As land constraints continue to pose a challenge to new construction in Miami and South Florida, developers and builders still set the pace when it comes to trends and advancements in the industry. And, while Miami remains near dead last – save for Detroit – in terms of environmental problems affecting vulnerable residents, developers and builders are moving, albeit slightly, toward green construction.
By K.K. Snyder
A recent announcement by Foram Group to construct the largest energy-sustainable office tower in the Miami on Brickell Avenue includes the company’s quest for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which sets the standards for green building across the country. If granted, the certification would be the first issued to a building in South Florida.
Also earlier this year, Mayor Manny Diaz announced plans to propose all new buildings of 50,000 square feet or more would require the LEED certification by incorporating LEED requirements into Miami 21, the city’s new building and zoning code blueprint. Thus far, the only incentive mentioned for building green is a density bonus for developers.
“If we listen to the mayor in his recent State of the City, we should focus on building in urban downtown centers and provide the right amount of density in these centers,” says developer David Martin, COO with Terra Group. “Of course, the government has to hold up their end by providing civic buildings like libraries and state-of-the-art public transportation for this idea to take hold in these urban areas like Park West or the Central Business District.”
Land constraints continue to dictate building type to a great extent in Miami, where a large percentage of new construction is residential condos, says Martin. “Of course, there are several projects that are focusing on the office market and mixed use building type that combines residential, retail and office under one roof,” he says. “There has always been the issue of sprawl where strip shopping centers and single-family housing continue to grow outside of the city center.”
While buyer demand for green construction hasn’t yet forced developers’ hands, there is some indication of movement toward green in South Florida, says developer Jerry Kaufman, CEO and chairman of The Kaufman Organization. Kaufman, who came to Florida in the 1970s and started the Kaufman Group 15 years ago, has observed an effort among developers to adopt more green processes and products in new construction in South Florida, particularly Miami. In the area of energy efficiency, the building community is working in conjunction with the suppliers of power to create more efficient offices and homes. Much of the efficiency is made possible through the “smart house” technology, which he says has crept not only into the high-end market, but the more affordable luxury residences in the $400,000 to $600,000 range.
In addition, sophisticated thermal systems and the nature of glass used in construction to help with sun and shading also play a role in the move toward green, as did the mutual decision by some builders associations to use recyclable cooling and heating systems and building materials. “All of these things increase the end user’s ability to enjoy life at a lower cost,” he says, noting that the green building processes increase construction costs very little.
Nearly every product in the construction business these days is potentially recyclable, with the exception of the vitreous china used for toilets and sinks, says Kaufman. Avoiding the use of wood in high-rise construction whenever possible is another trend, he says, noting that steel and concrete are typical substitutes. Creating more efficient units that don’t use oil or gas (other than for the backup generators that kick in during a power outage) is also on the increase, says Kaufman.
Because Florida is in the Sun Belt, more power screens are being used to heat water for residences, he adds. “That’s been a huge benefit. Solar panels have become much more in vogue, and we’re trying to implement them in high-rise construction.”
Even flooring products are becoming greener as manufacturers try to mimic wood products using tile. “You can’t tell the difference,” he says. “Even walking over it, you can’t tell if it’s tile or wood.”
Though green construction is popping up in new construction office buildings, it has not made much of a show on the residential front, says Martin. “We have seen green building increase only in certain building typologies like office, institutional and medical. We are working on solutions to bring green into mixed-use typologies that include residential that we can develop in an economically feasible fashion.
“We practice recycling and energy conservation by the nature of the construction process and our selection of the top-quality and conscientious general contractor,” Martin continues. “We do plan on using green products and materials in our future developments.”
Much of green building has to do with energy efficiency, which Martin says is built into new developments by specifying early in the design process certain types of building materials and products such as glazing, architectural features and efficient MEP (Mechanical Electrical Plumbing) systems. Energy Star labels are used in determining the appliances. Numerous features and methods of building can be implemented, such as the air conditioner and water heater. “But it’s important for the viability of the project that these features are introduced early, so that the financial analysis is built in; when the project is executed by the general contractor, it is delivered on time and on budget,” says Martin.
Though buyers have been slow to demand green practices in the new residential construction market, they are making plenty of demands that affect the overall trend in building in South Florida, says Andres Asion, a Realtor with Cervera Real Estate. Among the trends are bigger, more luxurious bathrooms, abundant storage space including spacious closets and garages and even specialized storage for wine and cigars.
When it comes to condo hotel living, Asion says, the amenities are practically endless, including daily maid service, a massage in the spa or dinner delivered from a restaurant in the building. Expectations for condo buyers have pushed building designs to include a retail component with such perks as coffee shops, bookstores and restaurants conveniently located at street level. “That’s an added advantage for people looking to come downtown,” he says. “It’s creating a whole new lifestyle in downtown Miami.”
Martin agrees and says expectations vary with the overall theme of each residential condo. “If you’re providing a luxury condo, then the expectations include 24-hour concierge service or access to a full-service spa and fitness area,” he says. “Yet, if a developer is providing a quality residential high-rise, buyers expect a relaxing pool area and a comfortable lobby and path to their front doors. They want to be proud of where they live. Buyers want the best deal for their money; they want luxury amenities; and they want to be able stay close to home and enjoy themselves with a variety of activities to do.”
But some developers have gone above and beyond to make their buildings pop among Miami’s flashy skyline. An example is 900 Biscayne Bay, which offers residents access to a 50-seat private movie theater. “That’s something cool we’ve seen that no one else has in the area,” says Asion, who has been a Miami Realtor for the past 11 years. “That’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen lately.” Top-notch security is also an expectation among condo amenities, as are large pools and observations decks overlooking the cityscape.
Martin says new developments must stand apart from existing properties, and this can be challenging in an area like Miami. For residential condominiums, superb architectural design and amenities help a project differentiate from the others, but the details motivate the buyer to stay in the condo, like wireless Internet throughout the building and features that will stand the test of time.
Architectural highlights tend to go through trends as well. “Even now, we are seeing architectural features, colors and materials that were used in the 1960s and 1970s find their way into contemporary interior designs and building facades for the next decade,” Martin says. “But ‘green’ is the hot word for today. Use of recycled glass, floors from renewable resources like bamboo, low off-gassing paints and carpets are all hot and are being provided with a designer edge to them.”
Another trend in new condo construction is an office component whereby residents can actually live and work in the same building. “For office condo buyers, it all comes down to worker productivity,” says Martin. “Efficient floor plans and energy-efficient systems along with worker friendly lighting, wall paint and floor coverings help the buyer with their decision on where to house their employees or what a future tenant of theirs might want that is within the market rate for leasing. That’s where green building comes to the forefront. Going green helps achieve all of these qualities in a new building.”
As the shift toward green continues, developers and builders are looking at new uses for old building processes to help them move pioneer the building trends. The process of “value engineering,” which has been used for years, is now being used not only to examine the function versus the cost, but also to examine the impact on the environment.
“Developers need to find a way to balance the product with the needs of the environment,” Martin says. “We have combined family homes with wetlands and a preserve in one of our newest projects in Doral. We need to find ways to live in harmony with our
Cervera Real Estate
Chief Executive Officer
The Kaufman Organization
Chief Operating Officer