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Investors have a $1B plan for Miami skyline

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REAL ESTATE

Israeli investors have a $1B plan for Miami skyline

Parking lot magnate Hank Sopher has turned over the heart of his Miami land holdings to some Israeli investors who are planning $1 billion worth of development.

BY DOUGLAS HANKS III

[email protected]

An Israeli company is planning $1 billion worth of real estate projects in downtown Miami, people familiar with the venture said Tuesday.

Africa-Israel Investments has assembled a series of parcels, including the heart of parking lot magnate Hank Sopher's portfolio, fronting Biscayne Boulevard and west of the thoroughfare, said representatives for Sopher and the development group.

The assemblage will give the company, headed by one of the world's richest men, the ability to significantly shape the future of downtown Miami as it blends residential projects with its commercial district. The bulk of the company's new land portfolio sits near the boulevard, in the Park West area, now a stretch of parking lots and scruffy commercial buildings.

''We're talking about millions of square feet here, probably a million and a half,'' said real estate broker Edie Laquer, who helped Sopher assemble one of the largest land portfolios in downtown Miami.

City and company officials plan to announce details of the acquisition and venture Monday, but Africa-Israel Chairman Lev Leviev discussed his plans in the Israeli press in recent weeks.

Leviev, who made Forbes magazine's list of the world's 500 richest people, said Africa-Israel would spend about $90 million for 25 properties in and around Miami and roughly $1 billion to develop the estimated 15 acres of land, according to press reports. But people who have spoken to company officials caution that those figures represent only rough estimates of the dollars involved.

''I think they're still assembling'' land, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said in a brief phone interview.

Laquer, president of the Laquer Corporate Realty Group, said the first priority would be constructing a high-rise in the old Howard Johnson's hotel immediately south of the MacArthur Causeway on Biscayne.

But the full scope of Africa-Israel's plans remained a mystery Tuesday evening. Laquer said the company had retained Sopher as a partner and that the portfolio acquired included land north of downtown, in the Brickell Avenue neighborhood and in Miami Beach.

Africa-Israel executives could not be reached Tuesday evening, and Laquer declined to provide anything but broad details. He and an Africa-Israel representative described the 25 lots as a patchwork of mostly nonadjoining lots and not the kind of broad footprint that could yield a single sprawling development.

''There's no megablock in there,'' said Seth Gordon, whose public-relations firm has been retained by the development group. ``It is individual parcels scattered around.''

The deal comes in the midst of a historic real estate boom in South Florida that has led deep-pocketed investors to scoop up land, sparking a flood of high-rise projects. Jay Massirman, a senior vice president at the CB Richard Ellis commercial brokerage, sees Africa-Israel's pledge of so many investment dollars as reflecting the pent-up potential of downtown Miami.

''We're really in an unprecedented development boom,'' Massirman said. ``However, downtown Miami has really been the overlooked stepchild in this. We don't really have a real downtown.''

Yet the city's development agency reports that roughly 16,000 residential units have been announced or are underway in the area from Brickell to just north of downtown. That's four times larger than what has been built since 1995.

Soaring property values, a rush of speculators and rapid sales have led to warnings of a possible pricing bubble, while the sheer number of project announcements have some predicting a glut of condominiums to come.

The Africa-Israel deal would serve as a lucrative bookend for Sopher, who in 1998 began scooping up vacant land along Biscayne. The parking lot operator from New York found little competition.

''Everything was for sale. Edie [Laquer] had a sign on most of everything,'' he recalled in an interview with The Herald last October. ``To me, it was a no brainer.''

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more specifics:

DOWNTOWN MIAMI | DEVELOPMENT

Builder reveals Miami makeover

Six projects, including a 55-story condominium and boutique hotel, were announced as the first phase of a $1.5 billion plan to create a new urban corridor in Miami.

BY ELAINE WALKER

[email protected]

A Brooklyn developer and an Israeli company said Monday they intend to develop six projects within two years as part of their $1.5 billion plans for residential, commercial and office development in downtown Miami and surrounding areas.

Shaya Boymelgreen and Africa-Israel Investments will start with a 55-story high-rise condominium and boutique hotel on the site of the former Howard Johnson hotel at Biscayne Boulevard and 11th Street. Future projects include redevelopment of the Miami Arena site.

