Mr. Codina Builds His Dream House 

A New Downtown Residence Will Have “Homes in the Sky”

In the 1948 comedy movie “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” Cary Grant stars as a hapless New York advertising executive who decides to build the home of his dreams in Connecticut. The box office hit lampooned one challenge after the next, ending happily with Grant and his family enjoying their new residence.

The idea of building your dream home is taking a new turn in downtown Coral Gables, with more than one reversal from that timeless plot. The man behind it, Armando Codina, is one of the most accomplished developers in the nation, not likely to make comedic mistakes. He is also relocating from a more spacious, outdoor setting – his home in Gables Estates – to the urban core of downtown Coral Gables. 

“There is no way to talk about this building without talking about me, and I don’t like to talk about me,” says the notoriously press-shy Codina. “But this building is educated by how I want to live.”

Codina says it’s not a matter of downsizing, but rather “right sizing.” After living for 40 years on the same street, where he raised four daughters, Codina says “you come to a point in life when you ask, ‘Where am I going to be in two years from now, where am I going to be in 10 years, and what am I going to need?’”

Mr. Codina Builds His Dream House 
Armando Codina looking at plans for his “Dream Home”

The answer is what Codina calls a “transformational” building. That concept, of transforming an area through new construction, is well practiced by his various firms, which developed Deering Bay (condo towers in a wet, tropical setting), the Beacon Industrial Park (high-end warehousing by the airport), and downtown Doral (creating a town center in the middle of nowhere). Now he aims to create a stone-clad, neoclassical apartment building in the middle of downtown, where all the units “have the DNA of a residence.” 

What that means are large, family-style units with plenty of room for kids and/or guests, with a huge seventh floor “amenity deck” that includes an 80-foot lap pool (in addition to a large, standard pool), indoor and outdoor kitchen facilities, a fitness center with sauna and steam room, and a secluded “yoga yard.”

Sitting atop 13 residential stories varying between 1,700 and 3,500 square feet will be a stack of five “sky homes” of 10,000 square feet each. These are where Codina (in the penthouse) and four presumably like-minded friends will enjoy views that stretch all the way to Key Largo. “I call the five sky homes the cloud,” says Codina, and each will have a his and her bathrooms (Codina’s secret formula for a happy marriage). For all of the units there will be access to a ground floor sound-proofed zoom room, a library, a theater with 20 seats, and a medical room where your physician can take your vitals via telemedicine.

Dream House 
Architect’s Impression of the Regency Tower on Salzedo Street in the Middle of Downtown

The location of Regency Tower, as Codina dubs it, is a tale in itself. The process began more than five years ago when Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark was still city manager. The city wanted to construct its new Public Safety Building on Salzedo between Alcazar and Minorca. Codina owned a parking lot that occupied half the proposed location.

“Cathy Swanson, when she was city manager, called and said, ‘We want to buy your lot,’” says Codina. “The city had done a study about where the Public Safety Building should be, and they wanted it north of Coral Way. I said it was not for sale, but she insisted and sent us an offer.” In the end, rather than fight with the city, Codina agreed to swap the lot for the existing police and fire headquarter building further south on Salzedo.

At that point, Codina intended to tear down the existing “brutalist” style building that housed police and fire, much to the dismay of local historic preservationists. But that conflict was avoided by another swap – this one with Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables. Codina exchanged the police HQ for the dealership’s parking lot on Salzedo at Almeria, where they had wanted to build a garage; the police building had more than 400 parking spaces, just what Mercedes-Benz wanted, and their empty parking lot gave Codina a clean slate to create Regency Tower. “All of a sudden 400 cars found a home, and we had a site where we could build an over-the-top building,” he says.

“We went through a lot of steps to get into the central business district in a lot that had no [residential] neighbors [and] the swap took longer than I wanted. I am getting to a stage in life where I don’t even buy green bananas when I go to a supermarket,” quips Codina. Nonetheless, the developer went through the process with the patience of someone familiar with the drill. After all, Codina has built a sizeable portion of downtown’s mid-rises, including the Bacardi building, the Merrill Lynch building, the Gables Grand, and the mixed use 2020 Salzedo building that houses Codina Partners’ offices and Bachour restaurant.

The amenity deck at the regency tower, featuring fitness center, two pools, private cabanas and outside catering facility.
Schematic of the swap that took place between Codina, the City and Mercedes-Benz.

In the case of Regency Tower, Codina Partners did not move forward until the project received unanimous approval from the city’s Development Review Committee, Board of Architects, Historic Preservation Board, and Planning & Zoning Department. The final unanimous approval came from the City Commission, which granted a 14-foot height increase (permitting 18 stories) in exchange for a 10,000 square foot park that Codina is giving the city (on the corner of Almeria and Salzedo), and less density (120 units instead of 320). “This is the kind of building we need to bring residents downtown,” Mayor Vince Lago said at the time. “The fact that it is creating green space is hugely important.”

Ground-breaking is now scheduled to take place before the end of 2022, with completion expected in 2024. Codina says he can’t wait to move in. “I wanted a transformational building,” he says, “and I have designed this inch by inch” – right down to the details of creating a special room for Amazon packages so they don’t stack up in the mailroom or lobby, installing a gourmet bistro, a theater, a library, and a telemedicine room on the ground floor, and even carving out room for a dog spa.   

“What does right-sizing mean to me?” he asks. “I want only the rooms that I treasure, the rooms that I use, the rooms where I have people come to the house and sit in, and get rid of the stuff I don’t need,” he says. “The other part is improving the quality of life. I want to walk to work, or to Abracci, Zucca, or MesaMar. And to be close to the airport. And medical rescue [the Public Safety Building] is right there on Salzedo, just three minutes away.”