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This past year was one of growth in real estate, not only in South Florida, but all over the country. 2013 marked the first time since the collapse of the market that people truly started to feel a recovery. Putting the microscope over South Florida’s commercial real estate market, the year was littered with events that signaled the current and future expansion of our area. It was difficult to narrow it down, but below we have put together a list of the top five stories of 2013 according to the Top Commercial Blog.

5. Record Setting Deal on Lincoln Road

Lincoln Road is becoming the home for flagship retail and folks are looking to cash in on the trend. This December, Tristar Capital purchased 530 Lincoln Road for $30 million, setting a new record. At 10,000 rentable square feet, the deal amounted to $3,000 per square foot. The expectation is that Tristar will add more two-story, single tenant retail to accompany Forever 21, H&M, and Zara.

4. Swire Proposes 80-Story Tower

It wouldn’t be a countdown without mentioning Brickell CityCentre. This fall, Swire announced that they plan to add an 80-story tower to the already massive project to act as a gateway to the development. One Brickell CityCentre, as it would be called, would add more Class-A office space, condos, retail and even another hotel to the project. Phase one of the Brickell CityCentre is still currently set for completion in 2015.

3. All Aboard Florida Applies for Federal Loan

This past March, All Aboard Florida applied for a loan from the Federal Railroad Administration to begin work on their vision of a passenger rail service from Miami to Orlando. The train would also make stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Commercial real estate would be a large part of the project, with around $325 million being dedicated to develop about 1 million square feet of commercial real estate. The planned opening of the service would be in 2015.

2. David Beckham Eyes PortMiami for Soccer Stadium

In November, all anyone was talking about was David Beckham’s plans to bring a new Major League Soccer team to Miami. The famed footballer was touring the city, looking for a location to build a new stadium. Then we discovered that Beckham was eyeing PortMiami. A soccer stadium in the port would fit right in with their  master plan for the southwest corner that would include a hotel, retail and office space. If this idea moves forward, Beckham and his team will have to figure out how to better flow traffic into Dodge Island.

1. The Miami Beach Convention Center Saga

If there’s one story with enough action, drama and significance to come out on top of this list, it’s that of the Miami Beach Convention Center. First there was the showdown between South Beach ACE and Portman-CMC for the development deal, but ACE’s victory only marked the beginning. The convention center project became a top issue in Miami Beach politics, leading up to a heated election in November. The vote resulted in more difficulties for the convention center, as any new leases would need to be approved by a super-majority. The drama here is expected to continue well into 2014.

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This year will be the 12th for Art Basel Miami Beach. Each year the event has grown and has continued to play an integral part in the development of South Florida’s artistic culture. This weekend, visitors can count on the festival to feature more than 250 of the world’s leading galleries.

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Art Basel creates a key opportunity for continued growth

Art Basel Miami Beach has become an international artistic spectacle with visitors, including many celebrities, coming from all over the globe to get a look at the newest trends in the art scene. Miami expects more than 60,000 visitors to attend the event this year. Of course, with international cash-buyers playing such a key role in the revival of South Florida real estate, Art Basel creates a key opportunity for continued growth.

Brokers will be able to highlight South Florida’s latest real estate development to Art Basel’s international guests. Condominium inventory is running thin, thanks in large part to international buyers who accounted for approximately 70 to 80 percent of condo sales during the latest boom. South Florida is compensating for the diminishing inventory with 175 new condo projects planned for the area that would be of great interest to overseas buyers.

With the evolution of Art Basel over the years, the festival is no longer solely taking place in Miami Beach. Events and showings connected with Art Basel are popping up all over Miami-Dade County, creating unique opportunities for brokers to mingle with VIP guests over a meal or drink. Private events can be the perfect place to develop relationships today that will help sell a luxurious space in a development months from now.

A sign of the spectacular mark that Art Basel has made in the development of South Florida’s culture can be seen in the opening of the Perez Art Museum earlier this week. The building itself was touted as a work of art and contained 500 pieces on display the day it opened. The future of the Miami art scene and its contribution to the development of our city is bright.

Envision, if you will, a stadium in Miami that actually manages to represent the luxury that the city has to offer. If you were to do so, you might imagine attending a sporting event in which the vibrant environment is contrasted with a view of the calm waters of Biscayne Bay and nighttime events accentuate the glittering Brickell skyline.

