A Turkish Tower in Downtown Miami

Okan’s $400 million high-rise will add panache (and height) to the Miami skyline

Okan’s $400 million high-rise will add panache (and height) to the Miami skyline

By Joseph A. Mann Jr.

A rare tulip is budding in Downtown Miami. When fully grown by early 2026, Okan Tower – a glass, concrete, and steel structure designed to resemble a tulip – will be a luxury, mixed-use residential, hotel, and commercial complex costing about $400 million and adding a stunning new figure to Downtown Miami’s skyline. The 70-floor skyscraper will be 902-feet tall and the tallest building in Florida, edging out Miami’s Panorama Tower at 868-feet.

The project, which has upper floors designed to look like a tulip’s petals before they open, is being developed by wealthy Turkish industrialist Bekir Okan, chairman of Istanbul-based Okan Holding.

Why a tulip? “When I began meeting with Mr. Okan to discuss the project, we were looking for something unique to connect the tower with Turkey, not just putting a Turkish flag on it,” says Robert Behar, co-founder of Miami-based Behar Font & Partners, P.A. and the architect who developed the tulip concept. Behar, whose grandmother was born in Istanbul, told GLOBAL MIAMI that in researching the design, he came up with the idea of using the tulip, Turkey’s national flower. Instead of a square or rectangular top, Behar designed a curved apex resembling the unopened petals of a tulip.

While most people associate tulips with the Netherlands, the flowers grown in the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) were reportedly introduced in the Netherlands and western Europe in the 16th century. (This led to the famous ‘tulip bubble’ that peaked in 1637, with single bulbs selling for thousands of dollars.)

“This building will have a unique silhouette and a distinct architectural image that will significantly impact architecture in Miami,” Behar says – very different from the rectangular-shaped buildings typically seen today. The curvilinear shape is more expensive than a squared-off top, but “from our initial meetings it was clear that Mr. Okan thinks big and takes great pride in having a beautifully designed building.” Each residence will have 10-foot-plus floor-to-ceiling windows. Okan Tower will also incorporate design elements and spaces reflecting Turkish customs, like a marble hamman (Turkish steam bath) and spas.

“This is a one-of-a-kind project, an iconic building,” said Kasim Badak, CEO of Okan Group USA – and a University of Miami business graduate – who is overseeing the project. Okan himself, who has extensive experience in hospitality and construction overseas, decided Miami would be the ideal place for his first project in the U.S., and wanted to build something that would reflect Turkish culture here, Badak told GLOBAL MIAMI.

The Project

Located at 555 North Miami Ave., three blocks west of Biscayne Boulevard, Okan Tower will have 163 high-end condominiums with separate amenities for owners, a five-star Hilton hotel with 316 rooms, 236 short-term residences managed by Hilton Hotels & Resorts, and 64,000-square-feet of Class A office space. The main lobby and retail space are located on the first floor, and the second to the 11th levels will be for parking. The 12th floor will offer amenities for residents. Floors 14 to 30 will be occupied by the hotel, and office space and meeting rooms will be on floors 31-35. Floors 36 to 50 will be condos and Hilton residences, and Floors 51 to 68 will be condos. The tower will also have a swimming pool at 850 feet, the highest in North America, Behar said.

Aside from being the tallest building in Florida when completed, Okan Tower represents the largest single Turkish investment in the U.S. It will have a major impact on the local economy, generating 400 to 450 new construction jobs, creating demand for tens of millions of dollars in equipment, machinery, and furnishings, and providing work for scores of suppliers and subcontractors. Both Turkish pride and local enthusiasm were on display at the official June 17 groundbreaking, which was attended by City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Former Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yildirim, Turkish Ambassador to the United States Murat Mercan, Turkish Consulate of Miami Feyza Barutcu Altug, former Turkish Consulate of Miami Burc Ceylan, Miami Police Chief Manuel Morales, Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell, and Fortune International CEO, Edgardo Defortuna, whose firm will head up sales and marketing.

Bekir Okan, the project developer and owner, began discussing the Miami project several years ago and the original plan was to start foundation work around 2020. All the preliminaries were done – the group hired lawyers to research the land use, bought the property, hired Behar Font as the architects, developed plans, obtained permits, and reached their franchise agreement with Hilton. “The city and local businesspeople welcomed the project,” says Badak, who was born in Istanbul and has lived and worked in Miami for 43 years. “But when COVID struck, we faced a chaotic situation and encountered a two-year delay. Finally, it was over, and we started working on the test piles [in early August]. So far, we have invested almost $70 million.”

The total cost of the project, now set at $400 million, was originally estimated to be around $300 million in 2018. Okan is financing the entire project himself, says Badak, with no partners in the venture and no bank loans. “Okan is paying for everything out of his own pocket,” Badak told GLOBAL MIAMI. “Nobody knows him here, and when people don’t know you, it’s harder [and more expensive] to get credit. This is the price you have to pay until you’ve established your credit.”

While virtually unknown in the U.S. prior to his investment in the Miami tower, Okan is one of Turkey’s most important businessmen and investors. He visited Miami frequently when his son was studying industrial engineering here, and by the middle of the last decade, the idea of Okan Tower began to take shape. “He grew to love Miami – its people, lifestyle, weather – and decided to build a monumental structure here,” says Badak, who met Okan and his family in 1998 on a Caribbean cruise. “Mr. Okan doesn’t speak English, so I am his eyes and ears and hands here,” the CEO says.

“Mr. Okan was born in Gaziantep, Turkey. He worked as a math teacher, but after six months, decided the job was not for him,” Badak says. “So, he started a small prep school, made some money, and then began working in construction.” Finding his hometown too small, Okan moved to Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, and expanded into other businesses. Now in his early 70s, Okan is chairman of Okan Holding, which he founded in 1972. The group has major investments in construction, banking, tourism, food, textiles, and other sectors in Turkey, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Africa. He has also founded several universities.

Peter Zalewski, a real estate expert and principal of Miami-based Condo Vultures, said that “it’s always a struggle” for a first-time developer coming to Miami. Even though the delay in starting the Okan Tower project was due to COVID, its condos are going on the market when interest rates are high and likely to remain high for some time. Nonetheless, Badak says that condo pre-sales have been very good, with potential buyers – about half from the U.S. and half from overseas – signing up for almost 50 percent of the condo properties. More than $39 million in sales were recorded in the first 30 days after going on the market in March.

The office space will be “a tough sell,” Zalewski says, with some companies still using work-from-home employees. Plus, “there is so much product on the market,” he says. “Miami condo buyers are very savvy in terms of price” and some people are in wait-and-see mode. “My suggestion is to joint-venture with local investors who have a track record.” That may also prove to be a pessimistic outlook, with major corporations now paying more than $150 per square foot to lease up space at the nearby 830 Brickell building, set to open in January.

Fortune is the exclusive marketing and sales agent for the tower, and demand has been strong so far, says CEO Defortuna. “The feedback from buyers worldwide has been phenomenal, and it is a testament to Okan Group, which envisioned a true beacon for Downtown Miami,” he says.

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