Prive? at Island Estates: Stranded in Luxury
A good reputation can go a long way. BH3 Management LLC–the real estate development firm that specializes in acquiring, developing, restructuring, and recapitalizing multi-family, residential condominium, and mixed-use properties throughout both South Florida and New York City–can attest to this, especially since the firm’s latest development is, in large part, a result of an impeccable reputation.
A few years ago, the word began circulating around town that Gary Cohen–the developer of Island Estates whose family has been involved in land development in South Florida for more than 50 years–had been looking for a knowledgeable and capable partner to collaborate with on a unique project that he was looking to construct on the last buildable private island in South Florida. In search of the perfect fit to pursue such an exciting endeavor, the renowned developer consulted with multiple trusted business associates. Some of those associates already had working relationships with the BH3 team through previous successful projects, such as Terra Beachside, Trump Hollywood, and 1805 Ponce, and suggested to Cohen that a partnership with BH3 could be an ideal match.
“Our name kept coming up,” says Gregory Freedman, who, along with partners Daniel Lebensohn and Charles Phelan, heads up BH3. “The fact that when Gary Cohen went to people that he relied on and trusted and asked ‘Who do you think would be a good partner for me?’ and our name kept coming up is humbling, because the reality is that we pride ourselves on always doing the right thing by the people we work with, and getting those endorsements from third parties opened the door and ultimately resulted in the Prive? partnership being born.”
One of those mutual acquaintances was Charlie Sieger and Jose Suarez of Sieger Suarez Architects, who had not only worked with the Cohen family for over three decades, but were also the team behind Terra Beachside, which was BH3’s first transaction as a company in 2009 for which they stepped into the shoes of Regions Bank and successfully completed construction and sales of the project with the assistance of Sieger Suarez. “Terra Beachside was a prime example of doing the right thing instead of just doing what might be best for the bottom line. Everyone else that looked at that project had the objective of pushing Sieger Suarez out from the deal, but we recognized what an invaluable asset they were to the project and its ultimate success, embraced them as part of the team, and shared the pride of completing the project together with them” says Freedman.
“Good deeds come full circle, and Miami is still a relatively small town, so when Sieger Suarez heard that Cohen was considering partnering with BH3 on what was to ultimately become Prive?, everyone was enthused.” Situated on an eight-acre private island that is positioned between Sunny Isles Beach and Williams Island, Prive? is an exclusive luxury condominium project in the city of Aventura that will see two Sieger Suarez-designed, 16-story towers house 160 large and ultra-lavish residences. A big part of what makes Prive? so exclusive and also so attractive to potential buyers, aside from its location and the security it provides, is its size. While the typical luxury oceanfront development is found on a one-acre parcel, Prive? is on an eight-and-a-quarter-acre parcel.
Apartment sizes will range from 2,585 square feet to more than 5,600 square feet
“We’ve got so much more green space to spread things out,” says Freedman. That abundance of space will surely be taken advantage of, and the apartment sizes, which range from 2,585-square-feet to more than 9,000-square-feet, as well as the 70,000-square-feet of indoor public space and more than 56,000 square feet of outdoor amenities, are proof. Each individual unit will be equipped with spacious living, dining, and outdoor areas; European-style kitchens with custom- designed cabinetry; private elevator access; and service suites, as well as high ceilings; large windows; and incredible Intracoastal, bay, and ocean views. At Prive?, residents will also be granted access to a host of amenities that have become synonymous with only the world’s finest five-star hotels. These added luxuries include a marina, a 10,000-square-foot gym and spa in each tower, a jogging path, a tennis court, a pier, two pools, and wine cellars.
“A lifestyle buy,” is how Freedman, who oversees sales and marketing for BH3, views Prive?, adding “A lot of the time people seem to think we’re just selling apartments, but the apartments themselves are really just one critical component to the whole package. When people come to the island, it’s no longer just about, ‘Oh my god, the apartment and the finishes are amazing.’ It’s ‘Wow, this is what my lifestyle is going to be.’” Slated to top off later this summer, Prive? has not only garnered excitement from those involved with its construction or those interested in buying a residence. In 2014, it was ranked as the “#1 most desirable ultra-luxury residential development” in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale area and number 14 in the entire world by Elite Traveler, which, of course, says a lot.
Here, BH3’s Gregory Freedman discusses how Sieger Suarez was chosen to design Prive?, the effects of some of the controrversy surrounding Prive?’s development, and the most gratifying deal that BH3 has ever been a part of.
Prive? was designed by architect Sieger Suarez. Why was he the right fit for a project like this?
Sieger Suarez is the most prominent local architect in Miami, having been the architect on marquee buildings such as Porsche Design, St. Regis Bal Harbor, and Apogee, just to name a few. They are the local starchitect, but also Terra Beachside at 6000 Collins Ave, our first job as a company, was designed by Sieger Suarez. We’ve had a great relationship with them from that project on. They are an incredible firm with an incredible track record and they were our only choice for the job. We actually didn’t even interview another architectural firm.
EGS2 has been responsible for the landscape architecture, while the interior designs are by Interiors by Steven G. Was finding designers and architects that had styles which complimented each other’s an aspect of how you decided who would work on Prive??
There were two distinct things. The landscape architecture is by Bill Eager from EGS2, and EGS2 has worked for decades with Sieger Suarez on almost all of the Sieger Suarez designs. For us that was a natural fit, because they’ve had a great partnership throughout the decades of working together. On the interior design side that was something that was totally separate. Steven G is the Sieger Suarez of interior design. They are the star designers. They have worked with us on a variety of our projects, including Trump Hollywood and they know at the end of the day how to design the space for what customers desire better than any other designer in South Florida. That’s just the bottom line. They also have the capacity and the resources to facilitate a job of this size. It is one thing to hire an interior designer to do your apartment or to do a couple thousand square feet, but it is another thing when you are dealing with 70,000-square-feet of public space. There are only certain firms that have the depth and knowledge to cover every square inch of that.