Those plans are just the beginning of the South Florida dreams of A.I. & Boymelgreen. The partnership announced at a news conference Monday that it spent $130 million to acquire 25 parcels stretching from the Park West area of downtown Miami to the Performing Arts Center, Biscayne Boulevard in Edgewater, the Brickell Avenue area and South Beach.

The long-term plan calls for construction of 3.5 million square feet, more than three Wachovia Financial Centers. Most of the projects will be residential or mixed-use.

''We're very committed to the people and the city of Miami,'' said Pinchas Cohen, chief executive of Africa-Israel Investments, a publicly traded investment conglomerate based in Tel Aviv.

The largest chunk of the land -- 14 properties -- was owned by UBS Warburg, an investment banking and securities firm with headquarters in Connecticut, and parking lot magnate Hank Sopher.

Sopher began buying up vacant land downtown during the late 1990s before real estate began to boom and prices soared. He will remain involved with the projects as a minority investor.

But Sopher is not done buying. He says he's already working on another 15 acquisitions stretching from downtown to North Miami-Dade and Broward counties, including the former Parkway Hospital site. He expects his new partners to be involved in many of the deals.

''We're going on to bigger and better things,'' said Sopher, during a phone interview from New York City. ``We see the whole South Florida area as a new real estate market.''

Boymelgreen and Africa-Israel bring the development experience to carry out what Sopher started. The partnership is already developing more than five million square feet in New York and Canada, including residential and mixed-use projects with retail shopping.

The genesis of Boymelgreen's move to South Florida lies in a Hanukkah menorah lighting celebration last December at Miami City Hall. Boymelgreen came to the ceremony with his brother-in-law, local rabbi Yakov Fellig, who introduced him to Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. The connection quickly came together.

Diaz declined to credit his conversation with luring the billion-dollar development plans to Miami but did say it may have played a role.

''We're hoping for a very long-lasting relationship between the city and this group,'' Diaz said.

A.I. & Boymelgreen would not provide many details Monday about its development plans for Miami.

The biggest question mark surrounds the Miami Arena site, which is subject to the partnership winning an Aug. 10 auction.

The site would likely include a mixed-use project with a strong high-rise component, said Miami real estate broker Edie Laquer, who will be a minority partner in the arena development.

The partnership's first project, on the Howard Johnson site, will include 334 residential units, plus a 40-unit boutique hotel and street-front retail shops. The triangular-shaped building has been designed by Arquitectonica. Sales are expected to begin early next year for units averaging $750,000. Construction is expected to begin in one year with an opening by 2007.

But local real estate analysts are concerned about a potential glut.

Roughly 16,000 new residential units are either announced or underway in the urban corridor stretching from the Brickell neighborhood to the area above the Performing Arts Center, north of downtown, according to the Downtown Development Authority. That's about four times what has been built since 1995.

Boymelgreen isn't worried about any potential condo glut, pointing out that most projects where construction is underway are already sold.

''Developers are risky people,'' he said. ``It's a calculated risk.

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Well it deosn't look like they are wasting any time. A 55 story tower is a great way to kick off your plans. Are any of these new condo projects in downtown offering affordable market rate housing or are all the developers going after the luxury market?

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hmmm...

I would say most are going after the luxury buyers.

However, even the "market rate" is not affordable to the average person.

The loft I and II were both relatively cheap, but probably averaged 200 to 250k per unit. Hopefully this will change soon, but as long as the speculators and foreign investors are in the game I don't think it will.

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here's a piece from another article about the project

http://www.miamisunpost.com/secondstoryfrontpage.htm

...

Neighborhoods targeted by Africa-Israel for development are in the Park West downtown area, the new Performing Arts Center district, Biscayne Boulevard in Edgewater, the Brickell Avenue area and an office building on Meridian Avenue in South Beach, the location of which Laquer would not divulge.

The first of six projects Africa-Israel and Boymelgreen have slated for completion within the next two-years is a 334-unit, 55-story luxury residence complete with a 40-unit boutique hotel on the former Howard Johnson site at Biscayne and 11th Street across from the America Airlines Arena. According to Africa Israel CEO Pinchas Cohen, construction will begin in 2005 and units will sell in the $700,000s.

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