This is also the vision that David Beckham’s group, Beckham Brand Limited, has for their potential Major League Soccer franchise in Miami.

As many local soccer enthusiasts may have heard, the group has been scouting locations for a 25,000-seat stadium for quite some time, with Arquitectonica as the rumored choice to design and plan the project. Though the group has surveyed around 30 potential sites, one has generated enough interest to inspire talks with Miami-Dade County.

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PortMiami has been interested for quite some time in creating a better connection with the mainland

According to the Mayor’s office, Beckham’s group has asked them to consider allowing the stadium to be built in the southwest corner of PortMiami in Dodge Island. PortMiami has been interested for quite some time in creating a better connection with the mainland. A soccer stadium may fit perfectly with their 25-year master plan for the southwest corner that would include a hotel, retail and office space.

25 acres would be available for the group to lease and build on, but the location raises some questions. For one, the port is only accessible through Port Boulevard and the Port Tunnel that is scheduled to open next year. Adding the event traffic to roads already clogged with cruise ship travelers on weekends may add up to a local nightmare. Similarly, the issue of parking would cause a major stir, though the idea to build an underground garage like that of the American Airlines Arena has been discussed.

Either way, the discussion between Beckham’s group and the county has just begun and any plan would eventually require approval from the Miami-Dade County commission. As a matter of fact, MLS has yet to formally announce an expansion franchise for the city of Miami.

However, a professional soccer stadium built with private money could be a boon to the local economy and provide a large opportunity for retail in the underutilized PortMiami area.

This summer we discussed the battle for the future of the Miami Beach Convention Center between developers Portman-CMC and South Beach ACE. In July, beach commissioners decided that they agreed with South Beach ACE’s vision for the future of the convention center district. Little did the city know that at as quickly as one battle would end, a more onerous one would begin.

Tomorrow, when the voters of Miami Beach visit the polls, they will face a choice between candidates who would like to see the South Beach ACE vision through and those who would like to see the project scaled down. Citizens will also be voting on a referendum that could move the amount of votes to approve the convention center project from a simple majority to a super majority, requiring 60 percent of the vote and making the project more difficult to pass.

However, most agree that the issue is not whether the convention center should be renovated at all, as it clearly needs an update. The convention business is a key contributor to the tourism dollars that are the foundation of the city’s revenues. The city cannot afford to let that activity slide down.

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Rendering of the proposed Miami Beach Convention Center renovation

The real debate is in regards to whether the project is worth the bill to the taxpayers or if the vision is too grandiose. If the project were to stay as is, taxpayers in Miami Beach would be on the hook for $600 million. An amount that would be covered by a pre-approved increase in hotel taxes, as well as land leases and county taxes.

The 800-room hotel proposed by South Beach ACE has also been the center of quite a bit of controversy. If approved, South Beach ACE would lease public land for 99 years in order to build a hotel for the convention center, as well as 90,000-square feet of retail. Some city officials worry that 99 years would be too long a period for the city to lease such important land.

High-end hotels have also taken issue with the idea of making the hotel a place where convention-goers could escape some of the higher hotel rates in the beach area. The Fontainebleau, for example, has donated $15,000 to Let Miami Beach Decide, an organization supporting efforts against the current plan. Beach Commissioner Jonah Woflson, who set up the Let Miami Beach Decide movement, agrees with the Fontainebleau’s motives, claiming that Miami should stay “a high end destination.”

Either way, the saga of the Miami Beach Convention Center renovation continues to captivate with every new chapter it enters. This week will be the biggest milestone yet for the future of the project. All eyes in Miami-Dade County will be on the voters in Miami Beach tomorrow.

For more on the politics behind tomorrow’s decision, take a look at this article from the Miami Herald.

Founded in 1903, The Miami Herald quickly became the largest newspaper in all of South Florida and one of the most highly-regarded papers in the nation. On August 19, 1960 construction began on a building for the Herald, and by March 24, 1963 the newspaper had a new home at One Herald Plaza. Now, 50 years later, the Genting Group has received a permit from the city to demolish the iconic building.

