News

How schools, trains and concerts are building up Miami’s neighborhoods

By Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald

On Thursday, school’s out for summer at the Downtown Doral Charter Elementary, and its report card is packed with A’s. In only its second year of operation, the school is already topping county-wide honor rolls — and helping to fuel Doral’s thriving real estate market.

In the post-recession building boom, developers promoted sweeping waterfront views and luxury bonuses like car elevators, bowling alleys, plunge pools and private chefs to wealthy buyers. But in recent months, while sales in the luxury condo market have stalled amid a slowdown in Latin America, developers are starting to reap the benefits from master plans that incorporate long-term, community-building amenities.

The Downtown Doral Charter Elementary School is one gamble that has paid off. The Florida Department of Education ranked the school tops among Miami-Dade elementaries for total achievement in English and math in 2015-2016. In November, principal Jeanette Acevedo-Isenberg won the Council for Educational Change’s annual Leonard Miller Principal Leadership Award — the first time a charter school won the honor.

The school is also proving to be a formidable draw for homebuyers. While any child who lives in Miami can apply to attend, residents of the new Downtown Doral development are given preference. According to a report by Gridics.com, Doral had 167 sale closings in the first quarter of 2017 — the fifth-highest of any neighborhood in Miami-Dade County.

Codina Partners CEO Ana Codina Barlick, who has overseen the metamorphosis of Downtown Doral from drab offices into a thriving work/live/play community, said an elementary school offering top-notch education was always a critical part of the master plan. A high school is scheduled to break ground in 2018.

“Our business is real estate, not education,” Codina said. “We don’t make a penny off the school. We just wanted it to be great, because the better it is, the more people would want to live in this community.”

In addition to that massive, 120-acre development, which cost more than $1 billion, Codina Partners also gave Doral a new city hall and the three-acre Downtown Doral park. But the elementary school takes developer-led community facilities to a new level.

The Downtown Doral Charter Elementary School is the first charter school built in a public-private partnership between the Miami-Dade School Board and a developer. Codina Partners donated the $3.5 million plot of land where the school sits. The school is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation with its own board. That board leased the land back from the county school board and issued $20 million in bonds to construct the building.

The nonprofit board pays the Miami-Dade School Board a fee to manage the Doral operation. But the nonprofit board hires the principal and sets the direction of the school. Reflecting Doral’s high percentage of Hispanic residents, 60 percent of all classes are taught in English; the other 40 percent are in either Spanish or Portuguese. Teachers at the school work under one-year contracts.

“It wasn’t just about providing a school,” Codina said. “That’s really easy. You can call a charter school company and they will put a school here and you don’t have to think about it. We wanted to go beyond that.”

The investment is working. An analysis of U.S. census data by Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center reveals Doral is the fastest-growing big city in Florida and the 11th fastest in the U.S., with 58,000 residents in 2016 — a 26.1 percent increase since 2016. The median price of homes currently listed in Doral is $398,000; the median rent is $2,300. The median income of Doral households was $72,933 in 2015 — almost 60 percent higher than the Miami-Dade County median of $43,129.

“One of the big things that drives property values up is having good education nearby,” Codina said. “We wanted to sell something more than walls, a roof, a floor and some nice appliances. We offer a much bigger value to people by telling them if you move here, you have a school for your kids through high school.”