Business Monday

Tere Blanca: on the commercial real-estate fast track

Tere Blanca is the president and CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate that she started in 2009. She was able to build her start-up company into a major player in South Florida. Photographed Aug. 21, 2014.
Tere Blanca is the president and CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate that she started in 2009. She was able to build her start-up company into a major player in South Florida. Photographed Aug. 21, 2014. Miami Herald staff

Some people thought Tere Blanca was crazy.

In 2009, with the U.S. economy collapsing and the Miami real estate market foundering, Blanca left a high-paying executive post at a global commercial real estate firm and launched her own business, Blanca Commercial Real Estate.

“I started with a small office on Brickell, with one broker and a receptionist,” said Blanca, who was born in Cuba and arrived in Miami in 1979. At her previous job, Blanca had been the senior managing director for Cushman & Wakefield of Florida between 2003-2009, overseeing all South Florida operations and managing about 100 employees from Miami.

“It was one of the worst times for the real estate market,” said Blanca, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with concentration in international marketing and finance, and an MBA from the University of Miami.

“But I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to do at Cushman & Wakefield, and wanted to get back to working with clients on a more personal level,” said Blanca, whose first job in real estate came while living in San Diego, California,in 1985. She returned to Miami in 1987 and joined Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate.

While realistic about the situation, “I saw opportunities for Miami as a multicultural, international business center,” said Blanca, who has over 25 years of experience in Miami’s commercial real estate market.

Blanca used savings to launch her business. One benefit of the real estate crisis: She was able to find free furniture for her first office because so many companies were downsizing or going out of business.

Starting from zero in ’09

Since opening its doors in April 2009, Blanca Commercial Real Estate has become a key player in Miami’s prime commercial real estate market, putting together deals when the market was down and gaining momentum as it improved.

Blanca’s firm to date has completed over $1 billion in lease and sales transactions in Miami covering approximately 4 million square feet of commercial property, including 2.5 million square feet of space leased for property owners and tenants Blanca represents. The company estimates that it currently has 15 percent of market share in the four major Miami-Dade markets — downtown central business district, Brickell, Coral Gables and Doral/airport west. In calculating its market share, the company tracks about 26 million square feet of high-end (class A and B) office space in these sub-markets.

Business this year is rising dramatically. The company expects to complete $250 million in transactions this year, based on year-to-date performance. Gross revenues for 2014 are projected to increase by more than 30 percent over last year, according to current estimates.

Blanca CRE got off to a strong start in 2009 with its first client. The Rilea Group, developer of the 35-story building at 1450 Brickell Ave., asked Blanca to handle leasing of all its office space and its ground-floor restaurant and retail locations. Construction started on 1450 Brickell in 2007 and it opened in 2010.

“In less than three years after 1450 opened, we leased 100 percent of space,” or 582,000 square feet of office space plus 35,000 square feet on the ground floor, said Blanca, who previously was a top seller at the Codina Group in Miami. Tenants at 1450 include JP Morgan Chase, H.J. Heinz Co., Longchamp, American Express and Blanca CRE’s current office (just under 4,000 square feet). Leases can run from five to 15 years.

Why did this new building attract so many clients? “1450 Brickell was a new property and offered some strong selling points,” Blanca noted. “It received Gold certification from the LEED Green Building Rating System and has hurricane resistant glass on every floor.” The current building code calls for “large missile impact resistant glass” on only the first 30 feet of all new South Florida buildings. After Hurricane Wilma in 2005, anti-hurricane glass on every floor — not common in commercial properties — is very attractive to tenants.

Also, the building has a redundant power generating system that exceeds current code require- ments.

“Tere Blanca sold the building as the best on metrics, not on just saying it’s the best building,” said Alan Ojeda, founder and CEO of Rilea Group, which has been in real estate development since 1981. Ojeda had worked with Blanca on another project, was impressed with her skills and asked her to handle leasing for 1450. “She found a good mix of about 60 tenants for our building. This creates a better atmosphere than having just three.

“She pointed out that it was the first Gold LEEDS building, had anti-hurricane glass on every floor and a backup generator system with an extra-large fuel tank.”

When Ojeda began building 1450, “People said it was in the wrong location, too far away at the west end of Brickell,” he noted. “It turned out that the building offers easier entrance and exit because of its location.

“I chose Blanca because she is the best, Ojeda added. “And after seeing the results of her work, I can say I was right.”

In addition to her business and negotiation skills, part of Tere Blanca’s success in the new venture was due to the wide range of community and business contacts she made during the many years she worked in Miami’s commercial real estate market before 2009. She held the chair of The Beacon Council, is a trustee member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and worked and volunteered with many other organizations.

Another important factor was bringing aboard Hank Klein, a widely-known and highly successful real estate broker she met while working at Coldwell Banker between 1987-89. Klein, now vice chairman of Blanca CRE, is an iconic salesman who previously held leadership posts at Flagler Realty Services/Codina Group, Codina Bush Klein Realty and Cushman & Wakefield.

Handling important clients

Blanca CRE competes against much larger international firms like Cushman & Wakefield, CBRE and Coldwell Banker Commercial, as well as thousands of smaller brokers and agents in the area.

