The Dealmaker

Possibly the most influential person in Miami's ongoing facelift is a Paris-born, Toronto-raised workaholic named Edie Laquer

Wealth and success came at a cost. She has never remarried and never had children. "I did devote lots of beautiful sunny weekends -- many of them -- to working," she laments. "I would be here on a Sunday assuring all my clients were well attended.... Someone hands you a $20 million asset or a $10 million asset or any kind of an asset, that's a tremendous responsibility. There's pressure and there's this need for me to be sure their needs are taken care of impeccably, that there's no mediocrity in my work ethic at all. It's 100 percent all the time." That ethic has allowed her too little attention to her beloved hobbies: painting and playing the piano.

But she insists she has no regrets. "I look back and I don't see it as a waste," she says "I keep saying everything in life is there for a purpose. I couldn't be possibly enjoying myself now as much as I am and appreciating my weekends and short trips here and there, or long ones to Europe if I hadn't gone through the investment in my career that I did."

There's another reason to be happy. After years of being "off men" Laquer says she now has a nice, sweet guy to ride along in her Jaguar. She declines to identify him other than to say he is an executive with Turner Construction, a major South Florida builder.

Laquer's legwork has preceded the building of prominent urban landmarks such as CocoWalk and the Yacht Club condominium tower in Brickell
Steve Satterwhite
Laquer's legwork has preceded the building of prominent urban landmarks such as CocoWalk and the Yacht Club condominium tower in Brickell

The Residences at Ritz-Carlton project, currently under construction in Coconut Grove, represents the culmination of Laquer's twenty-year odyssey in Miami. To pull it off, she had to apply her frenetic drive, powers of persuasion, cunning, and patience. Indeed, for convincing 26 owners on a block at Tigertail Avenue and SW 27th Avenue to sell their properties, she won the Deal of the Year award, which is handed out by the South Florida Business Journal, in 1997. Her client is Neil Fisher, a controversial investor who lives in Palm Beach. Fisher is one of several buyers who paid a total of $18 million.

In 1997 Fisher saw one of Laquer's signs on the property and called her. Initially he had envisioned a high-rise condo. But at a cocktail party Laquer soon learned Ritz-Carlton was looking for sites in the Miami area. "I don't think there is anybody who could have put together the Ritz-Carlton deal like she did," marvels Dougherty, who did the legal work for Fisher. "It's amazing that she could go from one parcel owner to another and make sure that they didn't tell each other, so that they didn't know that the price was going up.... It really takes some strategy about who you go to first, how you do it; and she did it without telling anybody. I didn't even know it. And then all of a sudden it's done."

One of Laquer's long-term contacts paid off when one landowner's reluctance to sell a 20,000 square-foot parcel put the project in jeopardy. The holdout was Gus Harrison, the 73-year-old CEO of the Coconut Grove Bank, which is adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton site. "Edie and I have been on a first-name basis for about twenty years," Harrison says. After Laquer introduced Harrison to Fisher, they agreed to swap the coveted parcel for a 40,000-square-foot tract adjacent to the bank. Dougherty says Laquer's presence was crucial. "[Harrison] is not easy to deal with," Dougherty notes.

Since the Ritz-Carlton deal, Laquer has begun to play the role of developer. She and Fisher became partners in a land-investment company called Grove Properties Group. One of its potential targets has been a one-acre vacant lot kitty-corner to the Ritz-Carlton site in Coconut Grove, which Laquer once estimated could garner eight million dollars as an office site. Fisher stands to gain in other ways from his association with Laquer's respectability. For the last twenty years he has been involved in developments in New York, Virginia, and Maryland that ended in bankruptcies, contractual disputes, and lawsuits alleging fraud.

In the past two years Laquer has brokered numerous other deals that are about to change the landscape in Brickell, downtown, the Omni, and Edgewater areas. Here are a few of them:

•$6.2 million for two and a half acres along the southern bank of the Miami River, a few blocks west of Brickell Avenue, where Terremark Group plans to build a retail and entertainment complex

•$6.2 million for three acres near the Brickell Publix, where an office, retail, and hotel complex called Coral Station is envisioned

•$3.7 million for two acres on the north side of the Miami River next to the Hyatt Hotel for a large retail and office complex.

•Nearly two million dollars for less than an acre of land adjacent to the future Performing Arts Center, which developer Sopher hopes to sell as a hotel and office site

•One million dollars for less than an acre of land at 1751 Biscayne Blvd., where the historic Les Violins nightclub was demolished in 1998 to make way for a future retail development

Although Laquer is the preferred broker for big-time developers, even critics of Miami's penchant to pave over its heritage sometimes praise her. Historian Arva Parks recently attended a meeting at Laquer's office to plan an archaeological survey of the One Miami site. Also present were developer Ned Siegel and former Miami-Dade County archaeologist Bob Carr. According to Parks Laquer led the encounter. "I think there was a real interest in trying to do things right," Parks recalls, "to do a thorough investigation ... and not being put in a position of doing things [incorrectly], like say the Circle site."

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