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How 2 Miami Neighborhoods Have Grown To Outshine Its Urban Core

Executives at FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, were torn.

They wanted to open a Miami office last year but couldn’t decide between a location in Coral Gables or at the Waterford Business District, a 250-acre office park near Miami International Airport. 

“If you're trying to do something world-class and connect yourself to the city in preparation for the 2026 World Cup, Coral Gables is the place to be,” Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago recalled telling FIFA executives on one of two conference calls he took to lure them to the city. 

FIFA officials agreed, opening a 60K SF office at 396 Alhambra Circle and announcing plans to move more than 100 jobs from its Swiss headquarters to the new satellite campus. 

Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago at The Future of Coconut Grove and Coral Gables Bisnow event.

Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, just south of Miami’s urban core, are riding two concurrent waves — the flood of deep-pocketed new arrivals to Miami and the demand for offices in mixed-use neighborhoods — to become magnets for office tenants and the occupants of their corner officers.

Lago has “thrown out the red carpet” for several prospective tenants, he said from the stage at Bisnow’s Future Of Coconut Grove And Coral Gables event Thursday. 

He lobbied Apple before the tech giant signed a 42K SF office lease at The Plaza Coral Gables last month. He also worked with Ryder after it sold its 249K SF headquarters to an industrial developer to get the shipping firm to downsize to a 40K SF space at 2333 Ponce de Leon Blvd. 

“Pricing helps,” Christine Martinez de Castro, vice president of sales and marketing at CMC Group, said from the stage at the Douglas Entrance office park. Her firm owns 4000 Ponce de Leon Blvd., which has 183K SF of office space in Coral Gables that she said is almost completely leased. 

“It’s helped that the prices in Brickell and Downtown have gotten to the point that you’re looking at something that is, quite frankly, a better bang for your buck,” Martinez de Castro said.

Asking rates for Class-A office space in Coral Gables were at $55.25 per SF at the end of the first quarter, according to Cushman & Wakefield. The $74 per SF asking rate in Coconut Grove is significantly higher but still pales in comparison to the $102.39 per SF average in Brickell, Miami’s financial center. 

“People weren't really looking at these areas like Coconut Grove and Coral Gables for office space because it wasn't seen as a financial corridor,” Martinez de Castro said. “Now, they're really taking a hard look and realizing that it's a great option.”

The neighborhoods’ relative value has been boosted as their street-level amenities have grown to rival what’s on offer in Brickell and Miami Beach

Efforts undertaken in recent years to reposition retail assets like Cocowalk and corridors like Miracle Mile and Giralda Avenue have been so successful that new-to-market retailers and Michelin-starred restaurateurs are opting to move into the neighborhoods instead of traditional retail cores like Wynwood or the Design District, developers at the event said. 

“We know a million tenants that would love to be in the Grove, but good luck finding space,” Torose Equities founder Scott Sherman said. “In the Gables, there's more square footage, but it's still tough.”

Greenberg Traurig’s Jorge Navarro, Constellation Group’s Eduardo Otaola, Comras Co.’s Michael Comras, CMC Group’s Christine Martinez de Castro, MG Developer’s Diego Torrealba at Bisnow’s Future Of Coconut Grove And Coral Gables conference on May 30, 2024.

The two neighborhoods also offer a sense of place and community that can feel missing from Miami’s urban core, where the skyline is constantly in flux and new projects like Miami Worldcenter create entirely new neighborhoods

“The Gables and the Grove have unique attributes. They’ve got a real character, a real soul,” Sherman said. “I live in Brickell, Downtown is great, we're active in Wynwood. But those are all new areas that don’t have that same historical kind of feel, and that’s a big reason people are gravitating here.”

Coral Gables was founded in 1925, with much of its development shaped by the Merrick family. The neighborhood has a decidedly Mediterranean style that the municipal government continues to incentivize through density bonuses for architecture that fits the city’s existing buildings. The result is a neighborhood with cohesion that’s hard to find in South Florida. 

