Equipped with the utmost in technology and environmental sustainability, 600 Brickell at Brickell World Plaza is the latest entrant to Miami’s financial district, soaring to 40 stories of glass and steel.
The lobby is lined in eucalyptus wood, the floors decked in marble. And set back from the street, it is skirted by a grand plaza, designed to be to Miami what Rockefeller Plaza is to New York.
Yet, beyond the modern office building’s exterior, its conceptual roots are firmly planted in Midwestern fields of corn, and Southern plantations of timberland.
600 Brickell at Brickell World Plaza, just completed, lies at that crossroads of the past and future — years in the making and designed to next-generation standards, but now mostly unoccupied, its destiny is still unknown.
The building was developed by native Miamian Loretta Cockrum, who grew up spending her summers at her family’s farms in Indiana and Illinois. It was there that she formed a love of the land.
Nearly 40 years ago, after working for the nation’s largest ranch management company, she started her own business, Foram Group, helping families run their farms.
Now, she views Brickell Avenue’s newest commercial real estate tower — the only one in Florida LEED pre-certified platinum, the highest green rating — as the natural progression of that stewardship of land.
“It is the foundation of our sustainable commitment, because if you are managing farmland and timberland and you are not an incredible steward of that property, there is nothing that will deteriorate faster,” said Cockrum, whose company still manages 25,000 acres in South Carolina, Georgia and Colorado, for its clients. “So it applies to the building of a vertical building.
“Therefore, we didn’t wake up one morning and say this sounds like a cool idea, let’s build a LEED building. . . . This building is a culmination of all those years,” she added. “It just happened to get wrapped up in a vertical construction project.’’
Built at a cost of $310 million, including $180 million of equity, 600 Brickell at Brickell World Plaza is owned by a family originally from Malaysia, which has entrusted the preservation of its ample wealth to Foram Group, as its fiduciaries.
In fact, Cockrum created the tower as part of a 100-year strategic plan for the family, geared to be relevant 25 years from now, Cockrum said.
“You have to be building for a future,” she said. “I told them we are not going to be profitable in the beginning, and may not see a profit for 10 years,” she said. “They said do whatever you have to do.”
Cockum, who has represented the family for 35 years, first purchased the Brickell property in 1990. Over the next six years she assembled all the various parcels (in addition to the 85,000 square-foot building), including three outparcels between Brickell Avenue and the Metromover.
“My original plan,” she said, “was to hold it for 10 years and then build a significant building, a flagship for this family portfolio.”
Brickell was coming alive as a vibrant location, not just to work, but as a place to live and a destination to dine out.
“It was that energy and that ignition of life that would allow us to build something like this,” Cockrum said. “Otherwise, it’s just another stagnant office building.”
In 2006, Cockrum began the design and construction process and first applied for LEED silver status, a lower level than the current platinum. The former building on the site was torn down in late 2006, and she broke ground in April 2007.
But hindered by the recession and real estate market downturn, as well as competition from other new Class A buildings, she slowed construction. At the same time, she had her team of architects, engineers and builders take a fresh look at how to make the building stand out.
The end result is an office tower with 614,000 square feet of rentable space that qualified for platinum precertification, with all the latest eco-friendly and high-tech features.
Among them: the building uses “daylight harvesting,” within 15 feet of the perimeter of the building. There, sensors keep the light at levels considered optimum to decrease eye strain, and adjusts if it gets cloudy or as the sun trails, said Tracy L. Story, president of Foram Management and Leasing.
Additionally, the lights turn off completely when someone leaves the room.
The bathrooms are also equipped with automatic sensors to turn on and off the lights. They also have dual flush toilets and waterless urinals, Story said.
Water conservation is another key feature. Rainwater is collected and recirculated back up to cooling towers, with overflow directed to the irrigation system and to fountains on the plaza.
As a result, Story said, the building uses 30 percent less water than the average office building and offers an 18 percent savings on electricity, which add up to lower operating costs for tenants. In addition, the windows are impact-rated at 334 miles per hour, she said.
The building is directly connected to the NAP of the Americas in Miami, one of only eight Tier 4 Data Centers globally. And it has wireless Internet access throughout the building and on the plaza, among other high-tech offerings.
In earning its pre-certified platinum score, the highest level of certification, 600 Brickell achieved 45 out of 61 possible points, said Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council, which develops and administers the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.
Included in its credits, 600 Brickell achieved points in the category of innovation and design for sustainable sites, exemplary performance in energy and atmosphere, and exemplary performance in green housekeeping, Katz said.
Tenants have the option of building out their spaces in accordance with LEED commercial interior requirements, though certain features such as daylight harvesting and recycling are mandatory, Story said. And Foram intends to apply for full platinum certification once a majority of the tenant build-outs are made.
“We believe the building can accommodate any forward-thinking company that can appreciate the benefits of LEED, the technology aspects of the property, the security aspects of the property, and wants the amenities and location this property offers,” she said.
Among the amenities, on the building’s 14th floor, where Foram has its offices, is a rentable conference center with state-of-the-art video conference equipment, as well as a fitness center with more than two dozen Cybex machines
Outside, the grand plaza has lighted railings and fountains, and offers space for entertaining.
“The plaza is designed to integrate the community into the building, to enhance the live-work-play experience that is Brickell,” Story said.
