Ricardo Dunin, founder and president, Flagler Group real estate development firm

A similar back-and-forth interplay hums throughout the real estate field, as well. Take Ricardo Dunin, who moved here from Rio de Janeiro two decades ago and four years later founded the Flagler Group. The real estate development firm introduced Miami to the condo-hotel concept through projects like the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel and The Mutiny Hotel, both in Coconut Grove. When new project development became less profitable, he retooled and created Lionheart Capital. The company buys distressed properties, then rebrands and updates them—such as its largest projects, the luxe but temperately priced Ritz-Carlton Residences at Singer Island, Palm Beach.

That kind of ingenuity, he thinks, is a characteristic particular to his fellow countrymen, and a product of their history. “Brazilians tend to be really creative, and the reason is because they always had to be,” he says. “It was something you had to do in order to survive.” That creativity allowed him to look homeward in developing his latest company, Performance. He and Leite’s father founded the real estate development company in Rio de Janeiro, to capitalize on the lust to buy. “If you go to Brazil today, you get reminded of what the US was five or six years ago,” he says. “We launched a building, and in a weekend we sold half the units in pre-construction. Two weeks later, we’re 80 percent sold out.”

      
Lipe Medeiros, founder, SoFi Property Group real estate sales and marketing team  

The success there is in turn allowing him to pursue more varied projects stateside, like the recently opened Peacock Garden Cafe next to the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel. The lushly landscaped neighborhood spot is not particularly Brazilian, but it’s another example of how the cash f low from the south impacts Miami.

The explosion of restaurants, galleries and other quality-of-life enhancers has in turn become a major selling point for Medeiros and his wife, Anca Mirescu, who’s also a partner in the SoFi Group. Medeiros first came to Miami from São Paulo in the mid ’80s, but in search of a faster pace, decamped to New York to launch the luxury lifestyle store Language. Miami, however, lured him back: “When I returned in 2004, I absolutely fell in love with two Miamis—what Miami is now and what Miami would become in 10 years. We’re getting very close to that.”

He and Mirescu have built a new PR campaign around the idea of “the new Miami,” which touts, on Portuguese-language websites and publications, developments such as Art Basel Miami Beach and the rest of the burgeoning cultural scene. “We’re demystifying for Brazilians the old Miami from 25 years ago, when they would visit the electronics shops downtown and go to Walt Disney World with their kids,” says Medeiros.

It’s working, especially with a new class of younger, cash-rich buyers. “It’s what I call the ‘beginner buyer.’ It’s somebody who never owned anything outside Brazil,” Medeiros says. “They made money in Brazil and have money in Brazil, and maybe a beach house in Brazil, an important car or a plane. Maybe they owned five gas stations and suddenly they own 170, and they want to buy in Miami.” The SoFi Group makes sure to step in and hold buyers’ hands through the American buying process, which is markedly more complicated than it is in Brazil, where deals are often settled on a handshake.

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