The New Tribes of Miami: Russians
The Russians are among recent high-profile buyers, top among them Roustam Tariko—the billionaire owner of Russian Standard Bank and Russian Standard Vodka—who last April bought a $25.5 million estate on Star Island. Nearby, Vladislav Doronin, chairman of Moscow-based real estate developer Capital Group, paid $16 million for the Star Island home that once belonged to Shaquille O’Neal, the now-retired basketball player. Last December, a Russian paid $14.2 million for a condo in the Palazzo Del Mare development on Fisher Island, which previously changed hands for $5.25 million.
Local media coverage of the Russians in town is disproportionately tilted to their impact on Miami society, chiefly because Russians are perceived as the new rich on the block. The frolics of Doronin, otherwise known as Naomi Campbell’s beau, drive local paparazzi into a frenzy. But for every big Russian real estate deal that gets splashed all over the papers, there are 10 equally big deals by Latin buyers that go unmentioned. Numerically small compared to their Latin counterparts, Russians represent between five and 10 percent of the real estate market in Miami.
Today’s Russian one percenter typically operates out of pockets of prime real estate in the north part of Miami Beach, Aventura, and Sunny Isles Beach, or Fisher Island, where you can get by without speaking a word of English thanks to the numbers of businesses and stores whose employees are all Russian (gourmet shops, hair salons, dry cleaners, real estate firms, etc.). Some of the more popular Russian bolt-holes (Fisher Island, Indian Creek, and Star Island) remain in high demand, because of their fortress-like specifications and partly due to the fact that they are, well, full of Russians. More recently, they’ve been flocking to the Apogee in South Beach, whose penthouse just sold to a Russian. “Once a friend buys, they refer another and then another and so on,” says Gil Dezer. The building gets a reputation for “being Russian.”
When the Russians first arrived in town, their sharp elbows and aggressive tactics raised a few eyebrows. “One knocked on the door of a Mexican acquaintance and asked, ‘How much?’” says Uribe. “The Russian wrote out a large check, handed it to my Mexican friend, and said, ‘Get out.’ Fortunately, you no longer find that sort of behavior.”
Russian motives in coming to Miami contrast starkly to those of other groups. While most Latin communities move here to settle, work, and raise families, the majority of Russians buy to round off bulging asset portfolios. Remember, they are purchasing their fifth or sixth homes, which tend to be located in vacation (as opposed to residential) areas and are scooped up as high-security status symbols, flashy investments that they can show off to other Russians. Whereas the Latin communities will happily intermingle and appear broadly similar when distantly observed, Russians, for obvious cultural and linguistic reasons, do not. They operate as a largely self-contained clannish subset of Miami life that has made little impact to date on the fabric of local society other than as a source of news stories.
But it’s likely they’ll come out to play, as each group that settles in town eventually does. And when they finally emerge from their local dachas, Miami should be on standby. For the day when the world’s greatest vodka artistes mix it up with the Venezuelans, the world’s número uno Scotch drinkers, there should be one helluva party!