600 Brickell at Brickell World Plaza’s official “coming out party,” scheduled for last weekend, celebrated the opening of the building, with the lighting of hundreds of thousands of colorful lights.
“We selected the first Saturday of December as the annual event because we really see this as something in the future that will be extremely significant for the holidays,” Cockrum said.
Soon, restaurants and possibly other service providers are expected to occupy the street-level retail space. Various bids are under consideration, Story said. Foram is leasing the 15,000 square feet of ground level space, plus the 14th and 15th floors, while Jones Lang LaSalle is now the broker for the rest of the building’s office space.
“We get six to eight calls a day,” Story said of the retail space. “And the key is to get the right mix for the building, so they feed off each other.”
As for the office space, besides Foram and its affiliate companies, so far just two tenants have leased space at 600 Brickell: Credit Agricole, which is leasing the entire 37th floor, and de la Peña Group, a Miami law firm, which is leasing about 3,000 square feet on the 17th floor.
De la Peña Group moved just a week ago, after spending 18 years on Brickell Key. The boutique litigation firm chose the new building for its location, efficiency of space and availability of conference rooms, and technological advantages, said Leoncio de la Peña, founder and managing partner of the de la Peña Group.
“The most important factor is connectivity,” he said. “The practice of law has changed dramatically and the type of law we practice has changed dramatically. We are 100 percent dependent on the Internet, and clearly the best building with the most secure, the most consistent and the fastest Internet is 600 Brickell, period.’’
Glenn H. Gregory, senior vice president for Jones Lang LaSalle , marketing and leasing agents for 600 Brickell at Brickell World Plaza, said the timing of the building, after deferring its entry into the market until now, should work to its advantage. For $42 to $46 a square foot, he said he will be marketing the “Class A tier one plus” office space to all South Florida businesses with leases expiring in the next five years. Other Class A competitive properties are in the $40 to $44 per square foot range, he said.
“The marketing program for 600 Brickell will cater to not only domestic tenants that have the need for the connectivity the building offers and sustainability,” Gregory said, “but we will test the market for the international tenant that might not have chosen Miami and may not be here today.”
In fact, the commercial real estate market in downtown Miami and on Brickell has stabilized, said Jon Blunk, senior director of Cushman & Wakefield, who is based in the firm’s Miami office.
“Rates have hit bottom,” he said, “and hopefully are slowly on their way back.”
Still, it’s a difficult climate in which to convince tenants to move and pay the costs of relocating, and it could be a long haul to lease all the space at 600 Brickell, Blunk said.
“It’s the most expensive building probably built in downtown Miami and Brickell, so it has the most amenities,” he said. “It should command the highest rents — in the low to mid $40s.”
Yet, Cockrum is counting on seeing the space leased.
“By this time next year if we are not significantly rented, and/or committed to rent, I will be disappointed,” she said, “because I will feel that what we have provided and what we’ve done and what we’re offering maybe wasn’t that special. . . . It’s very risky to be this cutting edge.”
Cockrum, 74, is a third-generation Miamiam. Her grandparents came here in 1923, settling in Coral Gables.
After studying dental hygiene at her mother’s request, she worked for six months as a dental hygienist in Atlanta. Later, Cockrum spent five years in the Atlanta office of Oppenheimer Industries, which she said was the largest ranch management company in the United States, with 5 million acres under management.
“I was running an agricultural management company — we managed farms and timberland,” she said. “I bought the crops, I sold the corn, I did the financial statements. I helped families manage family farm operations.”
It was a case of necessity, she said. Her husband had become ill, and she knew she would have to support her children, who were in their early teens at the time.
“I hadn’t worked for 14 years, so I got this job and it was something I was passionate about and it’s something I am still passionate about,” said Cockrum, who continues to run the agricultural arm of her company today.
It was in Atlanta, shortly before she launched Foram as an agricultural management company, that she met the Malaysian family that now owns 600 Brickell. In fact, Foram stands for Farm or Ranch Management.
“I started it in ’78 in Atlanta on my dining room table,” she recalls. “Like most women in the 1970s who were starting a business, it was very unusual.”
In 1986, she moved Foram’s headquarters to Miami.
“It was circling back to my roots, because my grandfather was in the real estate business at the time of George Merrick, in Broward and in Miami-Dade,” she said. “It’s pretty much in my DNA.”
Foram operates as a wealth manager, investing solely in real estate. Today, Foram has 26 employees and represents three families as clients. All are foreign, and each is very private and does not want their identities disclosed, she said. In all, the company manages hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate in Colorado, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, including agricultural land.
“I develop properties, but I’m not a developer. To me that is a dirty word,” Cockrum said. “I am building real estate portfolios for families, but only a part of what I do is develop a property, if it is appropriate for a particular portfolio. . . . What I do is build value in real estate, and if that means I build a building on a property we already own, that is what I do.”
Over the past 15 years, she said Foram has purchased for its portfolios close to 1 million square feet of office buildings in Florida, including Miami.
“I love the city, I feel very attached to it, it’s very much a part of what I want to leave behind better than I found it,” Cockrum said. “And I really think that has a great deal to do with why 600 Brickell is what it is. . . . The plaza — the city really needs something of that significance to make it a special place.”