Friday, October 21, 2016

Bright Idea: Miami Airport Exec Steals $5M in Light Bulb Scam

Miami International Airport put Ivan Valdes in charge of buying light bulbs, and that’s when prosecutors say the veteran manager had a bright idea: conspire with suppliers to skim about $5 million from the purchases.

Authorities detailed a five-year scam that saw Valdes steer nearly $9 million worth of high-tech bulb sales to a procurement loop populated by a vendor and distributor in on the scheme. Four men involved in the conspiracy kept $5 million from the sales.

Ivan Valdes, who rose from cutting grass to managing a large maintenance division at Miami International Airport, pleaded guilty on Wednesday in federal court to running a racket that stole millions from a light-bulb procurement program.

Arrested last month, Valdes was charged with steering nearly $9 million worth of high-tech bulb sales to a Miami-Dade Aviation Department vendor and a distributor in cahoots with him.

Valdes and a retired airport executive pocketed $2.2 million from the inflated sales, prosecutors said in a factual statement filed with the defendant’s plea agreement.

Valdes, 46, faces up to seven years in federal prison on the theft conviction at his sentencing in early January, according to his defense attorney, Sam Rabin. He said the defendant's related bribery offense in state circuit court would ultimately be incorporated into the same punishment.

“Mr. Valdes is sincerely remorseful for his conduct in this matter, and for that reason he chose to admit his guilt and accept the consequences of his actions,” Rabin said after his client’s plea hearing.

Valdes regularly collected grocery bags full of kickback money in an airport parking lot, according to charging documents. And while he earned $98,000 at his county job, he owned a Porsche, rented sky boxes for concerts and wore hand-tailored Sartori Amici suits.

MIA, a county-owned airport with a budget of $1 billion, promoted Valdes in 2015 to director of terminal maintenance with 100 employees in what federal prosecutor Jeffrey Kaplan said would also be the final year of a scam that began in 2010.

Valdes was apparently able to thwart the county’s inspector general at MIA by conspiring with both a light-bulb seller and a supplier who manipulated wholesale prices to keep other vendors out of the procurement process.

Valdes oversaw 20 bulk bulb purchases over five years, and prosecutors said each contract went to a Miami company that was part of the scheme: Global Electrical & Lighting Supplies, owned by Rolando Perez.

Global Electric bought its bulbs from Municipal Lighting Systems, a local distributor for General Electric. Municipal Lighting's Roy J. Bustillo was also charged in the scheme. Prosecutors said he gave inflated quotes to Global Electric competitors in order to keep honest vendors from winning the MIA contracts that Valdes supervised.

In all, MIA purchased about 9,000 LED bulbs through Global Electric, lights used to illuminate the pick-up and drop-off areas outside the terminals and parking garages.
The airport paid $8.8 million for LED lights. They were worth only about $3.5 million, so Valdes and the other co-conspirators defrauded the county’s aviation department of almost $5.2 million, according to the factual statement filed with his plea agreement.

Federal prosecutors filed conspiracy charges against Valdes, Bustillo, 37, and Perez, 57, along with a fourth co-conspirator, Jose Barroso, 51. He was a former MIA executive alleged to have helped Valdes arrange the scheme in 2010, three years after retiring from the county.

Charging documents filed in state circuit court describe Valdes summoning Barroso back to the airport that year for a meeting about MIA's interest in replacing thousands of bulbs. Barroso said Valdes brought up a new lighting contract, and asked: “What's in it for me?”

Barroso served as the middle man in the transactions, according to prosecutors, delivering as much as $50,000 cash in grocery bags to Valdes, who would take a break from work to meet him in an airport parking lot.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Massive $2B Miami Worldcenter Project to Get Underway

More than a decade after proposing the massive, mixed-use project known as Miami Worldcenter, developers will soon begin laying the foundation for a 60-story luxury condo tower in downtown's derelict Park West district.

Miami Worldcenter is a $2 billion mega-project that will soon get underway in Florida’s largest city.

The massive 30-acre development will sit within walking distance of over $3 billion in new public and private projects in mass transit, cultural institutions, recreational parks, and entertainment venues.

Next Saturday, one hundred cement trucks and more than 700 construction workers will start pouring an estimated 52 million pounds of concrete for the $400 million high-rise, called Paramount Miami Worldcenter, in a marathon 30-hour foundation pour starting at 1 a.m.

General contractor Coastal-Tishman, a joint-venture between Coastal Construction and Tishman Construction, will oversee roughly 700 workers as they spread 13,000 cubic yards of concrete.

Developer Daniel Kodsi called the milestone "a very proud moment in the evolution of the city as our tower and neighborhood fulfill its potential to become a gleaming global landmark for the city of Miami."

Once Paramount’s foundation is completed, vertical construction on the 60-story, 700-foot building can begin. The tower will be built alongside the larger Miami Worldcenter project’s 450,000 square feet of retail.

Paramount, and Miami Worldcenter as a whole, is being developed by Dan Kodsi, Nitin Motwani and Art Falcone. The project will house 513 units ranging in size from 1,180 square feet to 2,350 square feet, with prices averaging $700 per foot. So far, 50 percent of those units have been sold.

Condo owners who want to gaze at the stars will have an unusual amenity at Paramount Miami Worldcenter: a rooftop observatory. The 60-story tower will convert open space on the top floor of its SkyDeck to a glass-enclosed room with a telescope.

The 1,200-square-foot observatory will have 12-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views and a skylight for star gazing.

The observatory’s telescope will be connected to a digital screen, so everyone in the room can see the sky. A glass elevator from the 56th floor lounge will lead up to the space.

