An Innovative Developer and a Heck of a Good Guy
By Alice Fisher
Developer Jeffrey Berkowitz has made a difference in how people view retail space, as well in the lives of thousands of needy residents in Miami-Dade County through his many philanthropic endeavors. The Boston native moved to Miami to attend law school at the University of Miami because he was sick of the snow. (Sounds familiar!) A practicing real estate attorney for more than 10 years, Jeffrey decided to give it up and become a full-time developer. His specialty: Gateway Niche Projects.
A prime example is Dadeland Station Shopping Center, the first vertical power center in the country and copied throughout the United States. This came about because there was a great demand from retail tenants who wanted to rent space where there wasn’t enough land. “It was logical to go vertical,” says Berkowitz, who is known for always thinking outside the box. “The challenge,” he continues, “was to make retailers believe in the concept.” Of course they did, and he went on to build other one-of-a-kind similar structures. Fifth & Alton, the gateway to South Beach, is another example of a successful vertical power station.
In his 40-year career as a developer, Jeffrey has developed 1,400,000 square feet of retail and office space. Quite impressive.
Now he’s on to something new. Something mind-boggling. A project that the Mayor of Miami, Carlos Gimenez, called Miami’s “Eiffel Tower.” Sky Rise Miami is a game changer. Breaking ground in the fall, a never-before-seen “vertical amusement park” will be built on the parking lot next to the Hard Rock Café at Bayside.
It will offer spectacular views of the city and bay with a 40-mile radius; glass orbs that hold 15 people will go up and down the building continuously; 5 observation decks; a Sky Plunge – sort of like a bungee-style drop; Sky Drop, a 12 seat ride that sends passengers plunging 65 stories; a Flying Theater with movable seats; gourmet restaurants, bars, a 600-seat ballroom and more. It will be the 5th largest tourist attraction in Miami and attract more than 3 million visitors a year.
How did Jeffrey conceive this innovative idea? “It’s due to a high degree of brain damage,” he quips. “When I started this project,” he says, “I was 6’7. Now I’m 5’8.”
Even with his busy schedule Jeffrey gives much of his time to philanthropic causes, too numerous to list. Suffice it to say he has done amazing things for the community — especially children — and has been honored time and time again for his generosity. “Nothing gives me as much pleasure as giving back,” he says.
Most recently he was the honoree at the Miami Children’s Museum’s “Be a Kid Again Gala,” which took place at Soho Studios in Wynwood. Through the years Jeffrey, who is chairman of the board of the Museum, has played a pivotal role in the building of this institution. He was responsible for securing the first million-dollar donation, which helped the 56,000 square foot Museum, become debt free. He was honored for his many years of great leadership and service to the Miami Children’s Museum.
Jeffrey started the Museum for his two sons to enjoy and now has the pleasure of seeing his four grandchildren enjoy the activities offered at the Museum. An icon in our community, who calls himself “a kid at heart,” says his philosophy is that it’s never to late to have a happy childhood.” Jeffrey is a devoted family man. He adores his lovely wife Yolanda, his two sons who work with him in the business, their wives, Jolie and Felicia, and his four grandchildren, Dylan Jagger, Kaia and Alora.
Yolanda also is very philanthropic. For years she was Chairwoman for Voices for Children, and she is an avid animals rights activist. The Berkowitz household has three dogs, including a rescue they are fostering, numerous outdoor cats, two birds, koi and other marine tropical fish and turtles. Yolanda recently founded the Friends of Miami Animals Foundation, and is working with Miami Dade Animal Services on ways to improve the lives of homeless pets.
How did this power couple meet? “I was attracted to Yolanda because she is gorgeous,” says Jeffrey. (C’mon — he’s a guy!) However, once he got to know her, he realized that she was just as beautiful inside as outside, and that sealed the deal. They have been married for 20 years.
Any time for hobbies? “I love sailing,” says Jeffrey. He has had sailboats for more than 30 years and goes fly-fishing all over the world. His biggest fish: An 800 pound black marlin caught in Australia.
In Jeffrey’s lifetime of major achievements and honors does anything stand out? “I appreciate how blessed I am,” he says, “I have a successful business, a wonderful family. All in all, I am a very lucky guy.”
And Miami is lucky to have him reside in our community!