Miami Business School Alumni Hear from Influential Real Estate Executives

April 15, 2019

By Richard Westlund

Four members of Miami Business School’s Real Estate Advisory Board outlined trends in the region’s real estate markets in an April 5 reception for University of Miami alumni at the Conrad Hilton.

More than 100 UM graduates, family members and friends attended the event, “A Conversation with Miami’s Most Influential Executives,” along with the five finalist student teams in Miami Business School’s third annual Impact Investing and Commercial Real Estate Case Competition.

“I spend a lot of time on the school’s advisory board, helping to develop programs that cater to real estate students,” said Michael Comras, BBA ’83, president and CEO, The Comras Company. “What makes UM special is the interdisciplinary approach of its program, which allows students to learn about many different aspects of real estate. We bring interns to our office, hire quite a few of them and watch them grow from being tossed into our projects.”

A specialist in retail leasing and development, Comras said the field has changed dramatically in the past 25 years. “You can get the things you need at home by ordering online,” he said. “But we all like to get out and be with other people, so the social aspects, like restaurants, entertainment and health clubs are thriving.”

He added that the increased density of downtown Miami has led commuters and shoppers to seek destinations closer to home, such as Cocowalk, which Comras is redeveloping into a mixed-use office and retail project due to open in 2020.

Malcolm Butters, BBA ’82, CEO, Butters Construction,  talked about his career in industrial development, construction and leasing, including recent projects for Pepsi and Marine Harvest (now Mowi), a Norwegian seafood processing company.

“You don’t have to leave Miami to build a successful career in real estate,” he said. “This is a very international community, and one of the fastest-growing markets in the country.”

Butters also emphasized the importance of giving back to the University of Miami, and invited his sister, Shawn Butters-Kirlan, BBA ’87. JD ’90, to the podium to announce their $50,000 annual commitment to a scholarship fund at Miami Business School.  “We wouldn’t be here today without the U,” he added.

Looking at South Florida’s office market, Tere Blanca, BBA ’81, MBA ’83, president and CEO Blanca Commercial Real Estate, said new developments are typically 60 to 70 percent preleased before completion.  “Offices are emerging in niche areas like Coconut Grove, Wynwood and the Miami Design District,” she said. “Employers who want to attract and retain talent, are looking for a workplace that will appeal to a broad demographic with nearby retail, restaurant and service amenities.”

Manny de Zarraga, BSCE ’83, MA ’83, executive managing director, HFF, focused on trends in the nation’s capital markets. “Seattle is super-hot, Nashville is on fire, and Orlando, Tampa and Miami are also doing well,” he said.  “In many markets, the suburbs are coming back, as urban real estate assets become more expensive.”

Asked about the qualities HFF is looking for in student interns and new hires, Zarriaga said, “We want to see people with a passion for the business, an appetite to learn new things, and great people skills.  Knowing math is a plus, as is a positive approach to teamwork because real estate today is a collaborative endeavor.”

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