MiamiHeraldBuildingThe Genting Group, a gaming company based in Malaysia, purchased the property for $236 million in May of 2011. Demolition on the building is ultimately set to begin some time before the end of this year. Their plan for the 14 bay front acres is a mixed-use project that would include a luxury hotel, along with condos, retail, restaurants, and a glamorous 800-foot promenade overlooking Biscayne Bay.

Excitement had been generated through town at the news that the project would include a casino, but the plans have since been scaled down a bit. Genting made up for this fact at the Port of Miami, where their new ferry contains a casino and takes travelers from Miami to Bimini, where there of course is another Genting casino.

The Herald moved out of the building into their new location in May of this year. What they leave behind at One Herald Plaza is a storied-history that has earned much respect from the citizens of their city. The building was the representation of a nationally-honored media outlet and it became a landmark for those driving through downtown Miami. In their time at One Herald Plaza, the newspaper won 19 of their 20 Pulitzer Prizes, the most prestigious award for any newspaper in the country.

The building at One Herald Plaza is a display of the importance of real estate in Miami. One building has the capability to represent both a prestigious history and an exciting future. For one last virtual glimpse of the iconic building, take a look at this picture-tour from Curbed Miami.

One of the major advantages in favor of the South Florida area is the vast nightlife that comes with the territory. Over time, the hotel scene has become one of the greatest boons for establishing this one-of-a-kind selling point. It has done this not only by providing a first-class experience to those searching for a vacation (or staycation), but in cases like Club 50 at The Viceroy, by becoming a key fixture in the nightlife itself.

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b2 Miami Hotel in Downtown

The downtown area, according to the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association, supports 31 of these properties. This gives the area an approximately 7,000 room capacity for businesspeople and partygoers alike. Those numbers were calculated including the new b2 Miami downtown resort and the Aloft Miami opening on July 11th, however it did not take into account the several unannounced hotel deals that are also in the works.

That’s right! A development boom is taking place for hotels, too. The popular and much hyped SLS Hotel in South Beach is planning to open a new location in Brickell. Atton Hotels from Chile has also decided to open up their first North American outpost in the downtown Miami area. However, the best doesn’t only lie ahead for the Miami hotel scene. Arguably the most important hotels in downtown Miami have already been up and running, each doing their part to set the bar. The Intercontinental with their breathtaking views of Biscayne Bay, The Viceroy with Club 50, and The EPIC with Area 31 all add a spice of life to the area.

It’s no wonder that Smith Travel Research ranked Miami as the top hotel destination in the country. The research company also found the city to have an occupancy rate that was 20 percent higher than the rest of the U.S. at around 80 percent, and ranked Miami at the top in revenue per available room and average daily rate. Statistics such as these will only lead to more development, more hotels, and a nightlife beyond our imagination.

For more on hotels in South Florida, check out Curbed Miami’s list of The 38 Essential South Florida Hotels.

After the economic downturn that began in 2006, about 30 percent of the South Florida economy was eaten up due to poor real estate investments. Speculative buyers inflated prices, creating the necessity for other buyers to take out risky loans. Since the bust, South Florida has been waiting for the moment that real estate would make a grand comeback. 2013 seems to be the year they have been looking for.

It seems these days there is finally nothing but good news everywhere you turn in the South Florida real estate market. Figures recently came in from CoreLogic, a California-based data firm, that home prices in the greater Miami area are up 8.6 percent in March from a year ago. Adding to this outstanding development is the fact that prices rose 0.3 percent from February to March alone.

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  The gorgeous Downtown Miami skyline, 1100 Millecento highlighted to the left

Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward have approximately 15,000 condo units in the preconstruction stage. Nowhere is the recovery more prevalent than in Downtown Miami, where locals seemingly cannot walk one block without running into a new development being built to meet the increasing demand.

The poster-child for these developments being the Related Group’s new 1100 Millecento development in Brickell. After breaking ground just a few months ago, 1100 Millecento is already 99 percent sold. While buyers in the last South Florida boom were posting deposits around 20 percent, preconstruction buyers are putting down close to 50 percent this time around. Signs such as these display true confidence in a real estate boom that is just beginning to take flight.

