Referring to the disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 crisis as the “new normal” has quickly become part of our everyday lexicon. Rising above a crisis, however, is more about adapting to change and innovating than it is about preserving the status quo. While we look at the pandemic as only the “current normal”, we are pushing our way through,focused on being stronger than we were beforehand.
As the country starts its slow crawl towards reopening, I sat down with respected colleague and Construction Law attorney, Joy Spillis Lundeen, to talk about changes brought on by the crisis and how the construction industry will move forward post-pandemic.
Joy recently joined our Firm together with Felix X. Rodriguez to lead our expanded Construction Law Group. Kelly Ruane Melchiondo, Johnathan T. Ayers, Michael C. Larmoyeux, Alexander G. Leon, and Katrina M. Flores also joined our Firm as part of our Construction Law Group. I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Joy and Felix on behalf of shared clients over the years, and I’ve always been impressed with their skill, client service, and business acumen.
AED: Joy, let’s talk about what we are currently experiencing. To what extent is the crisis affecting our region’s developers and their construction projects?
JSL: Al, when it comes to construction projects that were already in process, South Florida real estate developers have been fortunate because construction has largely moved forward as planned. We saw some short-term, temporary pauses at a handful of project sites as we helped clients take steps to keep construction workers safe, but those timelines have already gotten back on track and are moving forward toward completion. The projects which are underway and financed should see little if any, long-term impact.
Of course, it’s still too soon to say whether we will see an uptick in litigation as a result of the pandemic, but we’re ready to assist clients in any disputes that stem from the economic slowdown.
AED: How has this impacted your practice?
JSL: The litigation side of our practice remains busy, but many of our cases set for trial this year are either continued or delayed on discovery deadlines, as we navigate the use of remote depositions and other creative ways to conduct discovery. Our complex construction cases are typically document-intensive and not necessarily conducive to the Zoom format remote deposition. We’re trying to progress those cases through pleading practice and other pre-trial proceedings that don’t involve live witness depositions. New case filings are also robust. On the transaction side, we have counseled clients about whether job sites have had to shut down. Any project sites that did stop work ended up picking back up within a week or two. So we are in position to help clients through any issues they’ve addressed. But, I think most construction timelines are getting back on track now. I think we’ll see some new matters once things get back to normal.
AED: What do you foresee in the construction industry going forward?
JSL: As we’ve noticed over the past several weeks, new projects have been put on a temporary hold, but clients are still planning to proceed. Financing is in place. And for those projects that are struggling to obtain traditional financing, we heard from numerous private equity funds looking to step into the game. It’s just a matter of moving forward. As soon as things settle down, I think we’ll see those projects pick up. The construction industry is a big part of the Florida economy. We think people and businesses will continue to move here, and, as a result, the construction industry will remain vibrant in Florida.
AED: Joy, I’ve always enjoyed your perspective on the long-term future of South Florida’s real estate economy. Could you tell us why you’re an eternal optimist?
JSL: I’ve spent my entire life in Miami. I remember when we were a small city at the southern tip of Florida. Over the past four decades, I’ve watched Miami blossom into an international hub for investment, one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, a cultural capital, and a desirable place to live, work and raise a family. All those factors bode well for the future of real estate and construction.
Every time a company moves here, a family decides to relocate here, and we grow our tourism infrastructure, that creates increased demand for real estate. As Miami becomes more sophisticated and more urban, we’re seeing those things happen more frequently. We are now one of the country’s top-tier markets for real estate investment because of that heightened demand. Construction is a critical part of the South Florida economy, and that will remain the case so long as businesses and people want to be here.
I see no sign of that dynamic slowing down, which is why I’m optimistic about our long-term economic future, and I share your mentality about focusing on coming out of this stronger than before.