Fortune International’s Edgardo Defortuna landed in Miami by chance, but has since made a purposeful impact on the city’s skyline.

Developer Edgardo Defortuna
Developer Edgardo Defortuna created a new class of buyers in Miami when he educated Latin American clients about the advantages of investing in our city (here at the Jade Signature sales center, owned by his Fortune International).

On a Saturday afternoon last spring, Edgardo Defortuna put his three sons—Andres, 10; Alexander, 8; and Edgardo (known as Edgardito), 7—into the car and drove them on a tour of the sales centers for the buildings owned by his company, Fortune International. The climax of the trip was the site of the luxe-intensive Jade Signature condominium complex on Sunny Isles Beach. But here, the kids were perplexed, and Defortuna found himself bombarded with questions. Why, they asked, after five months of construction, could they only see a scale model of the 57-story parallelogram tower? Why didn’t they see a building yet?

Finally this summer, work on the foundation and underground parking levels of Jade Signature will be complete, and Defortuna’s sons will at last be able to watch as the building itself begins to rise from the oceanfront lot. In its first three weeks last summer, sales totaled $300 million, and by spring 2014, all of the yet-to-be-built tower’s one-bedroom units and most of the two-bedroom condos had already sold, at an average price of $1,400 per square foot. Overall, half of the units had found buyers at pre-construction prices ranging from $2 million to more than $26 million. “Everyone is in love with Miami right now, and they all want to own a bit of it,” says Defortuna.

Fortune International’s Andrea Greenberg and Edgardo Defortuna with David Beckham
Fortune International’s Andrea Greenberg and Edgardo Defortuna with David Beckham at a VIP reception hosted by Beckham at the Adrienne Arsht Center to announce that he will bring Major League Soccer to Miami.

Defortuna himself knows a lot about what it’s like to fall for Miami, although he never intended to do any such thing when he first set foot in the city in the late 1970s. Born in Argentina, he had never had any intention of leaving the country until his sister, having just completed medical school, wanted to do an internship in Miami. “My father, being rather traditional, wouldn’t let her go alone, and convinced me to go with her for three months,” Defortuna recalls. “I told her, ‘After this, you are on your own!’ But he is still waiting for me to come back.” (In fact, Defortuna’s father and the rest of his family ended up joining him in Miami and investing in many of his real estate ventures.)

The same factors that attract Defortuna’s real estate clientele today worked their allure on him decades ago. “The ease of life here was incredible: the weather, the beaches, the safety—you could drive the car you wanted and not worry about having to have security or face being kidnapped,” he says. “I told my dad I would rather live here with $2,000 a month than in Argentina with many times that much. Eventually they listened.”

Defortuna and his wife, Ana Cristina
Defortuna and his wife, Ana Cristina, with their sons, Alexander, Andres, and Edgardo.

Completing his MBA at the University of Miami, Defortuna realized that foreign real estate buyers (like himself and his family) weren’t getting the kind of service and attention that they felt they needed. “Or perhaps they would get the attention from a US broker who realized that there was money there, but not the confidentiality or the attention to detail” or even the understanding of the dynamics, he explains. Soon after finishing his degree, Defortuna launched Fortune’s real estate sales brokerage and sales division. And he didn’t just confine himself to Miami, waiting for clients to come to him. He hopped on planes and set out for Buenos Aires, Rio, Santiago, and other major Latin American cities, to educate them about how easy it was to buy and own real estate in the United States in general, and Miami in particular. He walked them through the same kind of epiphany he had experienced, creating in the process an entirely new class of buyers. “It wasn’t on as great a scale as we see today, but this was a big wave of buying from Latin America, from sophisticated investors who like to own bricks and mortar,” says Defortuna.

Today, Fortune International’s general real estate business has 12 offices and 1,000 agents, and generates sales of about $1 billion annually, while the division devoted to sales of development properties (those of Fortune’s buildings and other construction projects) generates another $1.5 billion. The third part of the business is the development company, and that’s where long-term, high-end luxury construction projects like Jade Signature belong. Returns on these ventures can’t be calculated on an annual basis: Fortune may only undertake one or two projects at a time, and each may take three to four years from beginning to end.

Jade Signature
Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, Jade Signature will rise 57 stories above Sunny Isles Beach.

With Jade Signature’s landmark tower, designed by Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, about to join the Miami skyline, Defortuna is already scouring the landscape in search of his next project. “It’s harder and more expensive to get iconic sites,” he says. The problem isn’t that the prices are too high—even though the cost of waterfront real estate has skyrocketed, the price of residential real estate is more than keeping pace, and the cost of the land, he says, is never more than 10 percent of the total project for such a luxury development. “If you have to pay heavily to get the right piece of property, that’s not so bad; it’s more a question of how to get the next site,” Defortuna says. “You have to be more creative, perhaps buying individual units in an existing condominium, terminating it, and knocking it down. It’s a lot of time and energy, but if you want a site on Miami Beach, that’s what is involved.”

In the immediate future, Defortuna has more plans for Sunny Isles Beach, where, along with the Château Group, Fortune has acquired 250 feet of oceanfront property for development, and is developing a project in Brickell. Longer term, however, he sees Miami’s development stretching northward, to Hollywood Beach and, ultimately, as far as Fort Lauderdale, where he’s working on a project with The Related Group, whose CEO, Jorge Pérez, is a personal friend as well as a fellow Latin America-born Miami real estate developer. Says Defortuna, “We’ll never be without something new to look forward to; that’s the heart of what makes this city so exciting.” 1300 Brickell Ave., Miami, 305-351-1003

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