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Icon Brickell, future home to Cipriani Downtown and La Cantina No. 20

Fabio Faerman of the Fortune International Realty Commercial division has been looking forward to this week for some time. Last May, Faerman represented the landlord in the lease of three floors of space in Icon Brickell to two restaurants, La Cantina No. 20 and Cipriani Downtown. The latter of the two is officially opening this week on May 10.

Cipriani Downtown, the Italian eatery from owners Maggio and Ignazio Cipriani, will include a bar as the central point of the restaurant and luxurious floor-to-ceiling windows displaying a view of the breathtaking Brickell waterfront. These features will be similar to those of other Cipriani locations in New York and Los Angeles.

The Cipriani restaurants are known as celebrity magnets, and it was most likely for that reason that they were originally looking at property on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. As fate would have it, those plans never came to be, thus creating the opportunity for the perfect marriage between the Cipriani name and the vast nightlife of Downtown Miami.

Also leasing space at the Icon is La Cantina No. 20. The product of a group which owns 30 restaurants in Mexico, La Cantina is sure to bring a sophisticated style of Mexican cuisine to the Brickell area. Along with Cipriani, La Cantina will manifest a reputation for the Icon Brickell as a must-see destination in one of the most active areas in the city of Miami.

“This property was on the market before for almost four years,” said Faerman. “We focused our search on high end restaurants outside of Florida and we repositioned Icon as a brand spot and the only space left on the water in the entire Brickell area.”

A recent article in The New York Times praises Downtown Miami for boosting the recovery in South Florida. Developers have responded to an influx of foreign buyers by attempting to get new plans off the ground. In the past two years, the area has announced 25 new condo projects to begin development.

So far, of the 22,000 downtown condos created during the boom years, less than 4 percent have yet to be sold. The recovery in residential real estate being seen in Miami is ahead of the curve, even for an overall strong rebound in the national real estate market.

In February of 2013, national home prices were 9.3% higher than they were in February of 2012. This rate of growth was the highest that the nation had seen since May of 2006. In addition, over that same span of time the growth rate in Miami added up to 10.4 percent, well ahead of the national average.

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Rendering of Brickell CityCentre

No project is a greater representation of this progress than the highly-anticipated Brickell CityCentre. The $1.05 billion project is set to span four blocks in West Brickell, measuring in at 5.4 million-square-feet. Brickell CityCentre will consist of four stories dedicated to retail and entertainment, including a luxury movie theater and restaurants. It will also feature six other towers that will add 800 condos, a hotel, business district, and wellness tower to the Downtown Miami area.

One could argue that the Brickell CityCentre has already brought a noticeable economic boost to the city, not just by it’s own construction, but by the construction of the 1,600-car underground parking lot that will accompany it. The 8th Street exit of the Miami Metromover will also be seeing renovations in order to incentivize citizens to use public transportation in their commute to the CityCentre.

These projects, along with the many other developments in Downtown Miami, will undoubtedly continue to be a boost to South Florida and assist in the robust recovery for the area.

New York City has Rockefeller Center. San Francisco boasts the Embarcadero Center. Now, Miami could have its version of a vibrant urban gathering place called Brickell CitiCentre.

The developer of Brickell Key has unveiled its long-awaited plans for a nearly $700 million urban shopping and mixed-use development spread over 9.1 acres just west of Brickell Avenue and south of the Miami River.

The project would create 1,700 jobs during construction and more than double that once completed.

Swire Properties will take the first steps this week toward a fast-track government approval process necessary for the 4.6 million-square-foot project that aims to create a retail destination unseen before in Miami’s urban core. The project – designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica – would also include restaurants, a hotel, office towers and apartments or condominiums, spread over a four-block area connected by bridges and covered walkways.

“We really see Miami as about to take the next and final step to become a true urban city, but retail is the missing link,” said Stephen Owens, president of Swire Properties. “Retail creates the pedestrian experience. In some ways what we’re trying to create is the Main Street like you have in most urban cities. Our goal is to really become the anchor for the urban area.”

Construction could begin by the end of 2011. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is a major advocate for the project.

It’s the first development of this magnitude submitted under Miami 21, the new zoning code designed to encourage more pedestrian-activity through mixed-use development

That vision is similar to what Swire, the Miami-based development arm of a Hong Kong conglomerate, has had in the works for more than two years. Swire acquired the first parcels of undeveloped land for Brickell CitiCentre in October 2008, just after the nation’s financial markets collapsed amid the worst recession in decades and land prices started to drop.

