first property there in 2003. The late Tony Goldman became one of my mentors. I learned a lot from him; it had a lot to do with passion.”
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO BUENA VISTA AND LITTLE HAITI? “The arts and culture of those communities caught my attention. Going to Argentina in an exchange program changed my perspective. I saw how nightlife contributed to the rise of communities. It’s evident in areas like New York’s Meatpacking District, where nightlife was a catalyst for success.”
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE WITH THE MAGIC CITY INNOVATION DISTRICT? “I want it to become a prototype, an urban laboratory. Magic City fosters a public benefit program with more public housing and low-income housing than anywhere in Miami. It’s an innovation district, propitiating dialogue to iterate a path for the future.”
WHERE DO YOU SEE MIAMI IN FIVE YEARS? “I hope Miami grows up to become the poster child for solving housing affordability, sea level rise and climate change. It requires everyone — academics, politicians, developers, artists — to sit around, discuss the problems and find solutions.”
WHO HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCE? “My grandmother taught me the value of hard work and giving back. She created the only interfaith ashram in the world, which she called ‘a vacation from hate.’”
WHAT KIND OF ART DO YOU LIKE? “I love street art and Cuban art. My mother was an artist — she worked on spiritual, meditative, abstract work. I also like contemporary artists like Damien Hirst.”
WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO? “I like Afro-Cuban jazz, João Gilberto, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Chopin and some electronic music.”
HOW DO YOU RELAX? “Paddle boarding, swimming and boating — when I get the chance.”
WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES TO MIAMI? “To be a good leader and a good Samaritan in the community.”