Corridors of Opportunity: From the fringes of the Everglades, a neighborhood grows

May 3, 2019   |   South Florida Business Journal

By Jeff Zbar


Doral has a history that belies its youth. As one of South Florida’s youngest cities, it’s also one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the state.

Once mostly known for its warehouses and industrial facilities, Doral has transformed into a fairly affluent, bustling community that now boasts a significant and growing residential base and big-name employers. CarnivalCorp., Perry Ellis International, World Fuel Services Corp., Univision and the U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom) call the city home.

In all, Doral is home to 775 businesses in the advanced industries sector, providing jobs for 11% of the city’s workforce. Part of the Miami Free Trade Zone – one of North America’s largest privately owned and operated general purpose foreign trade zones – trade and logistics providers serve Miami and Florida, as well as Latin America, Asia and Europe.

As Doral has exploded with new neighborhoods, so has the need for retail, dining and entertainment options, and lodging, including Trump National Doral Miami, the golf resort owned by the president’s family.

Growth has come with a distinct eye on residents’ civic and cultural needs. The city is home to the Doral Contemporary Art Museum. Its voters – who represent 88 nationalities – recently approved a $150 million referendum to build out the city’s parks. These amenities and location in the region serve residents and area employers alike.

“Doral is an ideal location for our company, with its easy access to downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale, as well as the airport and ports,” said Roger Frizell, a senior executive with Carnival Corp. “It also features excellent restaurants and ample shopping, and the entire atmosphere of the city and its people is warm and welcoming.”

The county’s second-youngest city, Doral was named for real estate pioneers Doris and Alfred Kaskel. The couple invested about $49,000 to purchase 2,400 acres of swampland between Northwest 36th Street and Northwest 74th Street and from Northwest 79th Avenue to Northwest 117th Avenue. In 1962, they opened the Doral Country Club, along with a Miami Beach hotel. Guests were driven from the beach to the club’s three golf courses.

Within a year, the property held the first Doral Open Invitational, a PGA tour event. This “game breaker” development attracted “high rollers” and outsiders, said local historian Paul George, a professor with Miami Dade College.

About that same time, the Palmetto Expressway opened, followed by the Dolphin Expressway, bringing drivers and development.
“These transportation lines really set it up for the development to the west and north. As the county grew, the region grew immensely,” he said. “It’s gone crazy since, becoming an archetypal suburbia, with the exception of its great ethnic diversity. This place continues to evolve, and it’s pretty remarkable to see.”

All along the Palmetto Expressway, and later bordered to the west by Florida’s Turnpike, companies took note. The greater Airport West submarket attracted import/export providers who sought proximity to Miami International Airport just to the east. What’s more, PortMiami, the state’s largest container port, is just 15 miles away. Today, 250,000 cars on the Palmetto Expressway pass by daily.

Doral and the surrounding area began to take on the characteristics of an international trade hub. Yet, it retained its bedroom community appeal. To be sure, Cubans made their home in the area. But others from across the hemisphere, especially Colombians and Venezuelans, put their unique stamp on the market, George said.

Then, the Codinas arrived. Veteran entrepreneur and developer Armando Codina sensed opportunity in Doral. That is, after his first joint-venture development of the Beacon Centre office and logistics park in the 1980s. Though incorporated in 2003, the city lacked a cohesive center – a “downtown.”

Codina and his daughter, Codina Partners CEO Ana-Marie Codina Barlick, envisioned a walkable city center akin to what those in the suburbs often lacked. This even included a school as a centerpiece.

The Codinas acquired various parcels – including the Great White Course from Trump National Doral Miami – to assemble 250 acres that would become Downtown Doral. Once completed, the development will include scores of retailers and restaurants, 1 million square feet of Class A office space, 5,000 single-family and multifamily housing units, a government center and City Hall, and the high-rated Downtown Doral Charter Elementary School at its center.
Codina Partners is not alone.

Venerable developer The Related Group delivered CityPlace Doral. The mixed-use complex features 250,000 square feet of retail space, including more than 40 dining, shopping and entertainment destinations, as well as over 400 luxury residences.
Other developers also have taken note. Miami-based Terra Group is building four mixed-use projects in Doral. District 79 will serve the growing demand for Class A industrial space and community-oriented retail. Its residential enclave, Modern Doral/Doral Commons, will consist of 319 single-family luxury homes and about 150,000 square feet of retail space. Homes will be priced from $860,000 to $1.5 million.

When completed in 2020, lifestyle retail destination the Atrium at Doral will feature 50,000 square feet adjacent to a new rental community being developed by Trammell Crow. Terra’s three-level Doral Square shopping center will serve up 145,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space amid a strong urbanistic design.

“The commercial growth underway in Doral is one of the most exciting stories playing out in South Florida’s real estate landscape,” Terra co-founder and President David Martin said. “Rising demand for retail, office and industrial real estate is being fueled by a growing residential population, the city’s desirable lifestyle, and improving infrastructure and transit options.”

In some ways, Doral is just getting started, said Manuel Pila, the city’s economic developer. Some 30 hotels are planned over the next few years to serve tourists, business travelers, golfers and families. Though buildout will come, the city’s aspirations of achieving a healthy mix of targeted industries and residential growth make it a model city, said researchers with Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center, an urban policy think tank and solutions center.

“Doral has developed into a highly diversified economy, balancing manufacturing, advanced services, transshipment, corporate headquarters and unique merchant retail sectors,” researchers wrote in 2017. “In fact, its sector mix, combined with its high household incomes and wages, may be a model for Miami-Dade County.”

Doral has earned a platinum “smart city” designation from the World Council of City Data, putting it on par with Dubai, Amsterdam, London and Los Angeles. The goal is to build a “livable and sustainable” city aligned with the ICLEI Pilot for Climate Resilient Communities, as well as the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

Its successful pursuit of targeted clusters have kept the city’s millage rate down and taxes low, while attracting high-paying jobs for an educated workforce, Pila said.

This has created a great opportunity to continue to be a leading, high-concentration area for advanced industry in South Florida, he added.

“The balance of all those attributes – commercial, industrial, residential, lifestyle, safety, education, great schools in a great business community – that’s a rare balance. That excites people,” Pila said.

Additionally, residents and business owners are attracted by the new commercial and entertainment areas that are now part of Doral, he added.

“People don’t have to leave Doral. They can get everything they want, except the beach.”