Business Monday

Downtown Doral, a Codina Partners development, brings city flair to the suburbs

In the western outskirts of Miami-Dade County, a sophisticated new urban center is taking shape, complete with several luxury condominium towers, townhouses, apartments, office buildings, shops, restaurants, a charter school, a park with a public art pavilion and a government center.

Downtown Doral, a 120-acre mixed-use development by Codina Partners, aims to transform the industrial, workday world of Doral into a real hometown.

The goal, said Codina Partners Executive Chairman Armando Codina, is to create a “live, work, learn and play” community, where families can enjoy the fruits of urban life — while spending less for housing than they would in other such enclaves of Miami-Dade.

“This is not a project; this is a city,” Codina said, seated in a conference room inside Downtown Doral’s sales center. The community, which stretches from NW 87th Avenue to NW 79th Avenue, and from NW 54th Street to the Trump National Doral Miami, will be created in phases, with most facets completed in five years, he said.

Downtown Doral represents Codina Partners’ largest investment ever — over $1 billion. It also marks the first project Codina has undertaken from inception to completion with his daughter Ana-Marie Codina Barlick, 37, who Friday was named the company’s chief executive.

Codina, 67, a pioneering South Florida developer best known for suburban office and industrial parks, has reconfigured much of Miami-Dade over several decades. He ventured into what is now Doral almost 30 years ago, when he built Beacon Centre. In 2006, he merged his former company, Codina Group, with Florida East Coast Industries, and sold that company in 2007 to Fortress Investment Group, based in New York.

He retained only one asset: the Downtown Doral property.

Real estate consultant Jack McCabe calls Codina, “one of the best known and best capitalized developers in Florida.”

“Without a doubt, this will be a huge boon for Doral,” said McCabe, chief executive of McCabe Research & Consulting, in Deerfield Beach.

Downtown Doral, which has been planned for several years, is coming to fruition amid a flurry of new residential construction in South Florida. The recession and recent collapse of the real estate market are now mere distant memories, as real estate values rise again — and developers rush to bring new projects to market.

“Within the last 18 months, without a doubt, builders’ and developers’ confidence is extremely strong,” McCabe said. “The developers expect the positive market conditions to continue for at least five- to seven- years longer, and we have seen some major developments with thousands of new units — 175 new condo projects with over 24,000 units in South Florida.”

Most of those new projects are located east of I-95, near the ocean or in downtown Miami. Only a handful have been announced for the suburbs, said Peter Zalewski, principal of Condo Vultures LLC, a real estate consultancy.

The cornerstone of Downtown Doral will be 2,840 upscale living units — the vast majority, more than 2,100 condo units spread among eight or nine condominium towers, each up to 20 stories high. In addition, the project will have three apartment buildings with 454 rental apartments, plus 90 townhouses.

“Doral has never seen anything like this,” said Codina. Residents also will have such nearby amenities as golf at the Trump National Doral Miami.

Codina, who has eschewed condo projects in the past, brought in Oswaldo Betancourt in September as executive vice president for development and construction to oversee Downtown Doral’s condo development. Betancourt previously had been vice president at Related Group’s condo division.

For the first and second tower, Codina Partners has hired renowned Miami-based architects Charles Sieger and Jose Suarez of Sieger Suarez Architectural Partnership, who designed such high-end Related projects as the Apogee, the Murano at Portofino and Murano Grande in Miami Beach and Bal Harbour’s St. Regis Resort & Residences. Designer Adriana Hoyos is creating the luxe interiors, and units are available fully finished, with flooring, kitchens and bathrooms, to be move-in ready.

Pre-construction sales for the first tower opened to the public earlier this month. Construction is slated to begin in six months, and the building will be completed in late 2015.

The condos range from the low $200,000s for a one-bedroom to $600,000s for a three-bedroom unit with a den, and $800,000 for a penthouse, Betancourt said. The luxury condos are set to compete with towers in such urban areas as the Brickell Corridor, but at lower prices. A unit that costs $370 per square foot in Downtown Doral might cost between $550 and $600 per square foot on Brickell, he said.

“If a developer is able to achieve more than $350 a square foot in Doral, it will trigger wildfire in condo development in Doral,” Zalewski said.

Doral, a suburban/industrial area west of Miami International Airport, has become a hub for Venezuelans, as well as other Latin Americans. For those prospective buyers, as well as other local buyers who want to live close to work or family in Doral, affordable prices will be key, analysts say.

