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‘Proving everyone wrong’: This Miami developer spots value others missed

·6 min read

The way real estate developer Camilo Miguel Jr. puts it, the key to success is seeing opportunity where others do not.

“The common thread for us is uncovering potential, and I believe it’s something we do better than anyone,” said Miguel, 45, who is the founder and CEO of the Coconut Grove-based Mast Capital investment and development firm, which launched in 2006 and has a portfolio of $2 billion.

“Where some may see a complicated parcel, a neglected building or a place where past developments have failed, we see opportunity to bring something truly transformational,” he said. “We’ve done this several times and while the best part is delivering a project that the community wants and needs, the side perk is proving everyone wrong.”

Miami has no shortage of successful real estate developers. But Miguel, who keeps a relatively low profile, has quietly found his own way into the cutthroat field, starting with traditional investments such as hotels and boutique condos while snapping up lucrative parcels in prime locations. That long-term strategy is starting to pay off with high-profile completed projects — and several others in the pipeline that are as big and splashy as anything built by his bigger rivals.

Case in point: The Waterline Miami River apartments, an eight-story building with 346 units at 1001 NW Seventh St. that includes a one-acre landscaped park and 1,000 linear feet of unobstructed river views. The building, where rents start at $1,460 per month, was fully leased nine months after its completion in December 2020. A twin building at the same location is scheduled to break ground this fall.

Model apartment at the Waterline Miami River apartment complex on the Miami River on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021.
Model apartment at the Waterline Miami River apartment complex on the Miami River on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021.

“The Miami River property went in and out of contract with different developers,” said Miguel, who scooped up the site in May 2018 for $6.3 million. “Everyone was looking at it as a condo project with super tall buildings. Sometimes you have to do less in order to be successful with your projects.”

In April 2019, Mast Capital paid $43 million for The Quay, a 73,000-square-foot shopping center that stretches over seven acres at a prime location on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale. Where most people saw a mall, Miguel said he eyed a parking lot big enough to build a 350-unit apartment building.

Mast Capital had started acquiring a majority of the 131 condos at the aging La Costa tower at 5333 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach before the Surfside collapse. The 15-story tower, which was built in 1964, was evacuated after the Surfside collapse for not having completed its 50-year recertification. Mast plans to demolish the building and replace it with an ultra-luxury 100-unit condo building that will be resistant to sea-level rise and storm surges.

Two other ongoing projects embody Miguel’s philosophy of finding opportunity in places where others don’t: a massive $1 billion residential project consisting of three towers, one as high as 74 stories, at the long-vacant lot at 1420 S. Miami Ave. in Brickell, and a 175-unit luxury condo rising 85 feet at 4000 Alton Road, just east of the Julia Tuttle Causeway. The Miami Beach project will break ground in early 2022.

Plans for the upcoming Brickell project submitted for approval by Mast Capital to the City of Miami.
Plans for the upcoming Brickell project submitted for approval by Mast Capital to the City of Miami.

“The Miami Beach deal was complicated, but we acquired some surplus land from the Florida Department of Transportation and we’re going to be building that project,” Miguel said. “The 41st Street area is quite dated. They need something nice there, so this will be the evolution for that community.”

Mast is also expanding its portfolio beyond Miami-Dade and Broward, with a planned multi-family project in Tampa and a luxury apartment building in West Palm Beach. Overall, the company has a portfolio of $2 billion in past and present projects.

A simple beginning

Miguel said it all started with a simple real estate transaction in Las Vegas in 2004, when he invested $200,000 on a piece of land, changed the zoning on the property and flipped it for $3 million. That sale marked his entry point into the industry. He spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with veteran investors and developers and learning from their knowledge.

“Camilo has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for over 10 years,” said Marty Burger, CEO of the New York-based Silverstein Properties. “I’m a fellow real estate developer, and when I consider investing in Florida, my first call is to Camilo. I believe it’s his drive and zest for life that fuels his success in the real estate industry. As he continues to think differently and apply his unique experiences to his work, he will continue to prosper.”

Born in New York City to Colombian parents, Miguel moved to Miami with his family at the age of 4. His parents, who are now retired, ran a variety of businesses, including a distribution company of educational books in Latin America.

“I wanted to create something on my own,” Miguel said about his decision to launch his firm. “I built the trust and confidence of some advisors in the market and they helped me be successful. The Las Vegas deal led me to do a variety of things, such as buying distressed debt or helping other developers with their projects.”

Family is also of extreme importance to Miguel, who is married with two kids, ages 10 and 11, and has four sisters and 12 nieces and nephews.

“I grew up in a tight family and I try to include my kids in as many activities as we can,” he said. “It’s important to me that they have a similar zest for life and experience a myriad of activities to help them be well-rounded and dynamic.”

Those activities include things such as participating in the Mille Miglia annual car race in Italy, where participants drive one of 450 vintage autos on the open road (Miguel drove a 1958 Fiat Zagato) or riding the off-road Baja 500 trail in Mexico in dune buggies.

Camilo Miguel Jr. driving a 1958 Fiat Zagato in Italy’s annual Mille Miglia car race, where competitors drive vintage autos.
Camilo Miguel Jr. driving a 1958 Fiat Zagato in Italy’s annual Mille Miglia car race, where competitors drive vintage autos.

Miguel also employs a simple work philosophy that he believes has played a big role in his success: Whenever someone reaches out, always say yes.

“I have a friend who knows everybody in the world. I asked him ‘How do you know so many people?’ He said ‘Camilo, I always say yes.’ The number of relationships I’ve cultivated over the last five years have opened up so many doors. It sounds like a silly thing, but making yourself available has deeply impacted my life.

“Now, when people call me to ask my opinion about an opportunity they have, I spend a lot of time opening doors for them. It’s a nice way to give back, it’s amazing the results it generates. We all elevate each other by helping each other. And what goes around comes around. I’m a real believer in that.”