Real Estate Transactions: ‘We Go Beyond the Transactions,’ Says Bilzin Sumberg

What are some of your most satisfying successes of 2021, and why?

Our successes over the course of 2021 spanned a wide spectrum of asset types and developments, including: ground-breaking luxury developments like the new Bulgari Hotel on Miami Beach, for which we obtained Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board approval; Legacy Tower at Miami Worldcenter, for which we closed a massive $340 million financing; major transit-oriented developments, like the county-owned land adjacent to the MLK Metrorail station, for which the Miami-Dade County Commission awarded our client a 99-year ground lease and separately approved the award of a 97-year lease and development agreement to another client for a 45-acre public-private transit-oriented development at the Dolphin Park and Ride station off the 836, west of the Dolphin Mall; and closing hundreds of millions of dollars in affordable housing financings and refinancings.

Florida’s real estate market is now among the hottest in the country. What are your thoughts on that?

Florida is no stranger to real estate booms and busts. What’s changed is the widespread view among investors, industry players and government officials that this cycle is different and more sustainable. To start, the recent growth is both in the commercial and residential markets—with central business districts, industrial areas and condos rising in value and demand along with residential homes.

Also, the current rush isn’t driven by a single industry with multiple sectors—notably tech, hospitality, private equity and finance contributing by relocating their companies and personnel to the area. What started with people temporarily relocating to Florida as a result of COVID-19 and a more open and less government-restrictive environment has resulted in many of them remaining here permanently.

Sources of financing for investments and developments have also diversified, moving from traditional banks to private equity funds and other non-traditional lenders. Finally, new investments and new people moving to Florida are not originating from a single geographic area, such as Central or South America, or in the U.S., New York. Florida today is attracting equal interest from investors and people across the U.S. (from places such as Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, to name a few) and around the globe. All of this combined points to a maturing market that is poised for long-term sustainable growth.

What does it take to become a trusted real estate/transactional lawyer in Florida?

At Bilzin Sumberg, we go beyond the transactions that we close for our clients to distinguish ourselves as trusted advisers to their businesses, rendering high-level legal and business advice that is in turn leveraged by a deep understanding of their needs and objectives. For the real estate sector, it means understanding the broader socioeconomic and business trends that are shaping the local market, the unique geography and regulations that make Florida so different from other parts of the country, and having strong relationships with both local government officials and industry players to bring their investment goals and developments to fruition. Florida’s unique opportunities and challenges make robust client engagement critical for success, involving two-way communication about matter strategies, project management, and regular client debriefing.

Dealmakers are extraordinarily busy people. What must firms do to ensure that they remain engaged with pro bono work, their communities and their families?

Firms must adopt an institutional mentality towards pro bono work and engagement with the community. This entails firm leadership establishing formal programs to serve the community, aggressively working to instill communal engagement as part of firm culture, and encouraging members of the firm at all levels to get involved.

Notwithstanding its national footprint, Bilzin Sumberg prides itself on being a local South Florida firm, and it cements that pride through its firm-wide approach to community service. For 14 years, Bilzin Sumberg Cares has formed the centerpiece of the firm’s community engagement. The program ensures that employees are able to participate in charitable projects, promoting a sense of social responsibility and a “pay it forward” mentality. The program has spanned numerous types of worthwhile initiatives, from cancer walks and toy drives to children’s reading programs and environmental clean-up activities.

This is in addition to the firm’s robust pro bono program, Matters of the Heart, which identifies opportunities to assist organizations, individuals and communities in need of counsel. The program works closely with several prominent nonprofits that serve vulnerable and at-risk individuals and groups, including Lawyers for Children, Habitat for Humanity, Dade County Legal Aid, and Legal Services of Greater Miami. These types of close partnerships with local organizations form the backbone of continued community engagement.

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