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‘Condo king’ of Miami looks back on his days in Las Vegas

MIAMI — Jorge Pérez knows a thing or two about sky-high housing.

Known as the condo king of Miami, the billionaire developer has built tens of thousands of luxury units. His current projects here include a planned Baccarat-branded, 75-story waterfront tower that is slated to feature a glass façade, eight penthouses and, true to its name, Baccarat chandeliers.

He also ventured to Las Vegas during the frenzied mid-2000s to build big. Even though he never built a pair of condo projects near the Strip, he still came out OK, selling the sites before the market crashed — and for a lot more than his company had spent.

Pérez, founder of Related Group, spoke with me Wednesday at the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference at downtown Miami’s Kimpton Epic Hotel. He said that presales for his former Las Vegas condo projects were “incredible” but that construction costs rendered the ventures “unfeasible.”

“I’m not a seller of land; I only sell land when I can’t build on it,” Pérez said. “We would have made a lot more money, believe it or not, in the plans that we had. Again, we were shocked by the construction numbers.”

During the bubble days, Pérez teamed with former developer Centra Properties, actor George Clooney and nightlife mogul Rande Gerber on a $3 billion project just east of the Strip called Las Ramblas.

The developers unveiled their plans in 2005, acquired the site on Harmon Avenue near Koval Lane for around $80 million then sold it for about $200 million in 2006, county records have shown.

Pérez also set out to build Icon, a condo complex with two 48-story towers on Convention Center Drive, off the north Strip.

His group acquired the site in 2004 for $15 million; scrapped the project in 2006, citing, in part, increased construction costs; and sold the property that year for $37 million, according to news reports and county records.

Back then, he said he would ask a plumber, for instance, why their prices were higher than in Miami. They would reply that it was the nature of the market, and if Pérez didn’t sign at the quoted price, the costs would go up the following day.

“Everybody was paying so much for the subcontractors that we just could not make the numbers work,” he recalled.

He eventually came back to Southern Nevada. Related announced in 2018 that it was looking at three sites in the Las Vegas Valley where it planned to develop luxury apartment rental projects.

Ultimately, it never built one.

“We got hit by the same problem that we had before,” Pérez said, adding the construction numbers came in “totally out of whack” and the projects “became unfeasible for us.”

Southern Nevada, a heavily suburban market dominated by single-family housing tracts, was in the throes of high-rise mania during the mid-2000s. Easy money sloshed around for buyers and builders, fueling a construction boom and sending property values soaring.

With so many high-rises on the books, people called it the “Manhattanization” of Las Vegas.

In the end, most of the proposed towers never materialized. The real estate bubble burst, the economy tanked, and in some cases, would-be condo developers left giant holes in the ground — gaping reminders of the frenzy.

Pérez said people “wanted to be close to the excitement of Las Vegas” and that some towers “did well” at first and landed “substantial prices.”

Miami is filled with high-rises, with plenty more on the way, as seen by all the cranes. In Las Vegas, no one has built a condo tower for more than a decade, though Pérez figures that if prices move like they did before, and a project is well-located, Southern Nevada could see more homes in the sky.

“I think you will see high-rise development again,” he said.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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