Conservative by nature, Swire Properties chose to sit out much of Miami’s real-estate boom passing on high-profile sites because it didn’t want to get into a bidding war. The company prefers to buy land in the down market and launch new development just in the early stages of a recovery.

“When markets are over heated we tend to not move very fast because the probability of oversupply is very likely,” Owens said. “One of the keys to building now is to be in position when the markets are robust again. If one waits until the obvious indicators are there, then you have a lot more competitors out there and construction costs increase dramatically.”

Swire’s ambitious plans call for trying to obtain final approval from the Miami City Commission in July and beginning construction by the end of this year or early 2012. The bulk of the project would be built over the course of four years, with a second phase featuring the majority of the office space and a second residential tower scheduled for a later date based on market demand.

While some question the ambitious timetable, they believe Swire is the type of developer that can make it happen.

“The size of this development has got to be over a 10-year program or more,” said Michael Cannon, a local real estate industry analyst. “If anyone has the capital to do it, they do. They have patient capital. They apparently have made a commitment to Miami.”

Swire would likely fund the development itself, if it doesn’t secure traditional financing, Owens said.

Brickell CitiCentre is expected to generate $1 billion in overall economic impact, according to a study by Miami Economic Associates. The benefits would include 1,700 construction jobs for each of the four years of construction, plus 3,800 jobs upon the project’s completion.

The city of Miami would receive $5.4 million in annual taxes from Brickell CitiCentre, while Miami-Dade County would get another $9.6 million in annual taxes.

“This is a huge complex that will bring to Brickell Avenue, downtown Miami and East Little Havana an energy it has never, ever seen before,” said Regalado, who will take the nontraditional step of presenting a developer’s project to the City Commission. “I think it needs to carry the clout of the office of the mayor to send a message that this is a huge project for the city of Miami.”

The last major project of this magnitude was Midtown Miami, but that development is being built in phases and spread out over a larger area. Midtown also includes more residential towers and big-box retail.

Brickell CitiCentre is a natural next step for Swire Properties, which bought the deserted Claughton Island in 1980 and turned it into Brickell Key, a secluded haven of high-end condominiums, office buildings, a Mandarin Oriental hotel and a smattering of retail shops and restaurants. With only one undeveloped parcel left on Brickell Key adjacent to the Mandarin Oriental, Swire set its sites years ago on finding a new venture in the heart of the Brickell Financial District.

Swire paid $41 million in an all-cash deal for the first two undeveloped parcels that form the core for Brickell CitiCentre, straddling South Miami Avenue. The land had been on the market during the boom for as much as $110 million and the original plans for a different version of a mixed-used project with the same name were designed by a group headed by J. Kevin Reilly. But Swire acquired the property after the lender iStar Financial took the property back from Reilly.

The final parcels – the Brickell Tennis Center and the Eastern National Bank headquarters – were acquired earlier this year for a total cost of about $27 million. The additional acreage was necessary to get the site over the nine-acre threshold needed to apply for a special area plan under the terms of Miami 21.

Brickell CitiCentre is modeled after similar projects that Swire’s parent company has developed in Asia, including Pacific Place in Hong Kong. The first phase would include about 500,000-square feet of retail shops and restaurants, a 290-room four-star hotel, two eight-story office towers and a residential tower with about 270 units.

The retail would likely be anchored by at least one department store, plus a mix of luxury and moderate retailers focusing on fashion brands and home furnishings, including national and international brands, Owens said. The project would not contain big-box retailers like Target or Best Buy.

Retail industry experts agree that the dense urban area has enough consumers to support the project. The challenge will be luring retailers away from other shopping centers or persuading them to open an another store.

“It’s certainly going to give Merrick Park a run for its money, as well as Dadeland,” said Cynthia Cohen, president of Strategic Mindshare, a retail consultant with a Miami office.

The key, she said, would be the name-brand anchor stores.

“If you’re going to steal retailers from Dadeland or Merrick Park, you’ve got to make them a better deal. Those better deals have a financial impact on your pocket. They have to be willing to play this out for the long term.”