Local Obituaries

Some saw an old potato field. Steven Schiff saw the retail future

Steven Schiff was a successful developer and investor who continued his late father Neil’s philanthropy efforts on behalf of the University of Miami.
Steven Schiff was a successful developer and investor who continued his late father Neil’s philanthropy efforts on behalf of the University of Miami.

Miami native Steven Schiff — son of prominent Miami builder, developer and philanthropist Neil Schiff — once saw the future of South Miami-Dade as a retail base in a potato field on an 11-acre lot at Old Cutler Road and Southwest 92nd Avenue.

Along with a business partner, the 25-year-old Schiff bought the land in 1984 for $2.5 million, made $500,000 in improvements, and opened the Old Cutler Towne Center shopping mall at a cost of $10 million in 1987.

The center, now anchored by a Publix Super Market and sold in 2010, remains an epicenter of that stretch of Old Cutler Road.

Schiff, who died at 57 on Jan. 24 in North Miami Beach, parlayed the business sense he learned from his father into a successful career as a developer, with shopping centers and homes in Miami-Dade and Broward. In his later years, he sold many of his properties and turned his attention to investing.

“As a businessman, colleagues describe him as someone who was very brilliant at managing a complex family portfolio of multiple, various business portfolios that also included real estate,” his sister Lori Chemla said. “He was not a headline grabber, but in his own quiet way built a successful company and was admired, loved and esteemed by those who worked with him.”

He supported and mentored many who were struggling…His generous spirit and his brilliant mind will be an enormous loss.

Lori Chemla, on her brother Steven Schiff.

Schiff and his family established an endowed scholarship in his father’s name benefiting the University of Miami’s tennis student-athletes and supported several upgrades to the 16-court Neil Schiff Tennis Center built more than 30 years ago. Neil Schiff, a board of trustees member and 1948 graduate, died in 1985.

His son Steven “was an avid supporter of our entire program and all of our students,” said Blake James, director of athletics for UM. “Steve was a fixture of the University of Miami athletics community and a loyal and generous supporter of The Hurricane Club. He took great pride in having his father’s name on our tennis center and his family’s wonderful legacy will continue to live on through our program.”

After his father died, Schiff became head of the family business by the time he was 25, said friend and investment partner James Kramer.

“Steve was responsible for the family’s business ventures and expanded them greatly over his lifetime,” Kramer said. “He understood and accepted responsibility better, almost, than anyone I have ever met. He made sure that his mother knew she had no reason to worry about anything and that she could enjoy her life and spoke to her every day about everything, including business. When any friend or family member needed support of any kind, he stepped in without hesitation.”

Many of the investments he made were with very sophisticated business people who very often and typically very quickly recruited him to be an adviser to them. He became a mentor to some of the most sophisticated business and real estate investors in our community and outside our community as well.

Investor James Kramer on Steven Schiff.

A voracious reader, Schiff was seldom without a business book or biography in his hands, said his first wife, Polly Schiff. She listed other traits like generosity, integrity, modesty, honesty and a stubborn streak. But his greatest legacy, she said, was his role as a father.

“He was an amazing father,” Polly Schiff said. “I think that is what he would want his legacy to be about. To my two children and his other children, those were the loves of his life. Everything for family. He wanted to travel with those kids. Show them the world.”

The impact of his successes can be felt throughout the city and will continue for generations to come. In his 57 years, he was able to accomplish more than many could only dream of.

Eva Salas, executive administrative assistant at SGS Capital Management.

Eva Salas, Schiff’s assistant at SGS Capital Management, agrees. “Everyone will tell you that Steve was a family man and a prestigious entrepreneur — and they are right. His children are a true testament to the man Steve truly was. They are strong, sophisticated, grounded and genuine. They are truly meant for greatness, as their father was, and his father before him.”

Schiff is survived by his wife Colleen Schiff; children Caroline Schiff, Claudia Schiff, Kylie Schiff and Neil Schiff; mother Barbara Schiff; brother Robert Schiff; and sister Lori Chemla. Donations in Schiff’s memory can be made to the Neil Schiff Tennis Center.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen