Photo: Sonya Revell
"Real estate by its inherent nature is risky. You have to make sure you go in slowly, hedge as much as you can," says Calderon. "Once you go in, you go all in."
CEO, Neology Life Development Group, Miami
During a break in the closing for a $57.5-million construction loan for her latest residential tower, Miami’s Lissette Calderon reflects on her past. In what other city, she asks, could a first-generation Cuban- American woman break ground on her first high-rise at age 28?
Calderon, now 48, was closing that loan for a 14-story, 237-unit apartment project called Fourteen Allapattah Residences, her third in the once down-at-the heels neighborhood northwest of downtown. A decade ago, Allapattah was known best for Miami’s largest open-air produce market, apparel factories, auto repair and paint-and-body shops — the largest working industrial area in Miami. Nonetheless, it held attraction for residential developers. It has three Metrorail stations. Miami International is 10 minutes west. Trendy galleries, clubs and eateries, driven from Wynwood just to the east by rising rents, were moving in, signaling that perhaps Allapattah would be Miami’s next cool place. It has a major employment hub — huge Jackson Memorial and other hospitals and treatment centers that comprise Miami’s health district.
“Real estate by its inherent nature is risky,” Calderon says. “You have to make sure you go in slowly, hedge as much as you can. Once you go in, you go all in.” She’s all-in now. Her first Allapattah project, No. 17 Residences Allapattah, opened in 2021. The Julia — as in “Mother of Miami” Julia Tuttle — opens in 2023. Fourteen Allapattah Residences opens in 2024.
The neighborhood isn’t a sure thing. “Allapattah makes sense when everything else is more expensive,” says Peter Zalewski, a Miami real estate market consultant and principal of Condo Vultures. As demand cools post-pandemic, the question is how her units in Allapattah will perform compared to the market east of I-95.
Calderon was educated at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. (A mentor and former Wharton professor heads a firm she’s partnering with on Fourteen Allapattah.) She worked at an investment banking firm before going on her own, breaking ground in 2002 on a 199-unit loft project on the Miami River, which at the time was working waterfront. She followed it on the river with a 443-unit condo building and a 489-unit apartment tower. A share of units at one of them wound up back with the lender as deeded in lieu of foreclosure in the 2008 recession. Calderon says failure due to economic circumstances is nothing of which to be ashamed. She says the key to obtaining financing is the reputation you’ve built by navigating challenges before.
In Allapattah, her No. 17 Residences Allapattah was under way when the pandemic hit with its shutdowns, threat of recession and eviction moratoriums. “There are sleepless nights,” Calderon says. “That’s just part of being an entrepreneur. With great risk comes great reward.” Thinking back to her days at Coral Gables High School, where she was both senior class president and prom queen, she says: “I probably do my best when under extreme pressure.”
She’s now up to 1,500 condos that have been built and sold. Neology’s portfolio consists of another 1,500 rental apartments either built, entitled or under construction in Miami’s urban core.
Ahead, she says, she’s “quietly working” — she won’t say where — on diversifying by asset class and geography into greater Miami-Dade and the state. “I am a firm believer in Florida,” she says.