February 1, 2023

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Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin is building a multi-billion-dollar corporate and private empire in South Florida — and it's having commercial, political and philanthropic implications in the region and beyond.

Mike Vogel | 1/9/2023

Crime continued to concern Griffin after employees were mugged going to Citadel’s office and a colleague was stabbed. “We were making real progress,” Griffin told his Miami audience, in improving police dispatching and training them to handle tense moments. But then Pritzker in 2022 signed the state Safe-T Act eliminating cash bail and making other controversial changes. Now, Griffin says, Chicago is “engulfed in anarchy. It’s terrifying.”

In Florida, Griffin says, he found a “pro get-it-done mindset” that showed its worth in March 2020. As pandemic lockdowns increased nationally, Griffin booked the Four Seasons Palm Beach to keep Citadel’s trading going. The town treated it as private residence — since Griffin booked the whole hotel — where people could live and work in the trading bubble without running afoul of state and local lockdown rules. The rapid government approval and contractor installations allowed “several thousand servers” in the Four Seasons ballroom to create “a trading floor big enough to run the entire U.S. equities market in five days.” Griffin added, “It would take months to do this in a Northern city.”

Suarez, apprised that Griffin was interested in moving his firms to Florida, journeyed to Chicago for a meet-and-greet. Within 10 minutes of meeting, Suarez had Google Maps open and was showing him sites where he could put Citadel, Griffin recounted. In June, Griffin announced Citadel and Citadel Securities would move to Miami, bringing potentially 1,500 jobs.

Suarez told the audience at the Economic Club event in Miami that Griffin’s move proved “you didn’t have to be necessarily in Chicago or New York to be successful.” Responding Griffin added, “I’m going to flip it around. I’m going to actually say the people of the state of Florida proved you can not only run a world-class trading operation here in South Florida, but you could build it in five days.”

In Florida, where he’s been a generous backer of Gov. Ron DeSantis — donating $6 million to the governor — the draw for Citadel, Griffin says, wasn’t low taxes but the quality of services for taxes paid.

“People want to know that when they pay taxes to the government — whether that’s income tax or property tax or others — that they’re getting value for the money they paid. Florida ranks remarkably high in that. I think that’s a much more powerful draw than just low taxes,” Griffin told the Miami audience, “because when you’ve got great schools, you’ve got a great environment, your streets are safe and clean, you’ve got a place where people want to live and call home.”

The Citadel effect

Griffin’s relocation, given Citadel’s size and his prominence, has implications commercially, politically and philanthropically.

Commercially, Citadel and the other financial newcomers already have shifted the Miami downtown office market dynamic. Historically, downtown was a musical-chairs game of tenants moving within the market — nominal growth, no large headquarters and what big national names did come took small square footage, often for Latin America-focused offices. Now, market demand has spiked from the new firms and the service providers that followed, such as law firms Kirkland & Ellis — the world’s largest — Sidley Austin, Winston & Strawn and Quinn Emanuel, which hired Mayor Suarez.

Early beneficiaries of the influx are Miami developers OKO Group and Cain International and their 830 Brickell office tower, a new 640,000-sq.-ft. building. Citadel took six of the building’s 55 floors. Andrew Trench, executive director at real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, who represents the building, says that in 2019 he projected the building would be half leased at completion at $65 to $70 per square foot. Instead, it will be fully leased at more than $100 per square foot. “They happened to be positioned perfectly for the migration coming down,” Trench says. Rents have jumped at other buildings, too. “It’s been a great story for Miami. It felt like before we were trying to speak it into existence. It’s really happening. It has not slowed down,” Trench says. “I’ve never signed more NDAs in my life than in the last two years.”

Griffin himself, meanwhile, plans a billion-dollar office tower to be built by Chicago-based Sterling Bay on a waterfront Brickell site he purchased for $363 million. The tower will include a marina and a helipad, and Griffin says he will personally pitch major U.S. companies like Apple as potential tenants for the tower, which could take at least five years to build.

Politically, Griffin gave $60 million to Republican candidates in the recent election cycle, ranking him as the nation’s third-largest private donor, according to Politico. “It’s not the place that I want to be,” he told the Miami audience about being involved in politics. “It represents the reality that I’ve seen in 20 some years of charitable giving undermined by incredibly poor policies. When you watch that play out, it is like soul crushing.”

Meanwhile, Florida charities and advocates look forward to his largesse, and he’s already providing substantial support to a range of initiatives. “Ken’s action-oriented approach to philanthropy, commitment to improving education and strengthening communities is very much aligned with our mission at United Way Miami,” says United Way Miami President and CEO Symeria Hudson, whose 2022 Mayor’s Ball was sponsored by Citadel.

In Florida, Griffin gave $20 million for the acclaimed renovation and expansion of the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach in 2018. A year later, he gave $5 million for Miami Connected, an effort to bring no-cost broadband, digital skills training and tech job opportunities to the one-in-five Miami-Dade families not connected. In 2021, he gave $5 million to the Underline linear park project in Miami. Education, he says, is a core cause. “I truly believe that education is the on-ramp to the American dream, and, unfortunately, in too many parts of our country, there’s too many potholes in the on-ramp today,” he says.

The presence of Griffin and other multi-billionaires bodes well for charities here but also is an endorsement of the area’s arts, culture and business sophistication. “We love the evangelizing Ken Griffin is doing,” says Greenberg Traurig law firm shareholder Jaret Davis. “I think you’re seeing a great megalopolis come to life in America. I think in five years you’re going to be amazed by what this megalopolis produces.”

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