From serving the nation to shaping Miami’s skyline

Meet Rafael Romero, a Miami Herbert alumnus, who’s behind several South Florida favorites.
rafael romero

On September 11, 2001, Rafael Romero was sitting in his high school American history class. Along with his peers, he watched the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center complex during the 9/11 attacks. It was at that moment, sitting at his cold desk, as a high school senior, instantly transformed by what he was watching, that Romero decided he would serve in the United States military.

Rafael Romero

Only a few weeks after his high school graduation, Romero enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was on his way to basic training. For five years, Romero served in the Navy as a lead rescue swimmer and navigation specialist aboard the USS Nashville (LPD-13) and traveled across the world to places like the Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa, and the Persian Gulf. He was also part of the largest overseas evacuation of American citizens in modern history as part of Operation Strengthen Hope, during the 2006 Lebanon War, also called the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War and known in Lebanon as the July War and in Israel as the Second Lebanon War. The notorious evacuation included the late Chef Anthony Bourdain and his crew from the show No Reservations.

“The time I spent in the service prepared me for every challenge, sacrifice, and trial that life has presented me with since,” said Romero.

As Romero prepared to leave the military, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in business, so he earned his real estate license to learn more about sales and made his way to college. While pursuing his bachelor’s degree, he worked in residential real estate and property management. These early roles set the foundation for what came next. The commercial real estate world.

Romero started with retail real estate as a commercial associate with the Terranova Corporation, where he helped lease high-profile projects like CocoWalk. He then became a Local Leasing Representative at the Simon Property Group and was responsible for seeking retail tenants and negotiating lease terms for notable local hotspots, like Dadeland Mall, and The Shops at Sunset Place.

Today, Romero is serving as a senior member of JLL South Florida’s Retail Advisory practice, and oversees business development, landlord and tenant representation, and is also a consultant for several institutional clients throughout South Florida.

With a laundry list of notable projects across South Florida, Romero looks back on a chosen few with a warm smile.

Filled with sun-kissed tourists and South Florida locals, stands The Gallery at Beach Place, a mixed-use, multi-level, entertainment center located across Fort Lauderdale Beach. Romero managed the leasing efforts for this project together with owner Thor Equities.

“I was proud to work with such an exceptional ownership team, retailers, and restaurants,” said Romero when looking back on the time spent working on this project. “We were struggling when we started, but now we’ve maintained an occupancy rate over 95 percent, even during the pandemic.”

Alongside his best friend, Jorgie Ramos of Barley Hospitality Group, the two re-imagined the rooftop of a former Post Office building in Coral Gables. After more than two years in construction, Cebada Rooftop, an American restaurant with Latin influence and cocktail bar, was born.

As his career advanced, Romero always thought back on a dream he had while serving in the U.S. Navy. He wanted to attend business school.

 “Miami is home,” said Romero. “I always knew I wanted to strengthen my roots in the community, and there was no better way to do that than by becoming a Cane.” 

In 2020, Rafael fulfilled his dream of attending business school, when he was accepted into the Global Executive MBA program (GEMBA) at the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School.  Meant for seasoned entrepreneurs and proven senior-level leaders, Romero fit right in amongst his peers, who are now some of his closest friends.

“Watching my classmates pursue the businesses we created through our integrative projects was inspiring. Because of my time in the GEMBA program, I am in a better position to dive deep into financial statements, understand the viability of a business, and interact more confidently with senior leaders.”

Romero became the first person in his family to earn a graduate degree in the United States, but he’s confident he won’t be the last, as he’s already begun to instill the Cane spirit in his 10-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.

When he’s not spending time with his loved ones, or developing South Florida’s next hotspot, Romero is giving back to the University of Miami community through his involvement in the GEMBA Alumni Board. He has also been a volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and United Way of Miami-Dade.