Margulies breaks ground on new Miami condo project
Aventura condos

The construction market shows signs of stirring with the groundbreaking of an Aventura high-rise, where the asking price begins at $1 million.

    Martin Z. Margulies made his fortune building a series of high-end properties that dot the South Florida coastline. He’s spent much of that wealth collecting and subsidizing contemporary art, both here and around the world.
   Image For the last half-decade, it’s been much more of the latter than the former.
    Good news for his accountant: Business, at least for the next 18 months, is back.
    Bucking local and national trends, Margulies broke ground last weekend on the boutique Bellini Williams Island, a 70-unit tower of three-bedroom condos listed between $1 million and $4 million.
    The 24-story complex, which is billed as the final property to be built in Aventura’s exclusive Williams Island community, is set to open in summer 2013.
    “There’s demand,” said Margulies, 73, when asked why he decided to begin construction. “There are a lot of South Americans that are very much enamored with South Florida. They love Miami, and that’s where we think the market lies.”
    Margulies declined to stipulate how many units have been sold, but he did say enough inventory has been moved to lay the foundation on his first new project in some five years.
    Before this month, his most recent completed property was the Bellini Bal Harbour in 2006, which he completed before the construction crash. Since then, he has opened a renovated 45,000-square-foot gallery in Wynwood, made a $5 million gift to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and been a fixture at Art Basel.
    Yet while art is his passion, real estate is the moneymaker. He is perhaps best known for developing Coconut Grove’s Grove Isle, which he once filled with his own sculpture collection. Margulies bought the Williams Island land in 2007. But the recession kept him on the sidelines until the most severe economic headwinds subsided.
    He’s among a handful of brave developers who have determined now’s the time to take the plunge.
    Bellini is among at least a half-dozen new condo projects expected to break ground in Miami-Dade in the coming years, a list that includes the $170 million Brickell House high-rise, set for a springtime start.
   Select homebuilders have gotten into the act, as well. Construction on a neighborhood of multi-million-dollar villas at Sunny Isles Beach’s Acqualina Resort will begin sometime next year. The development’s crown jewel: the Palazzo di Oro, a 16,000-foot penthouse residence listed at $40 million.
    And the mini building boom isn’t limited to east of the Intracoastal Waterway. In Doral, plans are in the works for a 2012 groundbreaking on the Vintage Estates, a 110-home gated community equipped with a lake, jogging path and clubhouse.
    Still, neither project is as far along as Margulies’ marina property. On Wednesday, the tower’s first beams stretched toward the skies, allowing the septuagenarian homebuilder to take an early victory lap.
“If I don’t get a luxury property, I don’t do anything,” Margulies said. “In Williams Island, we’re selling a lifestyle.”
    With the help of One Sotheby’s Realty, Bellini is selling that lifestyle to a decidedly international clientele – which might be his only move. The dollar is weak, Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate remains in double digits and young, educated professionals are fleeing the area, so there simply isn’t enough homegrown disposable income to fill the area’s elite properties.
     That’s why Margulies has pitched the condo as a summer – or winter – home for well-heeled global investors, who have long sought out Aventura and Sunny Isles Beach.
    Included in Bellini’s international sales pitch: Designer Paulo Bacchi’s Artefacto will furnish its common areas. Founded in Brazil, roughly 80 percent of Artefacto’s U.S. business comes from Latin customers, Bacchi said.
    While the environment has improved, Margulies knows that even in a best-case scenario, his new project won’t bring in nearly as much as it would have seven years ago.
The 2,600-square-foot penthouses that are listed for roughly $4 million may have fetched $6 million during the boom.
    But while many of his competitors have accepted refundable reservations for condos that have no set build date, Margulies deals only in hard contracts, and mostly cash buys.
    “We broke ground by breaking ground,” he said. “People want to come here.”