Miami’s Real Estate Boom: Then and Now
BY C.J. HUGHES
With ample swamps, hurricanes, and alligators, Miami may not have been the most logical place to start a city. And in the early years, many people seemed to pass it by. In 1900, the population was a mere 1,000. What a difference a century makes. Today, with 2.5 million people, Miami has blossomed from a sleepy backwater to a bustling metropolis, with an insatiable urge to keep growing. And much of that transformative push, which turned warehouses into galleries, spiffed up shopping districts, and added a forest of high-rises along the water’s edge—and most significantly, unequivocally made Miami into a luxury market—occurred in just the last two decades.
To be fair, there have been stumbles. Painful busts followed euphoric booms, like the one that flattened the housing market a few years ago. And not everybody’s idea of progress is a skyline of skyscrapers. Other brokers worry that the city is becoming divided into the “have-mosts” and everyone else. Yet one could also allow that Miami’s planners, brokers, and developers might want to take a collective curtain call for their efforts, as they’ve largely proved the old real estate adage: Build it, and build it right—with attention to detail, style, and comfort—and residents will come.
“Miami has become a magical place in the last 20 years,” says Russell Galbut, a longtime condo developer who also grew up here. Two decades ago, for instance, “you could roll a bowling ball through downtown and not hit anybody,” he points out, while these days the area pulses round-the-clock with clubs, hip eateries, and coffeehouses.
Galbut, who today is managing principal of the firm Crescent Heights, became among South Beach’s largest landlords, and he continues to develop there—his 87-room Gale South Beach hotel on Collins Avenue just opened in December. But he recognizes that the center of gravity has shifted somewhat to the mainland, especially along Biscayne Bay from 36th Street to Brickell. To wit: Zuma chose downtown as the location of its first US restaurant outpost.
Similarly, consider the rebirth of Wynwood, whose warehouse-lined blocks have been enlivened with art galleries, eateries, and shops. And in a place that once eschewed foot traffic, people actually walk around there, encouraged by the bright murals that jazz up Northwest Second Avenue.
It would likely be music to the ears of late developer Tony Goldman, whose company still owns about two dozen buildings. According to real estate brokers who worked with him, Goldman—credited with the reinvention of New York’s Soho neighborhood in the 1970s—always thought that the area’s low-slung, pedestrian-friendly vibe had great potential, even if the rest of the city still believed the future was about building upward.
“I don’t mind high-rises where they belong, but I don’t think a whole city should be made up of them,” says Metro 1’s Tony Cho, a Wynwood-based broker and developer who is turning a denim factory into a Ducati dealership. But sky-high homes became a way of life in the last decade, and they remain popular, Cho points out. At Wynwood’s edge, buildings like 2 Midtown and 4 Midtown, which were built as condos but rented out many of their unsold units over the years, are completely filled up, he says…
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