Rilea Group’s Alan Ojeda builds for the long haul
BY MARTHA BRANNIGAN
Miami real-estate developer Alan Ojeda is often described as a contrarian — and he’s the first to agree.
He zigs when others zag. He built a high-rise rental apartment, One Broadway, in downtown Miami during the last boom when most developers were rushing to erect condominiums.
In a city known for glitter, he focuses on substance.
And while many local developers look for the quick flip, Ojeda builds most often for his own portfolio.
“Buildings are a type of legacy — more visual than others,’’ said Ojeda, 60, the founder and president of Miami-based Rilea Group.
So even now, when Ojeda is doing what many Miami developers are doing — building a condominium tower — he is marching to his own beat.
The Bond, a 328-unit condominium tower that is set to break ground in October, will target urban professionals and forgo some of the flashier amenities in favor of quality details.
For example, since the 44-story building will face east-west, exposed to morning and afternoon sun, Ojeda opted to use low-e glass that reflects heat and is more energy efficient. That costs considerably more than other glass and won’t necessarily jump off the page during a sales pitch, but it will improve the comfort level for residents.
“Alan makes his decisions on long-term value. He sees past the cheapest unit cost. He’s a client who really does get it,’’ said Bruce Brosch, president of Coral Gables-based Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates, the architect on the Bond project and several others that Ojeda has done, including his signature 1450 Brickell tower.
The Bond “is a no-nonsense residence,’’ said Alicia Cervera La Madrid, managing partner of Miami-based Cervera Real Estate, which is managing pre-construction sales. “It’s not going to have a nightclub and two restaurants. It’s going to be quieter, a little off the radar and less congested.’’
For public spaces, Ojeda picked a high-end interior designer from Mexico: Loguer Design, which is known for outfitting yachts and private jets as well as museums and public spaces. He’s going for a British-style urban feel.
Educated in his native Spain as a lawyer and an economist, he never practiced either. Instead, he ventured into real-estate development after coming to Miami 32 years ago and has built a track record for quality.
“I always had an ability to see volumes. And, I hope, I have an ability to see beauty,’’ said Ojeda, who is a long-time photographer in a family full of creative energy.
(His son Diego Ojeda, 31, produced a film, Mancora, that was selected for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and purchased by HBO before he joined Rilea four years ago as a vice president. His wife, Isabel Ojeda, paints. His mother was a pianist, his grandfather, a writer.)
Ojeda, who was born in Barcelona and grew up in Madrid, still has extensive business ties in Spain.
An equity partner on the Bond project is Madrid-based MDR Americana, a private-equity firm that also has offices at 1450 Brickell and whose principals, Ojeda said, “have been friends of mine since college.’’
Ojeda owned the Bond parcel at 1080 Brickell Ave., which was once a parking garage, when the real-estate meltdown put his plans for a condominium on hold. In 2012, he sold the site to MDR Toledo, a unit of MDR Americana. Now, with the brisk demand among foreign buyers for Brickell condominiums, they decided to launch the project jointly.
Ojeda announced the Bond in May, tapping Miami-based Cervera Real Estate to manage pre-construction sales, and has already received reservations for about 200 of the 328 units. One advantage of the Bond project is it will be able to break ground in coming weeks, while many other projects that have been announced must still go through hoops to get building approvals and make other preparations. Prices will run from about $400,000 to more than $1 million for units ranging from studios to three bedrooms. Prices will average $500 to $600 a square foot.
“We’re starting construction. We’re not waiting for a certain level of pre-sales to get a construction loan,’’ Ojeda said.
The project is slated to be completed in first quarter of 2016.
Rilea Group, which has about 80 employees, has developed everything from rental apartments like the One Broadway tower in downtown Miami to strip shopping centers and the occasional condominium.
Ojeda is a hands-on manager who delves into the details of projects. He recently joined his son Diego in choosing bathroom and kitchen fixtures and cabinets for the Bond project.
Besides development, Rilea Group manages commercial properties and develops projects for a fee for others. Rilea, for instance, was the project manager for the International Finance Bank building at 777 SW 37th St., in Miami, and is currently developing Monte Carlo, a 21-story apartment tower at 6551 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, on behalf of a Spanish family who owns Euroamerican Group in Miami.
With his major presence in Miami’s urban core, Ojeda has been a leading advocate for improving mass transit and making the downtown appealing for walking and street life through things like attractive streets and sidewalks.
“Alan has a very sophisticated and educated view of what makes a great world city,’’ said Neisen Kasdin, office managing shareholder at Akerman Senterfitt law firm in Miami and a fellow board member of the Downtown Development Authority.
Ojeda’s signature project to date is the 1450 Brickell office tower, which is LEED Gold certified and widely regarded as the most fortress-like tower in Miami when it comes to withstanding a hurricane. The building, known for understated elegance, boasts 100-percent occupancy despite having opened in the depths of the downturn in March 2010. Even as other new offices have struggled, it has attracted coveted tenants like J.P. Morgan Chase, City National Bank, insurance giant Willis and the law firm Bilzin Sumberg. Rilea’s headquarters is also there.
“Alan is a long-term holder and builds a very high-quality product with a real eye to the future,’’ said Charles Foschini, vice chairman of CBRE Inc.’s institutional group in Miami. “His 1450 Brickell building exemplifies that. Look at his ability to attract some of the best tenants at the worst time.’’
Tom Murphy, Jr., president of Miami-based Coastal Construction, which is launching its fourth project for Ojeda with the Bond and built the 1450 Brickell tower, said, “if he can make a building better, he’ll spend the money, even if it might not bring more money today, because he’s looking at the long term.’’
Murphy said the extra-strong glass cladding used on 1450 Brickell means “when the next storm comes to Miami, you probably won’t be seeing glass on the street from that building.’’
Ojeda said as he tackled the 1450 Brickell project in the midst of the worst downturn since the Great Depression, “I did exactly contrary to what anybody would have done. Instead of cutting corners, I said ‘Let’s make the best building.’ The way to bring people in is to give them the best.’’
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