Wall Street Journal: Miami Developer Ups Ante On Hurricane-Protected Buildings

The Weather Channel recently ranked Miami atop a list of the cities most overdue for a major hurricane strike. Not surprisingly, news of that nature is enough to scare away potential residents and even businesses. Recognizing that luring world-class companies means offering a world-class office tower capable of withstanding the fiercest weather, Miami developer Alan Ojeda’s Rilea Group set out to raise the bar in storm-proof construction. The result: 1450 Brickell office tower, fabricated with one of the nation’s strongest curtain wall window systems, tested to withstand winds in excess of 325 miles per hour. (Click here for a video of 1450 brickell undergoing lab tests).   And now it seems Ojeda’s big bet is paying off. Miami’s top corporate tenants as well as out of market companies looking to break into the South Florida market are now looking to 1450 Brickell as the ‘go-to’ destination in the marketplace. Law firm Bilzin Sumberg, prviate investment firm HIG Capital, financial services firm BNY Mellon, Spanish banking giant Bancaja and executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry Intl. have all signed on as major tenants, with more announcements on the way.    From tomorrow’s Wall St. Journal
Miami Developer Ups Ante On Hurricane-Protected Buildings 

By A.D. Pruitt

While some meteorologists are warning that this hurricane season could be rougher than usual, Miami based developer Alan Ojeda isn’t worried. Indeed, it could turn out to be a marketing opportunity for him. In February, Mr. Ojeda completed 1450 Brickell Ave., a Miami office tower that he is billing as the first fully hurricane-protected high-rise office building in the
state. With debris-resistant windows on all 35 of its stories, he says it would withstand a Category 5 hurricane without significant damage. Some of the office buildings on Brickell Avenue, commonly referred to as “Wall Street of the South,” suffered extensive damage in 2005 from hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, such as tens of thousands shattered windows.

It is too soon to tell, however, whether Mr.  Ojeda is making a sound bet financially. He acknowledged the construction costs of 1450 Brickell were hefty because of the extra hurricane protection. The tower cost $240 million with the windows costing $100 a foot. That is roughly 50% higher than normal window installations. So far the 580,000-square-foot building is still roughly 50%-leased, not enough to be deemed a commercial success. Mr. Ojeda says he isn’t charging higher rents than his competitors, as he considers this a long-term investment.   Mr. Ojeda is hoping that the added protection will translate into greater demand from tenants.

Indeed, the building’s largest firm so far is the law firm Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, which couldn’t get back into its offices for five days after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, according to John Sumberg, managing partner of law firm Bilzin Sumberg.

“To have your offices in perfect condition, ready to go, and the electricity on after a storm is a big deal,” Mr. Sumberg says, who predicted that over time the building will be able to charge higher rents than competitors. Sumberg’s firm will take up 80,000 square feet of space at 1450 Brickell in October. His firm has been working out of the Wachovia Financial Center for 24 years. Other tenants at the new tower include J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and HIG Capital.

The extra hurricane proofing built into 1450 Brickell shows that sometimes the private market can overtake the public sector when it comes to building design and safety standards. For example, in New York and Washington, D.C., some developers have put in anti-terrorism safeguards that exceed building codes.   In Miami, the city building code calls for the first 30 feet of a building to be protected from large debris like timber, garbage cans or roof shingles. Above that, protection calls for a much smaller impact resistance.   But Mr. Ojeda says “the code … is not enough.” He says after the hurricanes in 2005, he walked along Brickell and “saw many broken glasses way above 30 feet high.” So, “we said, instead of doing the first 30 feet … let’s do the whole building,” he says.

The developer also installed a second generator in the building so employees can continue working even if the city loses electricity.   Mr. Ojeda recently completed a residential building that has the same kind of debris-resistant glass. And he is working on another office tower near the airport with similar protections, scheduled to be completed in 12 months.

Shattered glass is one of the most menacing of damages in a hurricane. Not only do the wind and rain that get in through broken glass wreak havoc on the office interior, the buildup of air that tries to escape blows the building apart from the inside, a phenomenon called internal pressurization. The flying debris from one building can cause damage to nearby properties.