By Robyn A. Friedman
City & Shore Magazine
He’s known as “the condo king.” And with good reason.
Jorge M. Pérez has been responsible for the development of some 100,000 condominium and apartment units over his 35-year career. It’s no exaggeration to say that he’s changed the landscape of South Florida, creating urban skylines where there were none, affordable housing to benefit working-class families and fixed income seniors and a world-class art museum for all.
Born in Buenos Aires to Cuban parents, Pérez, chairman and chief executive officer of The Related Group in Miami, grew up in Bogota, Colombia. He graduated from C.W. Post College in Long Island and earned a master’s degree in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan.
Pérez recently sat down with City & Shore to talk about his latest projects, including the 45-story Icon Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale, succession planning and his beef with Donald Trump.
Q. How do you feel about people calling you the ‘condo king’?
A. I’m proud that we’ve developed the largest real estate company in Florida and have built a lot of great units. I’m proud of the buildings and the organization we built.
Q. When people hear your name, they associate you with luxury condominiums, but you actually got your start in the public housing market. How is developing luxury product different than affordable housing?
A. Affordable housing is much more political — you need to get government subsidies to build the housing. The profit margin is much smaller, but the level of risk is smaller too because there’s a huge demand for affordable housing.
Q. What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
A. The creative process — sitting down with senior developers and picking the architect and the designer to create buildings that are iconic.
Q. Let’s talk about Icon Las Olas. Why is this project significant?
A. Two things. First is its history. We suffered through this project, starting with a job that required no variances, and then we were fighting against the whole world. If we weren’t so wealthy, we would not be here today. The second reason why it’s important is that I think this is the best urban site in Fort Lauderdale. This is the only building with frontage on Las Olas and the river. We will have two restaurants on Las Olas Boulevard — one is by the Zuma group [ETARU, a contemporary Japanese culinary concept] and the other will be an Italian concept or American casual, but high-end, cuisine.
Q. Icon was originally supposed to be a condominium. Why did you switch it to a rental project?
A. The market was not going to pay us the $1,000 a foot that we thought it should command. Plus, we want to leave this project to our families. We wanted to create a rental project that is more luxurious than any urban condominiums in Fort Lauderdale. The project cost almost a quarter of a billion dollars. You won’t see another building like this that is a rental. If I lived in Fort Lauderdale, this is where I would live.
Q. When are the first tenants moving in?
A. We have pre-leased 90 units. I would say mid-September to October. Not until everything is perfect.
Q. What are the rents?
A. $2,200 to over $7,500, but these are starting rents. There will be some higher than that. Within six months, it should be between $3,000 and $10,000.
Q. Auberge Beach Residences & Spa in Fort Lauderdale is doing well, but you canceled the Auberge project in Miami. Why?
A. There was no market. If Auberge in Miami were 50 units, I would have done it, but when you’re talking about selling 400 units in a market that’s slow, it’s almost suicide.
Q. So what’s in the pipeline now?
A. I’m a very conservative risk-taker. We have another job in Miami that I call the Icon Las Olas of Miami — right on the Miami River — but we’re holding right now. That is a premier property and will be a very expensive building. We’re looking at the market and have put a hold on new condominium development. We’re starting one job called Hyde in Hallandale Beach that’s 80 percent sold. We have a couple of sites for rental projects in west Broward and another project I cannot discuss, but the land is under contract. It will be another high-rise urban rental project in Fort Lauderdale. We love downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Q. You’re 67 years old. Your son Jon Paul is already working at the company as a vice president, and your son Nicholas is at Related Cos. in New York. What are your plans for succession?
A. This summer I’m taking off for a 30-day trip, and we have built a group of people who are second to none so they can take over. Sustainability is very important to me. I wanted to have a company that was going to exist and thrive after I was not running it, not only with my family but also with people who are tied to the company. Most of our employees in development share in the profitability of the company. They are all owners. Nick is coming to the company at the end of the year. The plan is for them to ultimately take the reins, but I have an executive committee that will continue to be a strong part of the decision-making.
Q. This interview wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t talk about your friend Donald Trump. Did he really offer you positions in his administration?
A. He started with deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Then he offered me deputy secretary of state. We’re friends, but I think he’s a little bit upset with me. I’m assuming he’s upset because he no longer answers e-mails or calls me since my comments on the wall.
Q. You called his idea to build a wall ‘idiotic,’ is that right?
A. Yes, and I still think it’s idiotic. It’s a waste of money. It won’t produce the results he wants, and it’s insulting to one of our strongest allies.
Q. What would you like your legacy to be?
A. I would break it down into three areas. I want to be a great husband, father and friend. I want the people I care about to say, ‘This is a good guy.’ I want to be known as a guy who built great buildings that contribute to the fabric of great cities. And, finally, I want to be known as a guy who made society better — as a philanthropist. I don’t want to pay for a $10,000 table and put a black tie on. I want to be someone who really contributed to the betterment of those communities, particularly in the cultural field and in the education and medical fields. λ