“Price points are going to be very important,” McCabe said. “They are going to need to have price points that are affordable for working-class and middle-class Floridians.”

To be sure, the volume of daytime workers in Doral is enormous — more than 150,000 according to the city, and growing. Doral is home to such major employers as Univision, Carnival Cruise Lines, the Federal Reserve Bank of Miami, the U.S. Southern Command and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, as well as the Miami Herald. It ranks as the region’s No. 1 warehouse/office market, according to real estate analyst David Dabby, principal of Dabby Group Advisors in Coral Gables.

Yet the city cites its population at just 46,000, and housing is somewhat limited. While other residential projects are planned or under construction, Codina Partners’ is by far the most ambitious.

“Generally speaking, the Doral area is dominated by single family houses and inferior old rental units,” Zalewski said. “And for the most part what you are seeing is niche building starting to occur with condos and townhouses, to allow people to get into the marketplace, because the economy is so strong there.”

Among other projects underway are two Related Group rental developments: Doral View Apartments, a 360-unit garden apartment project with 14 three-story buildings, and CityPlace Apartments, adjacent to CityPlace Doral, which will have more than 330,000 square feet of retail.

With its central location, Dabby said he expects that Downtown Doral “will have the demand to fill up its residential component.... People don’t want to drive; they will be happy to live close to their offices,” he said. “As long as they get the pricing right, it’s a winner.”

So far, 42 condo units on the first tower have been reserved. The developers are requiring a 20 percent deposit at contract signing, 20 percent at groundbreaking, 10 percent at topping off, and 50 percent at closing, Betancourt said. The condos are being marketed both locally and throughout Latin America, including in Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.

Ingrid Sanchez, a Realtor with Keyes Co. in Doral, so far has sold 15 condo units, all to Venezuelans, who were lured by the scope of the development — the entertainment, restaurants, and a school — as well as the price, she said.

“It’s a new product in Doral,” Sanchez said. “It’s totally different than what we have seen before.”

For the third tower, Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott, who designed the luxury towers Jade Beach and Jade Ocean in Sunny Isles Beach, has been selected as the designer.

The developers are aiming for condo buildings that are unique and that differ from each other —“organic, not cookie-cutter,” said Codina Barlick, who is leading the Downtown Doral development. Rather than naming the towers, the developers have chosen to use addresses, like 5252 Paseo for the first condo building.

Two, three and four-bedroom townhouses are also being marketed. To date, 30 townhouses have been reserved pre-construction, with prices from $400,000 to $1 million, Codina Barlick said.

Downtown Doral’s roots lie in the former Koger Office Park, a series of 32 squat office buildings built in the 1970s that housed mostly government workers.

The original developer, Ira Koger, built such projects as Real Estate Investment Trusts, or REITs, all over the country, using the same model: buy cheap land in the middle of nowhere and build cheap office buildings, aiming to be the lowest-cost bidder for government tenants, Codina said.

That formula worked until Sept. 11, 2001. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, the U.S. government decided it no longer wanted its employees concentrated in one place, so as not to be an easy target.

“The combination of decrepit buildings and that the government moved out created the opportunity,” to buy the land, said Codina, who was approached by JP Morgan to be an equity partner and master developer in a joint venture to redevelop the property.

Another essential factor converged at the same time and propelled Codina’s vision for the project: the growing, newly incorporated city of Doral, whose 2003 incorporation Codina supported.

The city, he said, was full of commuting workers, 9 to 5. Codina knew they would need more places to eat and shop — and live.

“If you look at growth in Dade County, no place has grown as much as Doral,” he said. “To me, this was a no brainer.”

In Doral, like much of Miami-Dade‘s newly formed and expanding cities, planning largely has been absent. Zoning is haphazard. And the area lacks a downtown, Codina said.

His project, he hopes, will change that. “In my mind, this is not only an area that had grown a great deal, but Doral needed a downtown,” Codina said. “Doral needed a heart.”

A new Main Street is in the works, targeted to be an urban, walking, shopping and dining destination, with more than 50 retailers, encompassing as much as 180,000 square feet. At least 20 restaurants will be included in the downtown area, whose look will be somewhat akin to Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile. Codina Partners is partnering with Lennar Corp. in the retail and restaurant component, and the first phase, representing 80,000 square feet and a budget of $30 million, is expected to break ground in the first quarter of 2014.

