Building the Future of Miami

November 2023

David Martin, Developer and Founder, Terra

We are delighted to have you with us, David, to chat with today about not only you but also your business, the Terra. With an impressive portfolio boasting 5 million square feet across Miami and a valuation of 8 billion dollars in both commercial and residential sectors, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Why don’t we start with you sharing with us some of your journey and the story of Terra?

I'm a Miami native, and my relationship with this city is a long-standing one. After completing my education, I ventured into entrepreneurship by founding Terra in a modest executive suite back in 2001. Over the last two decades, as Miami has blossomed from a vibrant young city to a bustling international hub, our firm has paralleled this growth. Initially, we were heavily focused on residential projects, but we’ve since expanded into a multifaceted portfolio that includes industrial, hospitality, office, retail, and more while keeping our core focus on South Florida, specifically Broward and Palm Beach counties.

I’m sure being a native has not only inspired but also nurtured your passion and pursuit for success. Could you elaborate on what draws you to invest so much of your energy and resources into the residential scene here?

Miami is a unique blend of youthful energy and international allure, which I find utterly captivating. It's a melting pot of cultures and is something I became fascinated with during my college days when I started a coffee shop. Witnessing the hub of activity and positive energy there was exhilarating. This experience propelled me to focus on creating environments that enhance people’s lives. Miami is home — I'm raising my family here with my two children, Colette and David — and there’s a profound satisfaction in contributing to the community that surrounds my own family. At Terra, we emphasize neighborhood strategies, developing multiple projects within key areas like Miami Beach and Coconut Grove. It's about more than just construction; it’s about crafting legacies and fostering community growth in a tangible, positive way.

Connecting your personal growth with that of the city, it seems natural that way of thinking would bleed into Terra. With one of your projects, Five Park, can you share the progress and your personal sentiments regarding this development?

Five Park is a unique project as community engagement plays a significant role. We transformed an underutilized property, a previously an abandoned hospital, into a vibrant area. Our approach involved engaging with the local community, proposing a beneficial trade-off: more height for more public amenities. The result was overwhelming support and unanimous commission backing. We've dedicated five out of seven acres to public amenities, creating what we believe will be a model for future park design with sustainability at its core. We’ve integrated features like a water cleaning system with wells for the South Beach basin and Biscayne Bay's preservation. The bridge aspect of Five Park also exemplifies our innovative approach, bridging a crucial gap in Miami Beach's walkways, which is symbolic of our broader aim to connect and enhance community spaces.

It’s clear that your roots in Miami play a role in your vision for its development. How do you engage with the community to understand and integrate their feedback into your projects?

Our approach is one of deep, sustained community interaction. We hold numerous meetings, whether on our properties, at city commission hearings, or within neighborhood association gatherings. Miami Beach is a community that is vocal and engaged in its future, and we strive to align the interests of the government, residents, and businesses to effect positive, transformative changes. It's a collaborative effort, ensuring that every project we undertake is not just a development for its own sake but a beneficial addition to the fabric of the community.

Leadership often requires managing a range of elements and a large team. When it comes to leadership or operations of a team, what style resonates with you, and do you have any tips or insights that have served you well in guiding your team?

At Terra, our nearly 100-strong team operates on a foundation of core principles and values. We prioritize integrity, generosity, ingenuity, and artistry. These aren’t just words to us, as they are the cornerstones of every project we undertake. In South Florida alone, the neighborhoods we engage with have diverse needs. We're not just talking about the broad strokes like stormwater management or the necessity for more green spaces. There's also the critical aspect of education and addressing underserved areas.

Our approach involves a thorough assessment of these community needs. A notable aspect of our work, particularly in Miami Beach, is the focus on historic preservation. This isn't just about safeguarding the city's architectural legacy. It's a strategic effort to conserve affordable housing and protect the community against the impacts of gentrification. We strongly believe in the value of mixed-income communities so those of all walks of life can interact, share spaces, and benefit from one another's cultures and experiences.

The role of a developer involves envisioning and shaping the future of our cities. My incredible team embodies humility, competitiveness, and an unyielding work ethic. They are not just workers; they're problem solvers who are keenly aware of the industry's challenges and constraints and are always ready to mitigate and tackle issues proactively.

So, it's an ongoing process that starts with identification and then requires a strong team for implementation and constant adjustment, you’d say?

Our projects are crafted with discipline, and tried-and-tested parameters guide them. But confidence in our approach doesn't negate the need for adaptability. We're constantly adjusting to environmental concerns, economic fluctuations, and shifting interest rates. Adaptation and evolution are essential, and I strive to foster an organizational culture that evolves alongside the industry's demands. Since 2001, our company's growth and transformation have been a testament to this adaptive ethos.

It seems like a never-ending learning cycle for entrepreneurs. Speaking of collaboration, you have several exciting partnerships, especially in the food and beverage sector for your buildings. Can you tell us more about those?

