Barry Jackson

South Florida billionaire and family expected to help build UM football practice facility  

Jeffrey Soffer
Jeffrey Soffer Miami Herald File

The University of Miami on Friday plans to announce the identity of the lead donor who is contributing about $15 million to help build a badly needed $30 million indoor football practice facility.

And the Miami Herald has learned that prominent South Florida real estate developer Jeffrey Soffer and his philanthropic family are the likely lead donor.

Soffer, who is married to model Elle Macpherson, and his family own majority interest in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, among many other properties, and large percentage of Aventura Mall.

Forbes reported last year that Soffer had joined the billionaire ranks “thanks to his hefty stake in Turnberry Associates, the real estate development company founded by his father, Donald.”

Soffer is listed as the company’s co-CEO with his sister Jackie.

According to a 2015 profile in Ocean Drive magazine, Donald Soffer moved the family from Pittsburgh to South Florida when Jeffrey Soffer was 2 years old “and turned 785 acres of swampland into what is today Aventura, by building the Aventura Mall, Turnberry Isle, and a slew of luxury condos…. In the meantime, he travels the world with his supermodel wife on a plane he often flies, conducting business from his iPhone, and carrying on a Soffer tradition of reshaping Miami. ”

Soffer told Ocean Drive: “I had motivation and drive. I wanted to be my own person. I didn’t just want to be the son of a successful businessman. That’s one of the factors that drove me.”

The collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 resulted in the collapse of a hotel and shopping mall project in Las Vegas, but “other than that, we’ve had nothing but clear sailing, and we deliver what we say we’re going to do,” Soffer said in that Ocean Drive piece. “I pride myself on my reputation. The best thing my father did was that he always built quality, and he always said reputation is everything.”

He called the $1 billion renovation and expansion of the Fontainebleau “probably our best accomplishment because we took an unbelievable asset and changed it in a way that we think helped change Miami Beach.”

According to his bio, Soffer “has created numerous South Florida residential landmarks, including Turnberry Ocean Colony… and more; brought his company's mansions in the sky concept to Las Vegas, creating the first high-rise condominium community overlooking The Strip; partnered with MGM Mirage to build The Residences at MGM Grand,… and expanded the company into suburban Washington D.C. and The Bahamas with successful high-rise residential developments.”

The company also owns multiple other properties, including hotels in Nashville, Tenn.

Jeffrey and Jackie Soffer are building — with developer Richard LeFrak — a 183-acre site at 15045 Biscayne Boulevard, with more than one million square feet of retail and commercial space and up to 4,390 residential units.

According to Ocean Drive, the $4 billion development will include a lifestyle center, schools, and lagoons.

“With SoLe Mia,” Soffer said, “you’ll come back in 15 years and say, “Jeez, you guys bought this land and now there’s this whole city here.”

UM is working on generating the necessary remaining financing for the indoor facility, and the Hurricanes are making a push to have it completed by 2018.

Coach Mark Richt is contributing $1 million, knowing the facility is essential to give UM a place to practice during frequent rain and lightning disruptions. UM is one of the few schools in a major conference that doesn’t have an indoor practice site.

“It’s going to be one of the best in the country when it’s finished,” Richt said.

With Friday’s expected announcement, the Soffer family is expected to become very popular among Hurricanes fans.

Miami Herald writer Peter Ariz contributed to this report

Follow Barry Jackson on Twitter at @flasportsbuzz