So far, the partners said they have commitments from restaurant chains including Novecento, Royal Pig Pub and Zona Fresca.

More than 1 million square feet of office space is also planned for Downtown Doral in four new office buildings; the first was completed in 2010. Four existing Koger buildings will remain, Codina Barlick said.

Codina Partners is recasting the streets to be more urban and pedestrian friendly. NW 53rd Street, for example, has been converted from a busy four-lane thoroughfare to a two lane street with a bike path, parallel parking and sidewalks.

For Downtown Doral’s master plan, the developers hired architect and planners Richard Flierl and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co.

Codina Partners has built a government center for the city of Doral, for which the city paid $20 million for the land and construction. Outside the building, wide pink concrete sidewalks front a park where a massive, $1 million public art sculpture designed by prominent artist Michele Oka Doner has just been installed.

Codina Barlick calls it “the signature for Doral.”

The steel-and-concrete open-air pavillion was three years in the making, said Oka Doner. Codina asked her to create a soul and heart for his new community. “My idea was to make something primal in a space that is based in chrome and glass,” Oka Doner said.

“I said to Armando that Doral doesn’t have to be a suburb of Miami,” she said. “I think it can be the gateway to the Everglades, so this is a piece that declares itself connected to the forces of nature.”

The three-acre park with the pavilion also includes a playground and Oka Doner-designed benches. The city required the developers to spend $50,000 on the pavilion; they ended up spending $1 million on the park, in addition to the $1 million for the artwork, Codina said.

“We wanted it to be a statement and one of the anchors for the project,” Codina Barlick said. “So we used all recycled, re-purposed wood” for the playground.

Additional public art is also a key component of Downtown Doral. Main Street will be anchored by two 30-foot high, custom-made metal sculptures, by a separate, as-yet-unnamed artist. Nearby, a charter elementary school also will be built, to be run by Miami-Dade Public Schools.

“I want real people, who want to send their kids to school,” Codina said of Downtown Doral’s future residents. “We want a real city and we want to bring in the local market.”

Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, councilwoman for Doral, said Downtown Doral is just what the city needs.

“I definitely welcome the mixed use that this brings to this city because it creates community, and I think that is what residents want....” she said. “That is what is missing in Doral and that fills that void.”

Though some construction is underway, other parts of the development still have to wait until tenants’ leases expire so office buildings can be torn down to make way for new buildings, said Codina. “We demolish as quickly as we can demolish.”

Codina, a high-profile Cuban-born civic leader, at one time partnered with Jeb Bush to co-develop the upscale Deering Bay Yacht and Country Club community. Codina serves as a trustee of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts/YoungArts, chair of the Town Square Neighborhood Development Corp. and chairman emeritus of Florida International University’s broad of trustees. He and the late Knight Ridder chairman Alvah Chapman co-founded the Community Parnership for the Homeless, now called the Chapman Partnership. Codina currently sits on The Home Depot board of directors, and previously sat on the boards of General Motors and American Airline’s parent, AMR Corp.

While Downtown Doral is aleady a massive undertaking, the overall project may wind up to be even larger than the current vision.

Just south of Downtown Doral’s 120-acre property is another 125-acre parcel, the Great White Course — a golf course currently owned by the Sovereign Government of Singapore, which it acquired about two years ago through bankruptcy actions. The government of Singapore had been a senior lender to an investment fund that owned a number of resorts across the United States. The fund went into bankruptcy, and Singapore took ownership of the Great White Course, Codina Barlick said. The balance of the Doral Golf Resort was sold to the Trump Organization, and Trump National Doral Miami currently leases the active Great White Course from Singapore, she said.

Fronting 87th Avenue, across from the current Trump National Doral Miami and contiguous to Downtown Doral, the golf course is expected to come up for bid early next year. The property comes with development rights for residential, office and retail use, similar to Downtown Doral.

“We’re the logical buyer, and we will be an aggressive bidder,” Codina said.

If Codina Partners prevails, its Downtown Doral project would then more than double in size.

“Everyone in real estate has a lot of respect for Mr. Codina. He does a lot of research on his own, and obviously he feels confident about bringing this large scale development at this time,” McCabe said. “My expectation for the next three to five years is it will be a very successful project.”