Sieger Suarez, EGS2, and Steven G are all South Florida-based. Was it important to have South Florida-based firms work on Prive??
Yeah, look, we are local guys, and when you have that type of talent locally there is really no need to go elsewhere. We follow that old slogan, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Other developers may choose to bring in starchitects from Switzerland, interior designers from wherever, or utilize a brand, and all of these tools are useful or necessary to differentiate one project from another, but at Prive?, we have something so unique with the island that cannot be replicated and that is our brand. Further, at the end of the day those people don’t have the local knowledge and they end up always having to have a local partner here to execute. More times than not that local partner that is brought in is Sieger Suarez on the architecture or Steven G on the interior design, so why create the extra step when you already have those local partners here?
BH3 Realty, the sales and marketing subsidiary of BH3, has been facilitating sales for Prive?. How have sales been so far?
They’ve been great. We’re approaching 100 sales at the project. We have 16 penthouses, most of which are sold.
There has been a little controversy surrounding Prive?’s development. Do you think the negative media attention has had any impact on sales or the interest of potential buyers?
The press likes the negativity because negative news gets more readers than positive news, so I think certainly earlier on the controversy amongst the neighbors–which is really totally meritless–and the noise that which surrounded that certainly had an impact, but since we received all of our approvals and our permits; we have our financing, title insurance, and the job bonded, and a lot of eyeballs that are looking at the island and can see that the project is getting built, the noise and the rumor mill has gotten replaced with facts. I would say that it certainly impacted us in terms of optics, but from a legal standpoint they have never even challenged our approvals and permits. We are actually pursuing them for millions of dollars in damages. What we care about at the end of the day is that we are building our building and that we have the rights to do so.
Do you have a personal connection to South Florida and New York City? If so, is that why BH3 specializes in those two markets?
I was born and raised in South Florida. My whole life I’ve lived here with the exception of one year in Dallas and one year in London. Throughout my entire professional career, I’ve spent a substantial amount of time in New York. My
family is from New York. My partner Dan is from New York. We invest in what we know. If I were from Los Angeles, we’d probably invest in Los Angeles as well. Really, it is not more scientific than these are our backyards, where we have the resources, we know the people, we know the assets, and we can roll up our sleeves and get deals done.
Miami is considered to be a top five city in the U.S. for real estate investments. In your opinion, why is that?
I think that it is a combination of three or four things. The climate is the first thing. People love Miami for the fun and the sun. Another big component is that we don’t have state income tax, which is always appealing to people that are successful. The third thing is that it’s an accessible point to everywhere, so between Miami International and Fort Lauderdale airports, you can fly direct to just about any major city in the world with the exception of certain places in the Middle East and Asia. Also, Miami is now a global city. It’s a melting pot, which is great. On any given day you can sit at a restaurant and hear ten different languages. The people that were driven here initially for the fun and the sun began to demand a better experience in terms of cuisine, culture, and entertainment, and as a result, you see all of the phenomenal restaurants, museums, art centers, and entertainment venues. It has evolved into a real metropolitan city and will continue to get better, which is why I always say that I’m incredibly bullish on Miami in the long term. People love Miami for everything that it is. It only makes sense that it is a top five city for real estate, because it is a place where everyone really wants to be.
BH3 recently purchased a $5.5 million note and mortgage to help the Talmudic College out of foreclosure. What inspired that notable decision?
That was a great story. The Talmudic College has been in Miami Beach forever and all of their constituents live in that neighborhood; but just like many nonprofits, they had debt on their property, and the bank was foreclosing on them. After we were introduced to the rabbi, we basically came up with a concept that could prevent the foreclosure, create long-term stability for them, and create value for us by acquiring the note from the bank and entitling the southern half of their property, which they weren’t using, for an apartment building that we intended on developing. We also assisted them in designing an extension to their structure. Throughout that process we were actually able to buy adjacent air rights from the Department of Transportation, and we eventually sold the newly-entitled parcel to Mast Capital, which is launching sales now for 3900 Alton. In doing so, we forgave the entire mortgage of Talmudic College which was millions of dollars. My grandmother used to say, “Do something good and it always comes back to you 10 times over.” We saved them from foreclosure and helped them preserve their legacy. Obviously, it wasn’t the largest or sexiest deal that we’ve done as a company, but it was, by far, the most gratifying deal that my partners and I have ever done, because all sides came out as a winner. We believe that you have to give back to the community where you have achieved success and keep paying it forward.
What was your initial vision for BH3? How has that vision changed over the years?
Well, when BH3 started it started for Terra Beachside. That was our first deal as a company. No one knew where we would go from there. It could’ve just been that deal and that was it, but the partnership thrived and continued on to other really successful acquisitions. None of this was road-mapped out as if we were starting at point A and wanting to get to point Z. Instead, it was us wanting to do good deals together and building a reputation of always being honest and transparent. We believe that is what has gotten us to where we are and why Prive? is currently such a high priority for us and is something that we are never going to be able to replicate. This kind of sets a tough bar to surpass, so I couldn’t tell you where the company goes from here. We’re fortunate in that we have the most amazing people and partners on our team and the opportunity to do the deals that we want to do with people that we want to deal with. As of now, our core focus is South Florida and New York City. Will we venture out into different markets in the future? I’d never say never. We are just humble guys that are looking to do good deals with good people and to have fun doing it. We have long-term objectives, and we are staying firm to our principles and true to ourselves and the people we work with.