“We don't like to think of how a project can fit into the Coral Gables community. We actually know what the Coral Gables community wants,” said Diego Torrealba, executive vice president at MG Developer, one of the most active residential developers in the neighborhood. “It’s not really a balance, we work within that style.”

Coral Gables and Coconut Grove are also less dense than the urban core, giving newly arrived corporate executives access to the single-family homes and mansions that don’t exist in the urban core. 

Citadel CEO Ken Griffin's record $107M purchase of a Coconut Grove estate as part of his hedge fund’s move to Miami is just the highest-profile example of what has been an influx of wealthy executives who are looking for something more intimate than a high-rise penthouse. 

Much of the management class of the new corporate migrants are also looking for single-family homes in a less urban setting, and Coral Gables and Coconut Grove were already expanding as they began to arrive during the pandemic. 

“If you look at the history of the Gables since 2000, there’s been 4,000 multifamily units delivered, 500 that are under construction and 2,000 that are in the pipeline,” said Ryan Holtzman, executive managing director at Cushman & Wakefield

“The bigwigs, like the Ken Griffins of the world, are buying these expensive homes, but they have a workforce,” he said. “I think the shift we're going to see is from the Brickells of the world, where they’re going to be priced out of, and into, Coral Gables and Coconut Grove.”

The neighborhoods have become magnets for the upper class, in part because they put residents near some of Miami’s top private and public schools, panelists at the event said. 

Miami’s burgeoning population has created gridlocked streets, and Martinez de Castro said she’s talked with longtime Miami residents who are leaving the urban core to be closer to their child’s school. 

“An hour in traffic each way just to get your kid to school before you go to work is a game changer for some people if you have [the school] next door,” she said. 

Polsinelli’s Andrew Cromer, Torose Equities’ Scott Sherman, RSP Architects’ Christina Villa and Cushman & Wakefield’s Ryan Holtzman discussed how the pandemic fueled growth in Coral Gables and Coconut Grove at the event.

Those parents driving hours to and from school are in some ways lucky, because the influx of the management class has strained the city’s private school system and led to massive waiting lists. 

An inability to place a child in a top-flight school can kill a relocation. ISG World’s Craig Studnicky previously told Bisnow that his residential brokers have become school advisers who try to secure spots for their clients to close a deal. 

“Schools are a huge part of the infrastructure,” said Eduardo Otaola, managing principal at Constellation Group. “The invisible hand has to do its thing and hopefully the Ken Griffins of the world will contribute to making and expanding schools.”

Otaola was referencing a handful of donations to the sector that the Citadel founder has made since relocating to Miami. In May, he donated $2M to Cristo Rey Miami High School, part of the Cristo Rey Catholic high school network. A month earlier, he gave $9M to the county’s public school system to expand tutoring services for middle school students. 

Citadel executives especially have a reputation for opening their checkbooks to gain access for their children to Miami’s top schools, the New York Post reported last May, and the company hired a local education consultant to help its employees navigate the process. 

Lack of access to schools could stifle the city’s growth, panelists said at the event, but a complicated web of approvals and permitting is keeping new schools from popping up. 

A planned Miami school from elite provider Avenues: The World School was canceled in March. The plan for a 2,500-student facility was approved in January 2023, but Avenues was unable to secure construction financing for the project as it also announced it was downsizing its global footprint by selling some locations. 

Jorge Navarro, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig who has helped schools win local approval, said charter schools had flocked to Miami a decade ago but the influx has dried up. Instead, he said he’s seen existing private schools begin to eye expansion opportunities as their waiting lists grow longer. 

“I don't think anybody really anticipated after Covid that there would be such an incredible demand. We expected some of it, but not to this degree,” Martinez de Castro said. “It will be a little bit of time until the infrastructure catches up. And for that, we have people like Ken Griffin, who's giving a lot of money. But that's what we need.”