Weekend Interview: Turnberry Associates Chairman And CEO Jackie Soffer
This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.
Jackie Soffer is chairman and CEO of Turnberry Associates, a real estate development firm that has become synonymous with some of Miami’s most iconic properties.
Soffer, whose mantra is “Be the reason someone believes in good people,” is passionate about community-building and feels that great retail is part of the thread that makes up each community’s unique fabric.
She believes building retail developments is an empowering way to cater to the community’s needs and local issues and enjoys spending time with visitors at her projects like Aventura Mall and Miami Design District. Her firm is partnering with Richard LeFrak on SoLé Mia, a 184-acre megaproject underway in North Miami.
The following is lightly edited for style and clarity.
Bisnow: Baron Rothschild once said the “time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” Where is the blood today?
Soffer: I’m a long-term developer and investor, so I see opportunities where there is untapped potential for community building and not just short-term gain. When I was evaluating the SoLé Mia opportunity a few years ago, I felt that North Miami was an area that was ripe for growth, with an ideal location, a growing workforce and great proximity to the natural beauty of Oleta River State Park. Then we came up with the concept of a mixed-use community, which we felt would be most additive to the area.
Bisnow: What is your most controversial CRE opinion and why are you right about it?
Soffer: Despite the trend pieces of the past decade that said no one was going to shop in real life anymore, I have always believed that great retail can act as an engine for community-building. And I believe that because I have seen it — Aventura Mall is a great example of a 21st century town square. Now, I am talking about retail that is elevated to the level of a great experience, which we have done by curating a great mix of tenants, adding in art and design like the Carsten Holler slide and the Haas Brothers fountain, responding to the community’s needs with things like a farmers market and tailoring our giving to local causes. We are now developing retail for SoLé Mia that will also create important gathering places for residents and visitors and establish great connective tissue for the community.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in real estate, what path would your career have taken?
Soffer: I would be a travel guide in Italy, showing tourists the architecture, antiquities and cuisine of my favorite country.
Bisnow: If you could make one change to the industry, what would it be?
Soffer: I would encourage developers to think about the wider effect their projects have on the cities in which they operate. Are their properties creating lasting value? Jobs? Joy? New opportunity? It’s a lucrative field and no less lucrative when it is done intelligently and thoughtfully.
Bisnow: What is one thing you would do differently from early in your career?
Soffer: I’m happy with where the company is today so I wouldn’t rewrite the past, even if I could.
Bisnow: As a leader, how do you decide who is worth mentoring and who is simply not a good fit?
Soffer: You have to hire well in the first place, which is the job of the employer. Is this team member skilled, curious, hardworking, generous of spirit? Do they accept personal responsibility? Most importantly, do they share the values of the company? If someone ticks those boxes, they are worth mentoring.
Bisnow: What are your thoughts on the metaverse? Does it have any relevance for CRE?
Soffer: I don’t think about the Metaverse as a destination, but rather a whole set of new tools being forged to create immersive web experiences. I couldn’t tell you today if it’s future is transactional, entertaining or informative, but I don’t think it will be one thing or one place. Just another element we can add to complement the development of physical sites.
Bisnow: What do you see as the lasting impacts of the pandemic on CRE?
Soffer: I think that the critical mass we have achieved in South Florida is lasting. I think that in a way, the gratitude people feel over the simple act of getting together, going shopping, dining out or even working in an office among colleagues and friends has actually reignited CRE. Community is now something people crave and think about. I think that is part of the success of SoLé Mia right out of the gate.
Bisnow: As you know, there is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?
Soffer: We try to promote from within as much as possible, and aggressively seek out great new talent. And to be honest, since we are a female-led company, we don’t really attract talent that lives by antiquated ideas and mores.
Bisnow: So, this is the weekend interview. What’s your typical weekend routine?
Soffer: Spend as much time as I can with my family — and in my case, that is a lot of people. I usually stop by Aventura Mall and Miami Design District to observe how visitors are experiencing these destinations.