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Terranova Founder and Chairman Stephen Bittel’s New Leases Provide a Glimpse at a Brighter Horizon

By Jamie Richardson | February 8, 2021

2020 brought to fruition many trends that may have just been a seedling of change pre-pandemic. No industry has come out of the initial impact unscathed. The commercial real estate market was no exception to this widespread avalanche of change and has taken a hard hit from the pandemic in seemingly every realm. Why rent out office space when the pandemic has proven work can be virtual? Why should shoppers go to a retail store when it's safer to shop online? What’s the point in taking a risk at opening a restaurant during this? Fortunately, there is one thing the pandemic couldn’t change - human nature’s inherent need for connection. Meaning that while a paradigm shift may be in order for commercial real estate, extinction is not necessary. 

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On account of its warm weather, Florida’s real estate market continues to drive the state’s economy, even amidst an ongoing global pandemic. Warm weather is certainly an advantage, but the path to a new normal has by no means been easy on account of the warmth. Innovative solutions to the suddenly outdated protocols, systems and operations have proven vital in helping the state get back on its feet. In particular, real estate firms’ response to this challenge heavily influenced the state’s rebound from the first few months of shutdown. Florida’s leading commercial real estate firm, Terranova Corp. led by Chairman Stephen Bittel, has certainly done its part. The firm and its partner’s portfolio includes nearly $1 billion in commercial real estate assets, with two of these properties being the heavily trafficked and coveted Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile and Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road. As a Miami native himself, Bittel’s core mission in growing his firm has always been rooted in community growth. 

Terranova, led by Bittel, has certainly carried its mission of community growth forward into its response to COVID-19. Outdoor dining is critically important for restaurants, but what about when they don’t have the outdoor space? The need to maximize outdoor dining space prompted Terranova’s building of Skyyard Miami. Skyyard Miami is a 3,320-square-foot lounge located above Lincoln Eatery food hall in Miami Beach that will provide additional space for people to gather safely. “Skyyard Miami will change the Lincoln Road experience,” Stephen Bittel said in a statement. “By launching a rooftop, visitors to Miami Beach will have the opportunity to mingle and celebrate among the stars. In the near future, guests will dine and drink together in a social environment on one of Lincoln Road’s only rooftop spaces." In addition to providing the community with more space to safely gather, Skyyard Miami’s development and construction provided badly needed job opportunities. Even the backdrop of the lounge showcases local talent with a mural painted by local artists FL.MINGO, Marcus Blake and Z’FLORIST. 

Skyyard Miami is just one example of Terranova Corp.’s approach to the pandemic - work with the current of change rather than swim up river. Besides providing outdoor gathering space, Terranova has also been a leader in leasing during COVID. Under the strong leadership of Terranova Corp. President Mindy McIlory, Coral Gables' Miracle Mile and Miami Beach's Lincoln Road welcomed eighteen new tenants for a total value of $7.9 million. In an effort to fill a growing number of retail vacancies, Terranova found its footing in the rapidly evolving real estate landscape by lowering asking rates and trying out temporary occupancy, aka pop-ups. In total, three new pop-ups, four new food hall purveyors, a rooftop lounge, three new restaurants, six artist studios and a library joined Lincoln Road and Coral Gables’ vibrant mix of destinations. In Bittel’s words, "We wanted to provide an opportunity to small businesses, restaurateurs and artists to locate themselves in a bustling and enviable location, create increased activity, and simultaneously fill vacancies created by long-term shutdowns. Despite the ongoing pandemic, South Florida's retail real estate market is healthy and active." 

Bittel’s adaptability in the face of adversity this past year is simply a microcosm of the firm's 40 year track record and its continued success in the face of market changes. Long before COVID-19 came along and made outdoor dining and shopping a necessity, consumer trends were pointing towards a need for a more immersive shopping experience. The rise of e-commerce offered convenience, but felt impersonal. Under Bittel’s guidance, Terranova’s properties stepped into the future by creating an immersive shopping experience, leveraging technological advancements in order to evolve commercial activity. Collaborative projects led by Terranova resulted in hybrid online/in-person shopping and changes to physical infrastructure, enticing consumers to venture from behind their screens and enjoy the shopping experience live. Little did Bittel know, these innovations would serve as a saving grace years later when faced with a global pandemic that makes the outdoors the safest way to gather. 

Bittel’s track record is made up of periods of adapting to emerging trends and also creating the trends themselves.The evolution of areas like Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties are the result of Bittel’s keen eye for innovation. A large part of these areas were previously underdeveloped and mainly residential, with few opportunities for locals. Bittel spotted potential and focused on leasing to businesses that would build into strip mall shopping centers. Commercial development in these areas sparked opportunities and employment and accordingly stimulated the hyper-local economy. All the while, Bittel built relationships with tenants that put Terranova’s credibility on the map. This credibility was challenged in instances like the purchase of Terranova’s first property on Lincoln Road, purchased right after the 2007 economic crisis. Yet, Lincoln Road is now a coveted tourist destination, so once again Bittel proved himself to have a keen eye.  Terranova’s humble beginnings grew into the foundation of what the firm is now - an investment and operating partner for large-scale companies. 

Following any monumental crisis, leadership holds the power to reinstate hope. Looking at Terranova’s response, Bittel was able to take illusory hope and make it tangible. New leasing protocols like the pop-up program are helping the city move forward and adapt to the economic reverberations still echoing from last year’s shutdowns. Terranova’s ability to pivot amidst chaos proved itself critical to Florida’s economy. Despite this past year’s challenges, Miami residents will hopefully be able to see a brighter horizon after enjoying the new additions to Lincoln Road and Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile.

Jamie is a 5-year freelance writer who enjoys real estate. He is currently a Realty Biz News Contributor.
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