MIAMI -- It was supposed to be an ordinary, weeklong business trip.
But after Jose Luis Ferreira de Melo and his sons Carlos and Martin -- the president and two principals of the Argentine real estate developer Melo Group -- spent a few days in Miami in 2001, they saw so much untapped potential in one downtown neighborhood they decided they didn't want to leave.
Instead, just a few weeks after Sept. 11 of that year, Melo Group closed on its first land purchase in Miami -- a one-acre lot at 615 NE 22nd St. in Edgewater -- for $1.9 million.
"Edgewater had been depressed for so long that local developers had given up on it," said Martin, 39. "People had been waiting for the area to take off and it never did. But for someone like us coming from the outside looking in, you could only see the potential and the future, not the past. You're not as scared to take a chance -- probably out of sheer ignorance."
Over the next 17 years, Melo Group has charted its own path through South Florida's volatile real estate landscape. The company has bucked industry trends by venturing into unproven neighborhoods before they were desirable, targeting foreign buyers when the U.S. economy tanked, and courting a wide demographic by alternating between luxury towers and market-priced apartment rentals.
The strategy has paid off. In May, Melo opened the doors to Aria on the Bay, a 53-story luxury condo tower at 1770 N. Bayshore Drive. The building comprises 648 units ranging in price from the $400,000s to more than $12 million. The buyers hail from 42 countries and include the Grammy award-winning producer Timbaland and former Florida Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. The building is over 90 percent sold.
Opening this month is Square Station, located at 1424 NE Miami Place, which will add 710 rental apartments to the downtown Arts & Entertainment district. Rents start at $1,650 for one-bedroom units and go up to $2,500 for three bedrooms. About a third of the units have been pre-leased in the two 34-story towers, which are directly across the street from the School Board Metromover station.
Already under construction: Art Plaza, a 667-unit rental apartment development at 58 NE 14th St., just west of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. On June 5, Melo secured an $85 million construction loan from Ocean Bank. The project, which will consist of two 36-story towers, is due for completion in 2019.
In the planning stages is Miami Plaza, another rental apartment project at 1502 NE Miami Place, with 437 units in a 36-story tower.
When those two projects are finished, the total number of units Melo Group has delivered in Miami since 2003 will reach 4,896 -- almost as many as they've built on their home turf of Argentina.