Understanding the Growth of Florida Real Estate: Observations from Stephen M. Ross

Florida Is The Future
February 2022


With Florida undergoing unprecedented economic growth, the state’s real estate market is undergoing seismic transformations. Renowned businessman Stephen M. Ross, Chairman and Founder of Related Companies, and Joy Spillis Lundeen, Practice Group Leader of Bilzin Sumberg’s Construction Group, discuss the current investment climate in South Florida and what they see as the forces driving growth in the South Florida real estate market. Mr. Ross and Ms. Lundeen share their combined decades-long experience and insight from working in Florida’s real estate development industry. For more thought-provoking interviews on Florida’s rapid growth, please visit Florida Is The Future.


LUNDEEN: Thank you and welcome, Stephen. We're grateful for you sharing with us, your thoughts about the real estate market, the work you've been doing around the country, and especially what's been going on here in our backyard.

ROSS: Seeing how Florida has grown, I think this is a lot different type of growth. Where in the past, Florida growth was never based on the fact of jobs, you know, the state is still still up, the hospitality industry is still the biggest industry in the state of Florida.  And thank God for that, because you know we don't have state income taxes here. But I think that you're seeing people moving from all parts of the country or thinking about it and relocating in Florida. Texas and Florida are probably the two primary beneficiaries of what's occurring in the country today in terms of change in population growth.

LUNDEEN: Why was West Palm Beach attractive to you when you first started developing there, and how have you seen that market evolve?

ROSS: When we first got attracted to it, I was living in Miami and I'd be going up there.  I had relatives that lived in Palm Beach and they had an RFP for a site and we had a competition with Heinz and Simon, with one team, and there were a couple of local developers and we wanted, and we had this idea of a mixed use project, but it was 72 acres and they were going to build a convention center on it, as part of the project as well.  We sold out the residential, everything went well, we set up a beautiful project. But then the summertime, you know, the market fled and the retail tenants had problems, and it really tells you. Sometimes you don't know, you get lucky, how the markets changed and how fast time goes by. So that 72 acres, right now it's right in the heart of it. We're tearing buildings down, building office buildings, as I said before, and we're doing quite well with that.

LUNDEEN: What is your vision of how to support and grow the talent pipeline in West Palm Beach?

ROSS: The reason to grow anywhere, for corporations to move, is really the search for talent. Where the talent wants to live and work - and hopefully they've already been educated here cause they've shown where they want to be. Seeing what was happening here, and right after the pandemic, I called the governor and suggested as we wanted to see the growth of South Florida, and told the idea, he loved it and he said call the Chairman of the University of Florida.  And so I did.  So they'll be building a 2 million square foot campus to really service South Florida with the graduate programs.

I think it'll be very, very important for the future of Florida in terms of creating jobs, companies relocating here and looking for that kind of talent. 

LUNDEEN: Well, we're certainly happy to see more of you down here. I think we noticed an uptick and some of that has to be attributable to your ownership of the Dolphins and the involvement that you've had there.

ROSS: I love South Florida, you know, it's been my home, you know.  Coming back here from high school days and just seeing the opportunity; and I was, you know, not really actively involved, and I love development, so in seeing the possibilities in West Palm I got really activated again in really doing it, which I really love.

So I'm having the time of my life and we've been very active up there in West Palm trying to really make it a city for really great inclusive growth. And we get involved, we are building a golf club up there that you many of you might want to join. Three golf courses at one club, with three of the great designers. It'll have cottages, swimming pools and all of the amenities of a resort.

And by being a member there, knowing there's such limited golf in the Miami area, I think it will attract. A lot of people from here are joining and there will be a helipad.

It's only about, I would say, an hour and a half, hour and 45 minute drive, but it will be great for weekends for families, things like that. It's going to be first class.

LUNDEEN: Your interests are very, you're very well-known for your philanthropy and your civic involvement, and you've also had a strong involvement in sports. We are seeing quite a change from the old Joe Robbie Stadium as the only football-only destination. You've done quite a lot there, talk to us a little bit about the entertainment facility that you've built.

ROSS: Well, I mean, my inner gut - I mean the reason for buying it - the Dolphins, was I mean, I love sports, but also sports is something that brings people together. Brings the communities together and it has a major impact on the area where you're playing, the cities where you're playing.

LUNDEEN: And of course now you've got F1 coming.

ROSS: That'll draw more than the Super Bowl. We'll have it in Miami for the next 15 years and it will be incredible for the economy here. The economic impact is phenomenal because it'll be a lot of out-of-towners coming in the first week of May.  We have it our contractors for 15 years, with the right to renew, so it will be an annual event down here and I think that it will grow to be one of the great races in the country. I know the Formula 1, and the reason they did it, and the deal that we made was for them to really feature this to be really, this and Monaco, as being the two leading races that they were really known for.

LUNDEEN: Has your decision to build in both the Miami and West Palm areas been affected by the introduction of Brightline?

ROSS: I think it will help the whole area and it really will bring South Florida closer together. You can go from Palm Beach, or West Palm Beach, to Miami in an hour, and I think you'll see a lot of growth. There will be stops in Boca as well as Fort Lauderdale.

So it really opens up these areas for jobs and with jobs there's opportunities in real estate. That's what we're all looking for. I mean, the opportunity is here, people want to be here, and I think that it's like being in Florida at the right time, the right place.  I think the whole South Florida area, even the whole state you know, it's the place to be, the place to really grow in the real estate business over the next 20 years, 30 years. 

LUNDEEN: Yeah, it feels to most of us locals, like the rest of the world is finally catching on to what a great place it is down here.

ROSS: Well, sure. It's about time, right?

Related Practices
Joy Spillis Lundeen
Practice Group Leader, Construction Law & Litigation
Press Release May 11, 2020
Bilzin Sumberg, one of Florida’s leading commercial law firms, announced today that highly acclaimed construction law attorneys Joy Spillis Lundeen and Felix Rodriguez have joined the firm. Lundeen and Rodriguez, along with three other attorneys – Kelly Ruane Melchiondo, Michael Larmoyeu...
Press Release November 1, 2021
Bilzin Sumberg is pleased to announce Construction Practice Group Leader, Joy Spillis Lundeen, has been honored as one of the 2021 Women in Real Estate Award Winners by Connect CRE. The award recognizes and honors the achievements and inspirational stories of women who have reached respected positio...
Speaking Engagement December 12, 2011
John C. Sumberg speaks on the Daily Business Review's 2012 Economic and Real Estate Outlook panel.