If you haven't been to Downtown Miami in the last five years, then you haven't been at all. Miami's "new" urban core has evolved into a mosaic of world-class residential and mixed-use real estate developments intertwined with improved connectivity, mobility, and beautiful outdoor spaces. In this episode, Miami Downtown Development Authority executives Ilona Vega and Neal Schafers join us for an in-depth look at the pipeline of flagship projects and game-changing community enhancement initiatives that are redefining the landscape of Downtown Miami.

Key topics featured in the episode:  

  • Overview of the Miami DDA 

    • District 
    • Mission & History 
    • Master Plan & Vision for the future 
  • Business Development -- Break down of the Miami DDA competitive strategy, including:  
    • Demographics & Population 
    • Existing Industries & Strategy for Finance & Tech 
    • Tourism 
    • PortMiami, Miami Dade College & Network Access Point (NAP) 
  • Connectivity & Mobility -- Highlights of major improvements and current projects including:  
    • Miami International Airport upgrades 
    • Metro 
    • Tri Rail 
    • Virgin Trains & Miami Central 
    • Metro Mover & Trolley 
    • First & Last Mile transit options 
  • Landscape of the Future -- Overview of flagship real estate developments and transformative public works projects that are redefining live-work-play in Downtown Miami:  
    • 1000 Museum 
    • Aston Martin Residences Miami 
    • Miami World Center 
    • Skyrise 
    • One Bayfront Plaza 
    • Waldorf Astoria 
    • 395 Signature Bridge 
    • Flagler Street 
    • Complete Streets 
    • The Underline 
    • Baywalk & Riverwalk 
    • Biscayne Green 

About Ilona Vega Jaramillo:  

Business Development – Miami Downtown Development Authority  

Ilona has been working on the Business Development team at the Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA) since October 2016. She is charged with engaging with companies to ensure that those which are downtown employers remain in downtown and recruit new companies to the agency’s district. Focused on building downtown Miami’s finance and tech sectors, some recent big wins include: iSquared Capital creating 50 new jobs; Softbank’s Latam Fund creating 100 new jobs; and the establishment of the east coast offices of Silicon Valley VC Fund, 500 StartUps, to name a few. Ilona travels extensively and promotes Miami’s downtown to both domestic and international investors.  

Before working at the Miami DDA, Ilona worked for Enterprise Florida, the state’s official economic development organization, for over 11 years. During that time, she worked closely with the state’s extensive global office network to promote the state’s assets worldwide and to support foreign companies with their establishment of Florida offices. Her clients have included: Spain-based BBVA; Chile-based Atton Hotels; Colombia-based Alpina; UK-based SAB Miller; China-based Yingli; to name a few.  

During her tenure at Enterprise Florida, Ilona also worked closely with US Commercial Service Officers, located in US Embassies worldwide to facilitate introductions and information related to Florida’s business environment to potential clients. She also collaborated with the state’s 67 counties to highlight the varying and diverse state attributes to a global audience.   

Ilona also has experience working in the private sector. From 1998-2001 she worked for Lucent Technologies as a Public Affairs Director. Her responsibilities included advocating foreign governments for the adoption of standards-compliant with Lucent products and services as well as keeping the relevant departments within the company abreast of regulatory developments directly affecting the company’s interests in specific foreign markets.  

Ilona lives in downtown Miami and walks to work every day; enabling her to adopt the agency’s motto of ‘live, work and play’ in Miami’s urban core.  

Ilona has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Business from Villanova University and a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University. And, she is fluent in Spanish and proficient in French and Portuguese. 

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About Neal Schafers:  

Manager,  Planning, Urban Design & Transportation – Miami Downtown Development Authority 

In 2015, I joined the Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA), bringing with me 16 years of experience creating liveable communities and destinations through research, design, collaboration, and onsite construction management. As a core member of a small team, I manage the strategic implementation, program development, design, planning, and research of downtown- focused urban planning, land use, transportation, and environmental initiatives. On a daily basis, my goal is to enhance the urban design, open space and mobility of all of downtown Miami.  

Prior to working for the Miami DDA, I spent a number of years in the golf course design & construction, residential design, and landscape architecture fields. In 2007, I joined Edward Stone & Associates (EDSA) in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Amongst planning & landscape architecture firms, EDSA is consistently ranked amongst the best in the world. Over the course of eight years, my project experience ranged from resort & hospitality design to waterfront and urban design. I was fortunate to live and work abroad at both our Abu Dhabi, UAE and Shanghai, China offices; and was the onsite construction manager for 2 years for the Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort in the UAE.  

While in China, waterfront development and sustainable design became a focus and specialization of mine. Dynamic waterfront projects I’ve worked on include: Salt Cay Marina & Resort in Turks & Caicos, Hulhule Lagoon Resort in North Male’ Atoll in the Maldives, Beijiao Yacht Club & Marina, in China, Sahl Hasheesh Resort in Hurghada, Egypt, Hainan Waterfront Exhibition Center, China Mirissa Oceanfront Resort in Sri Lanka, and New Bund Sports Park on the Huang Pu River, China.   

Finally, I hold an undergraduate degree in Communications from the University of Minnesota and attained my Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Florida. While at UF, I was part of a semester-long design and research team for the Tampa Riverwalk, and also studied Historic Parks and Urban Design at the Paris Research Center in Paris, France.  

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About the Miami Real Estate Podcast:

The Miami Real Estate Podcast is brought to you by the Cervera Newsroom and the in-house marketing department at Cervera Real Estate, a Miami-based family owned and operated brokerage founded in 1969.

In the Cervera Newsroom, we complement five decades of experience selling Miami real estate with talent and technology for today’s marketplace.  

From expertise in traditional and digital media to top-tier creative talent and innovative tech resources, Cervera's brand marketing platform is designed to ensure the success of our associates -- and the clients we serve -- in today's fast-paced, competitive marketplace. To explore a real estate career with Cervera, visit CerveraCareers.com. 

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