I first interviewed Gil Dezer face to face a few years ago for a major print publication. He took me and a few others to his residence at the Trump Palace, where he showed us his grand plan to hang a Porsche (without engine or any working internal parts) over the mantelpiece. He said he thought the Porsche design was a great work of art. When I recently interviewed him, I asked about this, and he said, 'yes, the Porsche was hanging there now.' Like the Porsche hanging from the mantel, Gil himself is one of a kind, with one-of-a-kind ideas.
Gil Dezer is considered the youngest — almost 35 now — developer of multiple luxury high-rise residential and condo-hotel developments in the United States. He and his father, Michael (below), are also two of the largest oceanfront property owners in Sunny Isles Beach. Gil and his father own just over 27 acres of prime oceanfront property including 2,100 feet of beachfront, arguably one of the largest holdings of beachfront property owned and developable in the state.
In 2005, Gil and Michael teamed with Donald Trump to create the Trump Grande Ocean Resort and Residences, the largest resort and residential community ever developed in Sunny Isles history. By any standard Gil is unique; especially after he and Mr. Trump had a mortgage burning ceremony last year, having paid off a $210 million construction loan on one of the Trump Dezer condo-hotels in Sunny Isles, the Trump Royale. In my recent interview with Gil he talked about his present success, and some future, more global ideas about urban living.
You were part of the first team to conceptualize and operationalize the new, more upscale identity in Sunny Isles, Florida. What did you see that others didn't?
Gil Dezer: Basically, OCEANFRONT. People drive by things, all day long for years and don’t realize the value of what they are looking at. This is probably because buildings don’t change every day, and people attend to the road they are driving, not the view around them. We came here as New Yorkers, and we love to see ocean. In addition, if you look at a map of Miami, Sunny Isles was a natural neighborhood progression, as Sunny Isles is surrounded by Bal Harbour, Aventura and Golden Beach.
You are one of the few condo-hotel developers who have been consistently successful in the Miami area. Can you explain why?
GD: Part of it was luck, part of it was timing, and the last part is because we sold, well, CHEAP. Luxury hotel rooms range in price from $200 to $400 a night. When we sold out units, we sold them between $350K to $450K. At that price per unit, the Condo-Hotel concept works. Similarly sized units in other Condo-Hotel projects were selling from $800,000 to over $1M for the same size room. That ultimately rents out for more or less the same price. So the answer is obvious! If you have an asset that pays you $30,000 a year, do you want to pay $400,000 for it or $800,000? The answer is why we are successful.
Explain some of the real changes you have seen in the condo-hotel buyer since 2008, both nationally and internationally.
GD: Initially, it was just a good idea that took off. Then when these places were built, and managing units were begun, there was a realization that separated the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff. It was a realization that most were no more than a condo building with a rental program. We, however, were different in that ours is what the condo buyer really wants: a purpose built hotel where every unit is owned individually.
What economic or lifestyle factors have made the condo-hotel sale more complicated, or easier in contrast to what it has been in the past?
GD: The condo-hotel model is for a different type of purchaser. The sale itself is more in-depth because of the various rental programs available that differ slightly from building to building. Then, there is the fully-furnished aspect and the restricted-use aspect. Some people do not mind having others sleep in their beds, and others don’t mind paying maintenance and taxes, and having their place all to themselves.
Trump Dezer is one of the very few companies that is now functioning ostensibly debt free, as there are images online of a mortgage-burning ceremony that you and Mr. Trump did late last year. What are some of the upsides and downside of being debt free in this economic climate?
GD: Being debt-free has allowed us the flexibility to sell these units and our price and at our pace. When we were rushing to pay off the bank, we had to lower our prices in order to create momentum in sales. Once we achieved a good sales pace, we were able to raise prices slowly, yet still maintain a momentum of 30 sales per month.
You have recently penned a strategic alliance with the Porsche Design Group in Stuttgart, Germany, and will commence the building of the first Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles next year. What are your future plans with them?
GD: We have a long-term strategy to do multiple Porsche Design Towers. We own a master license that will allow us to do many more buildings as well as partner with quality developers in other markets.
In the best of all worlds, what other areas in the U.S. would you like to work at developing, or are you planning on staying in Sunny Isles and New York exclusively?
GD: I think the concept of the Porsche Design building will change the way buildings will be built in the future. In cities around the globe, where parking, privacy and security are major urban issues, our building design is the one answer to the many challenges that face the urban dweller.
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