Business People and Community

Conference highlights Miami’s towering real estate potential

Entrepreneurs and innovators met with leading commercial real estate investors—to explore opportunities spurred by new technologies and the vibrant movement of people and capital to South Florida—at the Real Estate Impact Conference, co-hosted by three University of Miami schools.
High-rise condominium buildings pack the Brickell neighborhood of Miami, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
High-rise condominium buildings pack the Brickell neighborhood of Miami. Photo: The Associated Press

More than 750 attendees, including 150 scholarship-supported students, attended the annual invitation-only Real Estate Impact Conference, which took place on Friday at a Coral Gables hotel and was co-hosted by the University of Miami School of Architecture, Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, and the School of Law.

Ismael Almanzar Ortiz, who recently completed the six-month internship component and is midway through the Accelerated Real Estate M.B.A. program at the Miami Herbert Business School, attended the conference. 

“The opportunity to meet in person some of the high-point players making an impact on the economy of Miami was amazing,” said Almanzar Ortiz, who moved to Miami to attend the unique M.B.A. program after earning an undergraduate finance degree and working in New York City. “All the speakers were super excited about the future of Miami and made me feel that I had made the right choice to move here,” he added.

Themed “Miami, In Motion,” the conference offered three panels—“Moving in Miami: A Transit-Oriented Initiative That Will Forever Change Downtown Miami,” “Why You Can Count on South Florida Real Estate,” and “Keys to Success for CRE (Commercial Real Estate) Investment and Financing.” The sessions included the participation of leading industry firms such as the Codina Group, Lowe’s Hotels & Co., KKR, and Eastdil Secured, along with Miami-Dade County commissioners and agency specialists. 

“The conference theme was geared to capture the energy of the county’s emphasis on transportation through its proposed downtown redevelopment plan and the fact that so many people and so much capital has been moving here, especially since COVID,” said Andrea Heuson, finance professor and academic director of real estate programs at the business school.

Heuson highlighted that nearly $2 billion in capital investment funds, much of it from Latin America, has moved into South Florida during the pandemic period. 

From left: Chris LaBianca, Howard Taft, Andrea Heuson, and Jack LaBianca.
From left are Chris LaBianca, Howard Taft, professor Andrea Heuson, and Jack LaBianca. Photo: Gort Productions

The county redevelopment panel focused on two key points for the proposed transformation of 17 acres in Miami’s downtown owned by the county: the requirement that new development must include improved transportation, accessing federal funds to expand Metrorail and the Metromover, and that affordable housing be offered together with mixed market-rate housing.

In addition to the panels, the forum offered networking options throughout the day. More than 100 University students and alumni attended the morning ’Canes Connection gathering, offered for the first time.

Almanzar Ortiz attended a special session at the gathering. “It really helped me connect with students at the University and gave me the sense that we have great community that is willing to support each other,” he said.

He especially enjoyed the panel with Armando Codina and Jonathan Tisch, executive chairman of Codina Group and chairman of Lowe’s Hotel, respectively. In the conversation, both shared from their personal histories.

“To learn how they went from nothing—Codina was sent here from Cuba (part of Operation Pedro Pan) and then lived in an orphanage and foster care—to become these iconic players in the real estate industry was so inspiring,” Almanzar Ortiz said. “And their advice to work hard, stay humble, and keep the right mindset and not develop a sense of entitlement was so important for me.”

Heuson pointed out that scholarships and sponsor support make it possible for nearly all students to attend the conference.  

Additionally, she explained that the event generates funds to support several University scholarships, such as Project Destined, geared to bring high achieving diverse students into the field, and also for the accelerated real estate M.B.A., which includes a six-month paid internship component.   

Kaitlyn Vogel, who graduated last December with an accelerated real estate M.B.A., highlighted the value of meeting industry leaders face-to-face. 

As part of her studies, Vogel benefited from working with three different firms associated with members of the three advisory boards: the School of Law Real Property Development LL.M.; School of Architecture, Master of Real Estate Development + Urbanism; and the University of Miami Real Estate.

“Getting to see all these people in one room at the conference and to interact with them was so valuable,” said Vogel, who attended last year. “I got to sit at the round table with a senior managing director of a leading firm and pick his brain for an hour and a half. That was so helpful.”

Vogel starts a new job with a private equity retail firm in West Palm Beach in early April and would have attended this year if not for a planned trip to visit the North Pole. 

“I was really impressed with how welcoming the conference is to the alumni,” she said. “They do such a good job of bringing alums back.”