The Paramount Miami Worldcenter will feature a plethora of luxury amenities, including:
•  Private elevators
•  Outdoor living rooms
•  High-tech fitness center
•  Boxing studio and aerobics space
•  Spa and salon
•  Outdoor tropical bath gardens
•  Kid’s video game room
•  Recreational lounge with
•  Billiards room
•  Resort-style swimming pool s
•  Sports complex
•  Tennis courts, soccer field and running course
•  Picnic space with barbecue areas
•  Skyview Lounge
•  Infinity spa
•  Calming yoga deck
•  Spectacular city and water views

The developers hope to finish the Paramount by 2018. And while the condominium component begins to take shape, construction will also begin on the first phase of Miami Worldcenter’s expansive retail component.

Worldcenter’s design was scaled back considerably in February as the developers sought to hedge themselves against a retail market that increasingly favors high street and online shopping.

The project shaved off roughly 300,000 square feet of shopping space, leaving the fate of Worldcenter’s planned anchors — Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s — uncertain.

Kodsi is one of several partners behind the long-planned project, which was delayed first by the Great Recession and then by debates over public subsidies. Also slated for the 27-acre site are an open-air shopping center, rental towers and a hotel.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

$300M Mixed-Use Project Planned for Atlanta's Southside

A $300 million mixed-use project is planned along Interstate 75 in Henry County, a potential boon for an area south of Atlanta’s airport that’s been mostly overlooked by developers.

While plenty of mixed-use developments have cropped up north of Atlanta in the last few years, the south side of the Perimeter has yet to see significant investment.

But RCP Companies is aiming to change that. The firm recently announced their intentions to build a massive mixed-use project in McDonough.

The 160-acre development called Jodeco/Atlanta South is slated to bring $300 million of investment to Henry County.

The project would rise on what today is vacant land at I-75 and Jodeco, Chambers and Mt. Olive roads. It would include more than 500,000 square feet of retail, 600 residential units, two hotels and a 30-acre park.

Philadelphia, Pa.-based Lubert-Adler Real Estate Funds is providing financing for the project. It could become the single largest investment ever for the city of Stockbridge. It would also show the willingness of capital partners to bet on the growth of suburban commercial nodes south of Interstate 20. “There’s been nothing of this size,” said Dale Hall, administration and community services director for Stockbridge.

Hall added the project could become a major destination for south Atlanta and a catalyst for growth. “We are really excited about the potential,” he said.

The project is inspired by other dense communities that have sprung up across the country and in metro Atlanta, such as Alpharetta’s Avalon.

Those projects, to combat rising e-commerce sales, have created experience-rich shopping and dining destinations in affluent areas such as in-town Atlanta and north Fulton County.

RCP is making a bet on Henry County, which doesn’t have the same concentration of high paying jobs. Unlike Avalon developer North American Properties, the company is targeting more value-oriented retailers that reflect demand in Henry County.

Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Urban Design Associates is the master planner. The project’s first phase could break ground in early fall, with an opening set for later in 2017.

Developers hope to attract an organic grocer and a large sporting goods chain. The project would also feature a 22,000-square-foot food hall.

“We would be the only one in south Atlanta to offer that kind of product,” said Max Grelier, chief development officer for RCP Companies. “We are doing this at a scale to meet demand in the market. We feel like this is an emerging market.”

A market study from Robert Charles Lesser & Co. that said Henry County can support up to an additional 750,000 square feet of retail over the next five years. Within a five-mile radius of the project, annual retail expenditures are estimated at $755 million, or 46 percent of total household expenses.

Stockbridge is looking at a public-private partnership to help fund an outdoor amphitheater at the project, but said it was too early to discuss details. Developers are also seeking approval of the project for annexation into Stockbridge. A meeting is set for March.

Existing wetlands on the site would become an amenity for visitors with a bike path, boardwalk bridge and trails. The project would also have a direct connection to Henry Town Center, a massive retail project with big-box tenants.

Some local retail experts see the project as an exciting investment for Henry County. The area has a tremendous population density that is highly attractive to expanding retailers.

The project will draw from a large trade area that is currently drastically underserved by cutting-edge, mixed-use projects offering significant unique dining, entertainment and recreational amenities.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

42-Story Luxury Hotel/Condo Tower Planned In Midtown

Developer Trillist and Los Angeles-based lifestyle hospitality company SBE are preparing to build SLS Atlanta Hotel & Residences, a new 42-story structure that would stand at 1122 Crescent Avenue in Midtown.

The development would consist of 213 hotel rooms and 56 condominiums (not apartments, as has been the case with most recent Midtown residential construction).

Condo units would range between 1,600 square feet and 4,000 square feet, and contain a mix of two-, three- and four-bedroom units.

SLS Atlanta marks the 14th property in the growing line-up of SLS Hotel & Residences, and by 2019, the brand is expected to boast over 3,900 hotel rooms and 1,600 residences worldwide.

The first launch of this new concept will be SLS Brickell Hotel & Residences set to debut in June 2016 in Miami, followed by projects in The Bahamas, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Argentina.

“This project will be the achievement of a shared vision to create a personal and intimate experience that incorporates leading edge design with outstanding services that reflect the best of the cultural life of Atlanta,” added Scott Leventhal, co-founder, president & CEO of Thrillist.

“Midtown Atlanta is already home to arts, culture, commerce and superior infrastructure to any other region in the metropolitan Atlanta area, and the addition of this premier mixed-use development will further shine the spotlight on Midtown as an internationally recognized destination.

SLS Atlanta is located in the center of the arts and cultural district of Atlanta, which includes the Woodruff Arts Center and High Museum of Art, the proposed new home of the Atlanta Symphony. The property is also one block from Midtown Mile, an approximately one mile stretch of Peachtree Street.

SLS Atlanta Hotel & Residences will break ground in early 2017 with completion anticipated by early 2019.