Presented By: Bilzin Sumberg
The Story Behind One of South Florida’s Most influential Development Firms
Joe Hernandez, Partner, Bilzin Sumberg & Nitin Motwani, Managing Partner, Merrimac Ventures
In a recent video interview filmed in Miami Beach, Joe Hernandez, a partner in Bilzin Sumberg’s real estate practice, and Nitin Motwani, managing partner of Merrimac Ventures, discussed Motwani’s long family history in South Florida, why Miami’s city center has become a thriving anomaly amidst national challenges, and Motwani’s top priorities to ensure that South Florida has the infrastructure in place to sustain its exponential growth.
Setting the scene for Motwani and Merrimac Ventures’ investment in South Florida, Motwani shared his family history in the region. Motwani moved to Fort Lauderdale in the late 1980s, when much of the area’s economic activity and national reputation centered around spring break. Soon thereafter, spring break was canceled, and Fort Lauderdale had to reimagine its potential. The Motwani family decided to purchase a motel that they lived and worked in.
“That motel that we first bought is now the Conrad by Hilton,” Motwani said. “We finished the Four Seasons, the Paramount, and we just launched the Waldorf Astoria with Related Group in Pompano Beach, so we’ve been a part of this growth in Fort Lauderdale since the ‘80s.”
The Motwani family is widely known for transforming Fort Lauderdale, having built over 1,000 apartments, finished The Wharf, and set their sights on reinventing Flagler Village. While they’ve been longstanding champions of growth in Fort Lauderdale, they’ve also brought their passion for community development further south to introduce some of Miami’s most celebrated developments.
“We like taking these longer-term bets and leaning into the communities. Not just developing buildings but building communities. We’ve certainly done that with Miami Worldcenter over the past 17 years. And now, most recently, we acquired Watson Island with our partners at BH3 Management.”
The Watson Island partnership with BH3 is set to reimagine the way people access the Biscayne Bay waterfront by focusing on how real estate development can service its surrounding neighborhoods.
Hernandez of Bilzin Sumberg hit on the large economic impact that Miami Worldcenter is having on Downtown Miami when city centers across other major cities are struggling.
“When we look at Miami in general, we’re now a global gateway city, in truth,” Motwani said. “In the past, I think we had the brand that we used to project, but now that’s become the reality. So, what happens when you go to Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, London, Paris, or New York? These great cities and their urban centers have never been better.”
Motwani explained that many of the urban challenges that domestic city centers face occur when cities started in downtown areas and grew into the suburbs, only to return to city centers after a decline in urban populations in those areas. Motwani explained that Miami is the opposite. It started as a suburban city, allowing time and purposeful intent for planners and developers to do things right downtown. And now, the proof of that success is in the number of flourishing Miami neighborhoods.
“We’re a bit of an anomaly, both because our youth has been to our benefit but also with so many people coming from global cities, they’re used to those types of things in the downtown core – the arts, the culture, the entertainment. Miami Worldcenter is 27 acres sitting in the middle of all of that, which gives us a great advantage,” Motwani said.
Motwani described Miami as, “a true, world-class city. Period. Full stop. But there are things that we need to continue to work on.”
Transportation, education, and resiliency are all priorities that Motwani said the public and private sectors are laser-focused on as they look to realize Miami’s full potential.
Motwani elaborated on the need for capital improvements and updated infrastructure and expansion, saying that it’s inefficient because it wasn’t a focus in the past – but it is now. He said it’s imperative that the private sector works to put forward solutions rather than complaints, and that it must respond by taking this feedback and working with the private sector to make these solutions a reality.
Hernandez and Motwani discussed affordability, a national issue that has been exacerbated in Miami due to its rapid and explosive growth. Motwani said it’s important to make sure that Miami is affordable for existing businesses and residents, as well as companies looking to attract talent at different levels in order for those businesses to grow or relocate to Miami.
One persistent challenge has been the slow pace of permitting, which is already stretched due to the sheer amount of activity taking place across South Florida.
“We are seeing growth like no city, and all of them envy the position that we’re in, but that also strains our growth,” Motwani said. “So, we need to figure out a way to execute more. I think all cities realize this and they’re working to improve that efficiency, but if we can reduce delays that will help speed up solutions to this affordability crisis.”
In discussing next steps for Merrimac Ventures, Motwani said he’s looking forward to the Watson Island project and continuing their work in Fort Lauderdale, where his family business first began.