In building its portfolio, the firm has worked as the leasing agent for important clients such as Prudential Real Estate Investors, which acquired the Sabadell Bank office tower at 1111 Brickell Ave. in 2013. Among the tenants are SabadellUnited Bank, Barclays Bank, Telefónica USA, Ferragamo and Baker & McKenzie.

Blanca CRE was the leasing agent for Agave Holdings’ 396 Alhambra, a 15-story office tower and retail complex in Coral Gables, signing tenants like Tiffany & Co., Diageo, HBO Latin America, Banco Pichincha (Ecuador’s largest private bank) and Citibank.

The firm also was contracted by the Miami Herald Media Co./The McClatchy Co. to relocate The Miami Herald and elNuevo Herald from their bayfront facilities in downtown Miami to Doral. This was a challenging assignment, Blanca said. “No newspaper had built publishing facilities in Miami in 50 years. We had to find space for production, offices and parking ... all at the right price.”

Blanca CRE not only handles leasing and sales of commercial property, but also works with clients in land acquisition, master planning, design, construction and marketing.

Now with a team of 15 (brokers and support staff), Blanca Commercial Real Estate is expanding operations from Miami-Dade to Broward County and plans to add brokers and increase its staff to 20 by year end.

Miami’s real estate market today is surging ahead. “We’re seeing record levels of interest among global and domestic buyers both private and institutional,” Blanca said. This covers all types of real estate — office, industrial, retail, hotel and even vacant land.

“New-to-market users account for approximately 35-40 percent of the office leasing activity underway, a clear sign that companies from around the world are doing what it takes to add a Miami address to their website and stationery,” Blanca said.

“Normally people don’t start a business in a down cycle,” said J. Ricky Arriola, CEO of Inktel Holdings, a Doral-based global outsourcer of business and direct marketing services and a Blanca client. “She [Tere Blanca] did it right. She put together a great team and built a firm that competes with the big guys,” said Arriola, who contracted Blanca to find a new operations center in South Florida.

“We chose her because she’s very knowledgeable about the South Florida market, works very hard and works closely with the client. At some other national firms, you’re just another number, just another deal. She and her people really care about the client she represents.”

Blanca CRE is growing rapidly and adding new deals. Among them, All Aboard Florida, Florida East Coast Industries’ project to connect Miami to Orlando by rail, with stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, recently contracted Blanca CRE to lease between 500,000 and 1 million square feet of office space for the three office and mixed use towers that will be part of its project in downtown Miami.

In addition, the Related Group, which builds and manages condominiums and multifamily residences, engaged Blanca CRE to lease the office component of 444 Brickell, and Simon Properties hired the firm to convert and lease the shops of Sunset Place in South Miami.

What is Blanca CRE’s sales philosophy? “We do real estate, but we’re in the business of building long-term relationships,” said Blanca, who also serves as chair of the board of directors of City Year Miami.

“We get to know our clients’ businesses well, so we can help them plan. For owners, we look for good-quality tenants who will grow and stay in the building. For tenants, we try to find locations that will serve them well and allow them to grow.

“What makes us different from other brokers? We’re nimble, we have the freedom to create a team that’s centered around what’s important to our clients.” The firm has experienced brokers and can bring in outside experts as needed, she added. “You can’t work in a silo and provide great service.”

And most important: “The key is to build a team. I can’t do this alone.”

Another of the firm’s clients, Eric Dosal, CEO of Compuquip, an IT security company, has worked with Blanca over the past four years. “She helped us find six or seven locations for Compuquip and our other [related] companies.” As opposed to other brokers, “she comes in and wants to understand your company and your culture,” Dosal said.

“The biggest difference: She and her team really care about you and your company in the long term, and not just to close a deal. She looks at the long game.”

Joseph A. Mann Jr. can be reached at josephmannjr@gmail.com

Blanca Commercial Real Estate

Business: Provides brokerage and advisory services to owners and users of commercial real estate in South Florida, working closely with clients to understand their specific needs and objectives. The company offers a wide range of services, including landlord representation (property, location and market analysis, build-to-suit planning, marketing and leasing strategy and lease negotiations); tenant representation (needs, lease, demographic, occupancy and marketing analysis and negotiations to deliver optimal space), as well as advice and related services for property acquisition and sale.

Headquarters: 1450 Brickell Ave., Miami

Founded: 2009

Founder, owner and CEO: Tere Blanca

Employees: 15 with plans to expand to 20 by year end

Sales: Nearly $1 billion in lease contracts since 2009

Clients: Rilea Group (leased 1450 Brickell Ave. for Rilea, the developer), Inktel Holdings (new headquarters and other sites), Prudential Real Estate Investors (Sabadell Financial Center), The Miami Herald Media Co./The McClatchy Co. (new headquarters and production facilities for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald), New Bosron Fund Inc. (One Park Square at Doral), to name a few.

Awards: Named one of Real Estate Forum’s 2013 “Women of Influence: Legends” and one of its 2010 “Women of Influence;” ranked among Commercial Property Executive’s 2013 “Top 25 Women in Real Estate;” the Daily Business Review’s 2010 “Top Dealmakers of the Year;” one of the South Florida Business Journal’s 2009 “Most Influential Business Women” and one of the “Successful Hispanic Women of the Year” in 2008 by the Latin Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. (Camacol).

Website: www.blancacre.com

Source: Blanca Commercial Real Estate

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