When Jeff Berkowitz attended Miami Law more than forty years ago, there was no Robert Traurig-Greenberg Traurig Real Property Development LL.M. Had there been, Berkowitz might have saved a few years of grief, he says. Instead, he opened a solo practice, taking any business that walked in the door.
Jeff Berkowitz, J.D. '74
More than a few years in, he worked on a joint venture for a 17,776-square foot shopping center in West Kendall and came to the realization that there was money in development, Berkowitz told a roomful of real property development students, developers, and Provost Jeffery Duerk. The Coconut Grove-based Berkowitz retired from lawyering in 1986.
These days, the self-described “recovering lawyer” is embarking on his biggest, grandest, most spectacular project ever: the 1,000-foot vertical amusement park, SkyRise, on the waterfront in downtown Miami.
The J.D. ’74 alumnus cut his teeth on dozens of other unique projects, like the vertical mall, Dadeland Station, and Fifth and Alton, at the gateway to Miami Beach. He learned how to navigate a path through bureaucracy, wheedling civil servants to back his projects.
“Bureaucrats get into trouble saying yes,” he jokes. “I was 6’7” when I started this project seven years ago. Today, I am 5-foot, 8-inches.”
SkyRise has seen Berkowitz, who is on the Advisory Board of Miami Law's Real Property Development Program, sued three times including in the Florida Supreme Court. But his $450 million tourist attraction is scheduled to break ground in the next 18 months.
The park, which will sit on 1.85 acres fronting on Biscayne Bay, will be part observation tower, part thrill rides, including a 12-passenger Sky Drop, that drops 550 feet, reaching speeds of 95 mph, and a 462-foot bungie jump, as well as concert venues, theaters, restaurants, and banquet space with breathtaking views.
SkyRise, designed by Miami’s Arquitectonica, is said by some to resemble a giant hairpin. But to Berkowitz, it looks like a giant money clip, he said.
“Your law degree will be invaluable to your future careers,” Berkowitz told the students. “In terms of being developers, you should be able to do more and do it better than a lot of others.”