In this week's Miami New Times, we profile 30 of the most interesting characters in town, with portraits of each from photographer Stian Roenning. See the entire Miami New Times People Issue here.
The bright pink and green "For Sale" signs are everywhere in Wynwood, the Upper Eastside, Little Haiti, Edgewater, and downtown. And the name at the bottom of the sign is always the same: Tony Cho.
As a new real-estate boom hits the Magic City, the 36-year-old has clearly become a go-to real-estate tycoon in Miami's most happening neighborhoods. But getting there has meant weathering a historic recession and navigating a rapidly changing market.
"It's been a challenge," Cho says.
That company is Metro 1 Properties, which began doing commercial real estate and two years ago jumped into residential. A native of Sebastian, Florida, Cho says he always planned to go to law school and eventually become a politician. However, after dropping out of Northwestern University, he discovered his knack for sales and development.
"What I enjoy most is pioneering new neighborhoods and helping shape them," he says. "The creative side of real estate."
Cho has helped usher in a frenzy rarely seen outside Miami Beach. Along with pioneers such as the late Tony Goldman, David Lombardi, and Craig Robins, Cho has helped turn industrial and blue-collar areas into hip epicenters.
However, when the recession hit six years ago, it seemed likely their still-early vision would vanish.
"I didn't know if I would be in business the next month or year," he says.
Did those lean times change his approach?
"It certainly taught me the value of hard work and persistence."
Surviving the crash has put Metro 1 in a position to capitalize on the current boom. However, though his name is still plastered everywhere, Cho is aiming for a legacy beyond selling property. His recently announced Wynwood Gateway Park made headlines for giving the arts district its first proper green space.
"I don't think you can have a great neighborhood without having public green, open space as part of it," he says.
Cho also says he's conscious of the fine line that developers walk between bringing new opportunities to neighborhoods and gentrifying them in ways that hurt longtime residents.
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"There are developers who have a long-term vision for a neighborhood and don't want to irresponsibly gentrify a neighborhood," he says. "But you can't control market forces."
One thing developers can control, though, is ensuring that working-class families and young professionals have a place in Miami's future. Cho says that's high on his priority list.
"Not everyone can afford the luxury homes on Miami Beach," he says.