Asi Cymbal is a trained lawyer, a developer and a licensed general contractor, but after a few years on the development sidelines, he is back in a big way.
Cymbal worked on prominent New York projects like Downtown by Philippe Starck before moving to Miami and developing several office, retail and restaurant projects in and around the Design District through his Cymbal Development.
He made headlines in 2013 when he announced he would be developing a major project with three towers and 856 units in Fort Lauderdale, which would be designed by world-famous architect Bjarke Ingels but require moving a rare, 80-year-old African rain tree. That caused an uproar and protests in the city. Cymbal got the OK from the city to proceed, but market conditions didn’t justify starting construction at the time, and the tree still stands today. Cymbal took a step back to start a family.
Now, after a few years of semi-retirement, as he put it, he has teamed up with DLT Global, which helped develop projects like the Faena House condominiums and Ritz-Carlton Residences in Miami Beach. They are moving to combine firms and have $1B of projects in the development pipeline: the $750M Fort Lauderdale project, now called Raintree Riverwalk Residences and reimagined by a new architect; the $125M Oasis Pointe Residences in Dania Beach; and a $125M project in Miami Gardens.
“I realized that just making money didn't completely fulfill me and what I was looking to do was make a very positive and significant impact and develop and create significant projects — not just as a developer or as an owner, but also as a general contractor,” Cymbal said of life after early success.
He had entertained the idea of setting up a joint venture to develop his Fort Lauderdale project and stay on as a passive partner but felt he would never achieve the quality he sought. He realized he should be the general contractor on the project.
Because plans for the Fort Lauderdale site are so ambitious, he figured it would make sense to lead a smaller project first as a stepping stone. He came across the site in Dania Beach at 150 South Bryan Road: 2.4 waterfront acres on a canal, just steps away from the massive Dania Pointe mixed-use project on 102 acres, which is nearing completion.
Cymbal had the site rezoned from industrial to multifamily, planned an eight-story, 301-unit multifamily building, got it approved and brought together the team to execute it. In September, the project, Oasis Pointe Residences, topped out, three months ahead of schedule.
“Initially, it was challenging to get financed in the middle of a pandemic,” Cymbal said. “We had to convince lenders we were capable of executing an institutional-sized project and also of being the GC on that project. It wasn’t an easy discussion.”
Breaking ground during the coronavirus pandemic turned out to be a key decision — one Cymbal made after doing research on the history of recessions — with lending from 3650 REIT and Plaza Construction managing construction. Because his firm was a first mover, Cymbal said he was able to secure pricing advantages, paying half as much on some materials as if he had ordered them today, which also insulated the project from some supply chain problems now plaguing developers.
Cymbal said that proof of concept has been established, positioning him to move ahead in Fort Lauderdale. There, Cymbal has let go of the Bjarke Ingels design and instead enlisted Jo Palma + Partners Corp.
“We have a heavy emphasis on constructability, and we will GC that project ourselves as well,” Cymbal said. “It was easier to do that with Palma at the front end and working towards constructability from the beginning.”
Raintree Riverwalk Residences is planned as two 30-story towers with 770 units. Cymbal expects to go before the planning and zoning board in December and the city commission in January, then break ground shortly after. The design requires him to move the rain tree, which remains controversial.
Because of a resolution passed years ago declaring it protected, Cymbal needed permission from the city commission to move the tree out of the way of his project, to Southwest Third Avenue and Fifth Street. He got the OK in 2013 but now wants to move the tree to a different spot, along the Riverwalk, where he says the public can better enjoy it. He now needs permission from the current city commission to move it there instead. If this request is denied, he will still move the tree a block away. If the tree dies within five years of moving, Cymbal will pay the city $1M.
Cymbal is also planning a four-story, 341-unit garden-style project, also designed by Palma, in Miami Gardens. The yet-unnamed project is in an opportunity zone. Designs were just submitted to the city, Cymbal said, adding that all of his projects were designed as long-term holds, and he only bothers taking them on if they are home runs for investors.
“We raised a small amount of friends and family money 10 years ago,” Cymbal said. “We created a lot of wealth and were able to take that $2M investment and extend that to over $1B in development without bringing in any new partners.”
However, he hinted that he has few more projects in the works and will soon be looking to expand the pool of friends and family.
CORRECTION, OCT. 19, 3 P.M. ET: A previous version of this story misstated the process by which the protected rain tree will be moved for the Raintree Riverwalk Residences development. The tree will move either to a previously approved site or a newly selected one, pending city commission approval. The story has been updated.