A rendering of Brickell City Centre in downtown Miami, which will offer retail, residential, hotel, office, and entertainment space. (Swire Properties Inc)

A rendering of Brickell City Centre in downtown Miami, which will offer retail, residential, hotel, office, and entertainment space. (Swire Properties)

Three new master-planned communities—two in Miami and a third in Sunrise, a west Broward County suburb that skirts the Everglades—are among the most highly anticipated real estate projects in south Florida right now as business and civic leaders gauge consumer appetite for dense, walkable, and mixed-use urban lifestyles. In a state known for sprawling, single-family subdivisions, a move toward vertical, compact communities represents a new chapter. Representatives of these three marquee projects, Miami World Center, Brickell City Centre, and Metropica, spoke at the recent ULI Florida Summit in Miami about their projects’ past challenges and present opportunities as south Florida’s economic boom continues.

Master-planned communities are typically characterized by low-density greenfield development in suburban or exurban locations, and Florida is filled with these types of projects. Yet, as redevelopment and infill opportunities present themselves in urban core locations and a penchant for city living grows among young families, empty nesters, and part-time residents from abroad, south Florida developers are painstakingly assembling land to create massive, resort-style developments in highly urbanized areas. Replete with resort-style perks like pools, spas, concierge desks, and tennis courts, these communities are also marketing nearby cultural attractions as well as transit and job accessibility as amenities as well.

Each development is also relying on heavy interest from international buyers who may be purchasing second or third homes and are in need or larger units to serve as a home base in Miami. Providing transportation alternatives is critical for these clients since they hail from “global cities where transit is a big part of the way they live,” said panelist Nitin Motwani, managing principal of Miami Worldcenter Associates, Miami World Center’s master developer.

Miami World Center

Located on ten city blocks that bridge downtown Miami’s central business district with an emerging arts district that features world-class museums, parks, and entertainment venues, Miami World Center is one of the largest private developments underway in the United States. Phase I, which broke ground last year and represents $2 billion in private investment, will include a 470-unit luxury condominium building; more than 1,000 market-rate rental units; a Marriott Marquis World Convention Center Hotel, featuring 1,800 rooms and 600,000 square feet (55,700 sq m) of convention space; and a 450,000-square-foot (41,800 sq m) “retail paseo” featuring high-end retail, food, and entertainment.

The goal has been to capitalize on the fortuitous transformation of downtown Miami into an arts and culture hub, Motwani said. Over the past decade, the Perez Art Museum Miami, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami–Dade County, and Museum Park—all within walking distance of World Center—have undergone massive renovations and are continuing to be improved to enhance the pedestrian experience and access. To the north of the site, the up-and-coming neighborhoods of Wynwood, the Design District, Midtown, and Edgewater are redefining the center of gravity for downtown, placing World Center in the middle. In addition, Brightline, a new passenger rail system that is being developed by All Aboard Florida, will provide high-speed rail service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando. The system’s brand-new Miami station, MiamiCentral, is a block away from the World Center site.

“We find ourselves in the fortunate position of being adjacent to the first privately funded rail in south Florida in 100 years,” Motwani said.

Transit accessibility and fine-grained pedestrian streetscapes will make all the difference for World Center’s high street–style retail concept, which combines so-called attainable luxury brands with eateries and entertainment. Sidewalks were designed as wide boulevards to “allow not just for restaurants to spill out, but for people to push strollers and ride bicycles without fear” of cars, Motwani said.

“The challenge with these urban mixed-use projects is that you have to get the vertical as well as the street right,” he added.

Key to executing the project was the parent company’s decision to recruit the right development partners. In partnership with Miami Worldcenter Associates, MDM, a Miami-based hotel developer, is developing the Marriott convention center/hotel; Taubman and the Forbes Company are developing the retail segment; and ZOM and CIM Group are partners on the delivery of market-rate and luxury rentals. “We are trying to curate 28 acres [11 ha],” Motwani said. “We found who was best suited to that particular task . . . we were patient and thoughtful about it.”

Brickell City Centre

Developed by Swire Properties Inc., a subsidiary of Hong Kong–based Swire Properties Ltd., Brickell City Centre is another behemoth planned community that will alter Miami’s skyline. Located in the financial and banking district of Brickell, the $1.06 billion, 5.4 million-square-foot (502,000 sq m) mixed-use project combines two luxury condo buildings; two mid-rise Class A office towers; the luxury hotel East, Miami; and an open-air, four-story shopping center that features a “climate ribbon,” a sustainable climate control system that cools consumers with winds from the Biscayne Bay while they shop.

Brickell’s other sustainable features include pedestrian connectivity and transit orientation. Swire made significant transit investments to improve the site, including $14 million in upgrades to the Metromover station, which provides direct access to Brickell City Centre’s shops. The initial parcels of the 9.1-acre (3.7 ha) site were purchased at the height of the recession, which was fortuitous, said panelist Stephen Owens, president of Swire Properties Inc. What has been difficult is completing the project due to Miami’s “overtaxed construction industry” and the complexity of mixed-use deals, Owens said. “We’re sort of halfway there.”

Of the 780 condo units in Brickell City Centre, 525 have been sold and more than a dozen are occupied; a major office tenant, the Akerman law firm, has moved in; and luxury hotel East, Miami, opened earlier this month. Scheduled for a November opening, the shopping center features a carefully curated mix of shops that in most cases represent a retailer’s entry to the United States or south Florida. Phase II includes One Brickell City Centre, an 80-story, mixed-use tower designed by Archiectonica that will be among Miami’s tallest skyscrapers.


North of Miami on the far west side of Broward County, KGH International Development is betting on empty nesters who want to downsize from single-family homes in neighboring suburbs as well as part-time residents from Latin America to make Metropica a success, said panelist Joseph Kavana, president and chief executive officer.

Sandwiched between the Everglades to the west and Sawgrass Mills—an outlet mall with 26 million annual visitors—to the east, Metropica is a 65-acre (26 ha) development that will add a significant concentration of multifamily, high-rise product to largely suburban Broward County. The developer proposes to build eight luxury condo towers that will add 1,980 units of luxury housing when the towers are built out. The first tower broke ground last year. Market-rate rentals will be part of a mixed-use component on one end of the site. The new housing comes at an important time for west Broward, a growing jobs Mecca, where American Express and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are planning to build new regional headquarters. Metropica’s proximity to current and forthcoming employers and its own office development on the north end of the site puts it in a strong position to remain relevant to companies.

The retail portion of Metropica has been challenging since it is next door to one of the most popular malls in the United States. “Putting retail next to a 900-pound [retail] gorilla is kind of difficult,” Kavana said. Sawgrass Mills offers a mix of middle-brow and luxury retailers, and Metropica’s retail offering falls somewhere in between.

KGH’s strategy targets consumers wanting a certain kind of everyday luxury—“aspirational luxury” in Kavana’s words—that would normally go to Aventura or Boca Raton, Florida, to shop. In addition, the company realized it needed to create a retail experience for those who wanted to shop as much as for those who just want to enjoy a meal or a movie. Fifty percent of Metropica’s retail mix is food, beverage, and entertainment options, like an iPic cinema where consumers can dine and watch. “The shopping experience has changed,” Kavana said. “Shopping malls are in trouble, so it has to be about the experience. You’re going to a restaurant or to the movies, and as a consequence, you’re going shopping.”

Archana Pyati is a writer on ULI’s strategic communications team.