Terra Branches Out

March 30, 2015   |   Miami Herald

With deep roots in Miami, the father-son team that runs Terra is building luxury, low density units throughout South Florida, including in Coconut Grove, Doral, Weston and the northern reaches of Miami Beach.

For a developer, David Martin started young.

He was just 23 when he and his father Pedro, then a partner at the Miami law firm Greenberg Traurig, founded the real estate firm Terra in 2001.

“David and I had been toying with the idea of starting our own company since he was an undergraduate, “said Pedro Martin, Terra’s CEO. “I told him to get an MBA, get a law degree so at least you can have a good profession if it doesn’t work out.”

The younger Martin graduated from the University of Florida with his advanced degrees, and father and son began raising investments from friends and associates.

“I like this business and I work hard. But David, I quickly saw, has an incredible passion for development and working the community”, said Pedro Martin, an engineer-turned-lawyer who was born in Cuba and fled the island with his parents in 1961.

Alicia Cervera, one of Miami’s preeminent real estate brokers, has worked with Terra and said that the two men, while very close, have markedly different styles.

“I think the father has more of the caution of a very god lawyer,” Cervera said. “David is careful, too, but he’s also very much an entrepreneur. He has that clear, focused, driving vision of an entrepreneur.”

The younger Martin’s approach might strike some sports fans as a real estate version of Money-ball, Michaels Lewis’ 2003 book about the Oakland Athletics and the team’s strategy of looking for value in unexpected places.

“I’m always asking myself: How can we find neighborhoods where we can uncover inefficiency or some sort of idea that’s never been executed?” said Martin, now 37 and Terra’s president and chief operating officer.

For Terra, that meant turning its eye away from Miami Beach and looking at the city’s less developed neighborhoods where land was cheaper.

In 2006, the company completed two towers with nearly 400 luxury condos near the Dadeland South Metrorail stop. Called Metropolis, it was an early example of the transit-oriented development now becoming more popular in congested Miami-Dade County.

Terra also decided to become a full-service, integrated real estate firm, keeping some of its most important functions in-house. In 2005, Terra began operating a construction management company. In 2006, it opened a realty firm. In 2007, it launched its own mortgage bank.

“Having these experts inside the company doing business with us on a daily basis helps us make much more calculated, educated decisions,” Martin said.

In the coming years, Terra developed several properties in downtown Miami, finishing them up in the early days of the crash. That allowed the firm some breathing space and enough capital to figure out its next move as the tsunami of the financial crisis demolished South Florida’s real estate market.

“One of the things we realized is that we can’t lose sight of the fact that in Miami we have suburbs, “Martin said. “Investing in suburbs allows us the opportunity to diversify.”

Today, Terra is developing a mixed-use project in Doral, pairing 150,000 square feet of retail anchored by a Publix with 319 single-family homes. Prices for the houses start at $600,000.

The company also paid $30 million for a golf course in Weston last summer, according to Broward County property records, and plans to build a luxury gated community with 125 homes.

Terra now has about $3 billion under development, according to Martin.

But the project that has probably brought the most attention to terra is the Grove at Grand Bay, two ultra-luxury towers going up on the site of the old Grand Bay hotel in Coconut Grove.

The condos recently set a record price for the Grove at an average of $1,100 per square foot. The neighborhood, known for its bohemian reputation and lush vegetation, hadn’t seen a new high-rise in 10 years, completely missing out on the pre-recession boom.

Residents have certainly noticed the new tower, which in an unusual design twist their way 20-stories into the sky. One local blogger compared them to a “stack of bar napkins”.