Comras's New Mission
"Densification leads to localization." If you find that expression hard to get your mind around, it would be worth your while reading on. One of the most successful recent figures in Miami real estate says that insight is guiding him in his new projects.
Michael Comras, whom we snapped this morning in his Sunset Harbour office, says the crowding of Miami due to residential development (as in other cities) has made for such terrible commutes that people increasingly want to live, work and play in the same neighborhood. For example, he says it used to take him just 20 to 25 minutes when he moved here in the early '90s to get from Miami Beach to Coconut Grove, and now it's at least 35 to 45; he's solved the problem by moving to the Venetian Islands, adjacent to his office. But most other residents are still searching for solutions. That's why his next big projects are reviving Cocowalk in Coconut Grove and the Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami.
Many know Michael now by his stupendous achievement on Lincoln Road: with Jonathan Fryd, buying a block there in 1999 for $12M, tenanting it with top retail like Apple, Gap and Nike, then selling it a couple of months ago for $370M. As a result, folks may think of him as an owner or developer, but his bread and butter is his brokerage business—of the 20 folks in his office, half are full-time brokers. Moreover, they are now active not just in Miami Beach (where he started out after coming down from Manhattan), or even in Miami-Dade County, but have, as he puts it, actively "infiltrated" the Broward and Palm Beach county markets as well.
His firm's philosophy is to provide integrated retail services. He gets involved in development because that's part of the big picture of retail. In the case of Cocowalk, he proposed a collaboration with Grass River and together they went to national player Federal Realty Investment Trust to co-develop. They also went as a trio to Sunset Place. His operation's been on 20th Street six years and, true to his cutting-edge retail ethos, he reconfigured a bank as a creative workspace. Here's the marketing department in what used to be the bank's vault. Presumably someone has the combination in case the door accidentally closes.
An added perk: his better half, Daniela, works in the office. And here's some other things you might not know about Michael:
First set foot in Miami: visiting his grandparents in North Miami, when his age was in the "single digits." Remembers "Aventura before it was Aventura," and just mangroves and swamps. Saw one of first residential projects going up, Del Vista.
Music: Deadhead all the way.
Movie: Anything with Jack Nicholson.
Vacation: Aspen, winter or summer.
Philosophy: Don't stop until it's done.