Miami to China: Come see about us

Updated: 2015-01-16 11:55

By JACK FREIFELDER in New York(China Daily USA)

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As Chinese investors continue to spend on high profile properties around the world, condo developers and other members of the real estate industry in South Florida think it's time they check out Miami.

Peggy Fucci, CEO of OneWorld Properties, a Florida-based real estate firm, said Chinese investors, just like any other group, are "looking for good investments, quality of life and education" above all else.

"The Chinese population is very small in Miami right now," Fucci told China Daily. "There are several factors about Miami that they're not familiar with because they are not educated on Miami. There's not a Chinese consulate in Miami or in Florida, so there's no awareness.

"Before, the Chinese would see Miami as a beach town where people go to retire and hang out, but in the last five years Miami has made itself into more of a global city with a downtown," Fucci said. "You can find anything in Miami right now, and there's more for the Chinese to do here."

Ken Roberts, president of WorldCity, a Miami-based company focused on the role of globalization on local communities, told China Daily that Miami will remain of interest as Chinese investors continue to spread their influence throughout the US and the rest of the world.

One hiccup could be that Miami has no direct flight to China, Roberts said.

"Miami is extremely open to foreign presence and investment, and it's relatively untapped by the Chinese," Roberts said. "Miami will have its reasons for being attractive: the best access to Latin America, one of the nation's top hospitality programs and it will be important for the cruise industry."

"Ease of access is critical", and a "direct flight makes a difference", he wrote.

The Miami Downtown Development Authority convened a forum in November including airport officials and local business leaders to discuss how to attract more Chinese investors.

Alyce Robertson, executive director of the authority, told the Wall Street Journal: "We hadn't really focused on Asia before. But we're looking to the East now. Miami's market is strong, so we need to catch up very quickly in terms of China."

International buyers in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties continue to skew heavily toward South and Latin American countries, but the percentage of Chinese investors in that group doubled to 2 percent in 2014, according to the Miami Association of Realtors.

Asian buyers accounted for 8 percent of home purchases in Florida for the 12-month period that ended March 2014, up from 6 percent from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

And China's portion of the global buying pool for US properties climbed to 16 percent in 2014, up from 12 percent in 2013, NAR data showed.

Fucci, who founded OneWorld Properties in 2008, has been traveling to China every few months over the last year in an effort to find potential buyers for a new luxury condominium project, the Paramount.

"Now that there are big firms building megaprojects you have big Chinese investors buying and getting involved," Fucci said. "In my opinion, the Chinese have become more aware of Miami, but it's an education process and not one I want to take on alone."

Miami Worldcenter Associates recently unveiled plans for the Paramount, a 476-unit luxury condominium tower set to break ground early next year.

The $440 million Paramount project is part of the $2 billion, 27-acre Miami Worldcenter project, which includes a new Marriott Marquis hotel and a shopping center, which will be anchored by a Macy's and Bloomingdale's. The project is being marketed primarily to international buyers.

Alfred Nader, head of Latin America and the Caribbean at Western Union Business Solutions, said: "If you look at 2008-2009, the Miami real estate market was in dire straits. Prices tumbled and the building boom in the US came almost to a screeching halt. While the US was going through a bit of an economic downturn, the Latin Americans came and saved the Miami real estate market.

"We haven't seen a large number of Chinese purchasing real estate like they have been in California or New York, but the developers in Miami targeting the Chinese is a great step," Nader said.

"At the end of the day, this goes into the Chinese regulation and internationalization of the RMB," he said. "Miami is going to be a destination for them and the Chinese could find themselves in a place to continue to prop up the Miami real estate market."

"There are so many initiatives going on here in Miami to promote not only business, but also quality of life for Chinese people," Fucci said. "When we go to China, developers should get together to say let's educate China about the South Florida market. Coming here and feeling somewhat connected to the city, that's what it's all about."