Fall 2014’s edition of ONE Life magazine shines a light on world trends, culture and design as the proprietary lifestyle publication of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty. With the launch of the latest issue, we’re blogging the unique content available in this exclusive publication. “East Meets West: The World of Swire” provides readers a peek into the luxury development set to redefine Miami’s urban landscape at Brickell City Centre, and the impressive firm that has brought the ambitious plans to life.
More than 30 years ago, Swire Properties turned a mere sandbar into what is now Brickell Key. Now the Hong Kong–based developer is ready to reveal its next Miami project: Brickell City Centre.
On a splendid Miami afternoon, the lobby of the former Northern Trust Bank building at 700 Brickell Avenue—now the residential sales gallery for Brickell City Centre, the newest Miami effort from Swire Properties Inc.—is a great engine of commerce. Representatives from ONE Sotheby’s International Realty and Fortune International Realty are guiding clients through a massive architectural model of the mixed-use project set to begin completion in late 2015. The Arquitectonica-designed nine-acre property stretches along South Miami Avenue between Sixth Street and Eighth Street.
As waiters circulate serving coffee and drinks, video monitors beam out a Swire-produced promotional film, An Unfolding Story, extolling Brickell City Centre and Miami itself, with declarations of financial possibilities (“…the largest concentration of international banks in the world”) running below picture-postcard images of Brickell Avenue, cruise ships and general Miami dreamscapes.
In Phase Two of Brickell City Centre, 700 Brickell Avenue and 799 Brickell Plaza will be torn down to make way for a proposed 80-story tower—One Brickell City Centre. This will be a major mixed-use building and serve as a portal to Phase One of the $1.05 billion Brickell City Centre project.
In a conference room on the tenth floor, far above the fray, Martin Cubbon, chief executive of the Hong Kong– based Swire Properties Ltd., is completely at ease, playfully throwing a lime in the air. When someone observes that Brickell City Centre must seem like a daunting, overly ambitious project, Cubbon points out, “Well, four or five years ago, it was a much more ambitious project. With Miami the way it is now, the decision to build Brickell City Centre feels like a perfectly reasonable business decision.”
Cubbon, who has just flown in from Hong Kong, is used to the big picture. The publicly traded Swire Properties Ltd. and its U.S. subsidiary, Swire Properties Inc., are both part of Hong Kong–based Swire Pacific Ltd. Swire Pacific has five major operating divisions—property, aviation, beverages, marine services, and trading and industrial—with interests in everything from soft drinks (Swire has been a major Coca-Cola franchisee since the mid-1960s) to Cathay Pacific Airways, which serves some 182 destinations. These companies form a chunk of the nearly 200-year-old Swire Group.
Swire Properties Ltd. began in 1972 in Hong Kong when Swire turned the former Taikoo Sugar Refinery Compound and the Taikoo Dockyard into a mixed-use development called Island East, a 9 million-square-foot complex incorporating such developments as TaiKoo Place and Cityplaza.
Another of Swire’s massive mixed-use projects is Pacific Place, which recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. The Hong Kong property comprises three office towers, serviced residences, luxury retail tenants like Shanghai Tang, and five-star hotels Island Shangri-La and Conrad Hong Kong.
Swire’s reach extends beyond Hong Kong. The company has developed a number of mixed-use spaces on mainland China—including TaiKoo Hui in Guangzhou, with a shopping mall, two office towers, a culture center and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel; and Taikoo Li Sanlitun in Beijing, which includes a cinema, a landscaped piazza, a rooftop terrace, a luxury hotel and 1.3 million square feet of retail space.
“Our mixed-use projects are urban environments that have no specific boundaries and flow into the city at large,” Cubbon says. “In addition to offices and living spaces, they serve as social centers, with bars, restaurants, hotels and department stores—places that are used by everyone.”
In Miami, Swire has been in the real-estate game for decades—since the company purchased Claughton Island in 1979. “It was just a sandbar off downtown Miami back then,” Cubbon points out. Swire spent a billion dollars transforming the island into Brickell Key. Now the lushly landscaped island boasts the condominiums Asia and Tequesta Point, among other properties, as well as the twin-tower office development Courvoisier Centre and the Mandarin Oriental, Miami.
A self-described “finance guy,” Cubbon was raised on the quiet Isle of Man in the British Isles, a long way from the urban buzz of Miami and Hong Kong. “As a child, I can remember my parents going to Miami Beach on holiday and sending back a postcard,” he recalls. “To all of us at home, Miami seemed like the most exotic place imaginable.”
After attending university in England, Cubbon became a chartered accountant and eventually moved to Hong Kong. He consulted for a bit and then settled in at Swire in 1986, serving as internal audit manager at Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. In 2009, he became chief executive of Swire Properties Ltd. “It’s a very tactile, involved job,” he says. “I’m accountable for quite a bit.”
The scope of Brickell City Centre alone proves that. For a start, Phase One will have a 565,000-square-foot retail center—co-developed with Whitman Family Development—as well as an office complex; EAST, Miami hotel; and two residential towers, Reach and Rise.Throughout the building process, Swire Properties spent $700,000 to transport mature oak trees, some more than 100 years old, from the site of Brickell City Centre to the recently opened Museum Park. To Cubbon, Swire is always conscious of “being sensitive, sometimes overly sensitive, to creating a good environment. In part, it’s self-interested philanthropy, but our aim is to be accepted into every community we do business in.”
Cubbon made his first visit to Miami in the early 1990s. “I stayed in downtown Miami but went over to South Beach,” he recalls. “It really was—and still is—America’s Riviera.” For him, the changes in Miami since the 1990s are both profound and subtle. “Now when I go to dinner parties here, the guests are a much more intellectual, varied and cosmopolitan crowd,” he says. “There’s a focus on the arts and culture, as well as the possibilities of architecture—just look at what Frank Gehry is doing at the YoungArts campus on Biscayne Boulevard.”
Brickell City Centre is part of a cultural shift that’s happening all over the world today. In a different era, residents in London, Paris or New York kept a big house in the country-side, with a staff and gardeners. Now an increasing number of people prefer to be close to the advantages of city life. They might opt to downsize a big country house and buy an apartment in the midst of a wholly different city. And with Miami gaining more international acclaim—Qatar Airways, for instance, recently launched direct service between Doha and Miami International Airport—it is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after urban environments for the global set.
Cubbon has witnessed the draw of Miami firsthand. “One of my friends with a private jet, someone who could live anywhere, keeps a condo in Miami,” he says. “His place is relatively small but right in the middle of things. Rather than a big house in the Hamptons, it’s easier for him to fly to Miami. When he leaves, he locks the door and forgets about the place. We’re seeing that people around the world are buying true second homes here, not just a place to park their money.”
But then, Cubbon has always believed in the future of Miami. “Events like Art Basel are just lip gloss on what was already a great city,” he says. “Miami has always had good bones. Even at a time when it seemed lost, it still had the weather, the beach, easy links to Europe and South America and a solid multicultural community. In 2008, when America seemed to be teetering on the edge, you could go to Brickell Key, sit by the water and know that Miami was going to be fine.”
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