We've cultivated relationships with landowners, capital partners, and culinary artists. Each brings unique contributions to our projects. Understanding and valuing each partner's perspective is crucial for any successful collaboration. People today crave a certain lifestyle, and our partners — like the Cipriani family, Major Food Group, and chefs like Michael Schwartz — help us to create an exceptional living experience within our buildings. As people spend more time at home, the integration of these services becomes a distinctive advantage, enhancing the building's appeal and residents' satisfaction.

Terra has formed valuable and established partnerships with renowned names like Mr. C and Michael Schwartz. How did these partnerships come about?

The Ciprianis not only excel in food and beverage but also in hospitality with their Mr. C brand. This synergy led to a joint residential project in Coconut Grove, complete with a market cafe set to launch in the near future. 

The insight from these partnerships is invaluable. For instance, we observed a trend where empty nesters prefer to move from larger homes to more compact yet luxurious residential buildings. This shift away from the grandeur of sprawling estates to the convenience and community found in our projects like Park Grove and the Grand Bay has been quite revealing. Food and beverage professionals interact with their clientele daily and must continually exceed expectations. Applying that same customer-centric discipline to the residential experience has proven to be incredibly beneficial, enhancing the lives of our residents and, consequently, attracting discerning buyers to our projects.

Certainly, it's incredible. With the level of customer service required in restaurants, it seems they must collaborate closely with you daily. Finding that common ground and really making a difference is commendable. And it's exciting to hear about your involvement in Brickell with the Underline project.

Indeed, the Underline is quite a transformative project. Its inception began in Brickell as a 10-mile stretch designed to enhance connectivity. Transportation in South Florida doesn't quite measure up to what you'd find in other major cities. A large part of that is due to Miami's unique growth pattern and timing. During the ’80s and ’90s, Miami-Dade County made a significant investment in the metro rail system — an above-ground commuter network to alleviate this issue. So, the underline is an example of a public amenity that I think will attract more and more people to want to live close to transit.

An essential aspect of sustainable urban development is encouraging residents to live closer to transit hubs, considering both housing and transportation costs. Our executive director, Meg Daly, had a personal incident biking under the metro rail, which spurred the creation of the Underline. She envisioned a green infrastructure initiative that would not only enhance but revitalize both urban and suburban landscapes in South Florida.

We celebrated a milestone with the groundbreaking of our final phase about two weeks ago. The Underline exemplifies a public amenity that draws more people to live near transit areas despite the common perception in Miami that proximity to transit is undesirable. Our recent project, Grove Central at the Coconut Grove metro station, encapsulates this philosophy. We constructed around 400 apartments and 170,000 square feet of retail space with notable tenants such as Target and Sprouts. This is more than a transit-oriented development; it's about creating transit-oriented communities.

The goal is to integrate the surrounding urban fabric with the metro stations, making transit a more appealing choice for residents. Both the county and city authorities are focused on increasing density and promoting workforce housing near transit to provide accessible living options that fit within people's budgets. By contributing to the Underline, we're advocating for this approach — building communities that embrace transit, reduce living costs, and enhance quality of life.

That sounds like a pivotal project for Miami, both economically and in factors of sustainability. Integrating the city through transit and changing the mindset towards public transportation would be quite the feat.

Our work isn't confined to Miami alone, as we're engaged in projects across West Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade County. We have both urban and suburban strategies tailored to the region's diverse cities — over 30 in Miami-Dade County alone. We’re active in many of these municipalities, and while we've been approached with opportunities in New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Orlando, and Tampa, our primary focus is local. We invest elsewhere, but our development and construction efforts are deeply rooted here.

This regional focus stems from our desire to make well-informed, locally-sensitive decisions. New markets can hold unseen challenges that we're more equipped to address in our familiar territory. South Florida has a robust pipeline of projects, and our in-depth expertise here negates the need to expand elsewhere at this point.

That’s a deep commitment to Miami, a city you've known all your life. Given this focus, what’s your perspective on the Miami market? Is it a good time for people to invest in real estate here?

The timing for investing in Miami depends on the asset class. In residential real estate, there's a scarcity of listings, indicating that demand outstrips supply. Construction costs are rising, and Miami is just beginning to unfold its potential — I would say we're in the "second inning." I've always been advised to think in 20-year real estate cycles. We are long-term bullish on Miami and encourage those who can adopt a long-term strategy to invest in our city.

What distinguishes Miami and South Florida is their welcoming nature towards foreigners, allowing them to feel at home. This open-mindedness is one of our city's most endearing and inviting traits.

The inclusivity one finds in Miami is palpable — inviting, even. Do you believe that the various scenes, such as the art, music, and overall culture, are part of its ever-developing allure?

The cultural tapestry of Miami is rich and ever-evolving. Today alone, I met with a food and beverage operator from Detroit. Miami attracts entrepreneurs and creatives from across the country — Chicago, Boston and New York. They’re all eager to contribute to our vibrant community. This influx is creating a unique blend of commerce, lifestyle and tourism experiences that are unparalleled. Entertainment and culture here are why there's so much excitement about Miami's future.