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As Terranova Turns 40, Founder Stephen Bittel Reflects On Florida’s Commercial Real Estate Development

Across thriving cities, pockets of hyper-local communities exist, ebbing and flowing with their bespoke local economies, trends, job markets, and living spaces. With growing interest from potential residents and businesses alike, their growing neighborhood prosperity attracts the development of commercial space, public-use infrastructure, and community enriching lifestyle enhancements.

In Southern Florida, commercial real estate development has been spearheaded by Stephen Bittel, and his vehicle, Terranova Corporation.

On the precipice of Terranova’s 40th anniversary in August of 2020, Bittel looks back on the incredible journey of building a commercial real estate juggernaut, evolving and modernizing Southern Florida’s local communities, and the future of commercial real estate.

In The Beginning…

During his second year at the University of Miami Law School, Bittel started Terranova Corporation during a time in Florida’s commercial real estate industry wad dominated by unanchored strip centers. Initially investing in two shopping centers on Sunset Drive, Bittel expanded his fledgling portfolio to include a five-building office park, an industrial park, and the Biscayne Plaza Shopping Center.

While all of these projects retained other investors, Terranova was responsible for the leasing and management of these properties. This allowed for the fledgling company to gain extensive industry experience that would become the backbone of a myriad of expert services offered by Terranova.

Focusing on strip mall shopping centers anchored by large grocery stores in growing suburban markets, Terranova built relationships with tenants that grew as the tenants required additional location support. Through this approach, Terranova was able to become the premier leasing and management partner for various large-scale companies across multiple locations, creating a cycle of ongoing growth.

Forty years later, the company’s commercial real estate portfolio is now valued at over $1 billion in assets. Throughout the company’s ongoing growth, Terranova also served as the exclusive agent for an excess of $5 billion in commercial real estate projects.

Building Impact

From a community standpoint, Terranova’s rising success brought real and tangible growth opportunities for evolving communities. Nearly forty years ago, many areas of Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties were underdeveloped and mainly residential. For many local residents, local professional opportunities were few, and many residents relied on thriving and evolving neighboring communities for employment, mainly commuting via vehicle to their places of employment. As development and commercial activity began to increase within these areas, thanks to Terranova’s growth, hyper-local job opportunities arose for residents.

Throughout commercial development and construction of shopping centers, offices, and business centers, extensive jobs in construction, engineering, and project management became available for residents. This increase in local activity propelled the hyper-local economy, increasing spending power in the immediate area.

Technology And Commercial Real Estate

In the early 2000s, as widespread technological advancements began to shape consumer behavior, Stephen Bittel recognized the need to pivot commercial activity to evolve alongside these changing patterns, and to remain relevant. Through his vast understanding of commercial operations and ongoing collaboration with commercial industry giants, Bittel leveraged evolving technology to propel Terranova’s properties into the future.

For innovative retail and commercial tenants and businesses, immersion in ongoing trends provided an opportunity for these businesses to capitalize on changing behaviors. For sunny Florida’s many outdoor-friendly shopping centers, this included providing internet access and hotspots within outdoor seating areas, designated pick-up spots for growing mobile orders, and other changes in physical infrastructure to satisfy evolving consumer needs.

Additionally, Terranova guided commercial businesses, local government entities, and community partners in the process of creating immersive shopping experiences for consumers amongst their locations. Through collaborative projects, business owners implemented hybrid online/in-person shopping techniques via the use of apps and consumer tracking technology and leveraged the power of social media to create physical installations begging to be shared on social media.

To support this newly emerging concept of an all-inclusive shopping experience, a far cry from the traditional shopping experience concentrated on solely visiting the desired store, Terranova encouraged the development of public-use infrastructure designed to elongate the modern shopping experience.

From public lounging areas to art installations and interactive play areas, these efforts were made to invite consumer traffic, and provide traffic flow for retail establishments, food and beverage businesses, and other important commercial activity.

Beautification and safety projects aided in the ability to invite consumers throughout the day and evening, with many commercial spaces adding street lighting, fountains, and expanded walkways.

Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile

A particularly outstanding example of the way that technology and consumer behavior have shaped the evolution of commercial real estate lies in Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile, which recently completed an extensive streetscape project. With the city supporting the steps needed to invite tourism, increase consumer traffic, and drive further hyper-local commercial and residential growth, a $21 million streetscape project was completed in 2018.

The project created pedestrian-friendly walking areas, outdoor dining space, gardens, wayfinding structures, art, and safety lighting. This high-retail area, known as Miracle Mile, has evolved into a must-visit destination for travelers, and an integral part of life for countless local residents. For years, Miracle Mile served the local community, provided increased employment opportunities, and aided growing businesses to gain a loyal following. With the completion of this extensive streetscape project, Miracle Mile was ready to welcome innovation, growth, and a revamp of mixed-use retail components.

Stephen Bittel’s Terranova has long been involved in various commercial projects along Miracle Mile and has recently made extensive movement on an accepted plan to develop a vast mixed-use hotel and retail space in the heart of Miracle Mile. The completion of this project would welcome continued street-facing retail components, along with the increased potential for increasing hospitality and travel via the hotel portion of the structure, further driving Coral Gables’ budding tourism industry.

Not only would the erection of the project provide local construction jobs, but the completion of the project would create retail, hospitality, food, and beverage, and management positions to further bolster the hyper-local economy.

From a modern commercial activity standpoint, the completion of Bittel’s project would serve as a beautiful marriage between travel convenience, immersive shopping, and social media-worthy adventure.

Follow Stephen Bittel on Medium and F6s.com.