Meet Cedrik Denain, the new CEO of Fisher Island Holdings Development
By Michael Calderone
Photography by Reynaldo Alés
Not only are materials coming from across the pond, but also buyers attracted to the European flair that Denain brings to the project.
Ever since William K. Vanderbilt swapped his 250-foot yacht for a private oasis in Biscayne Bay, Fisher Island has been a prime destination for the rich and famous. Just a seven-minute private ferry ride from Miami Beach, the 216-acre island has attracted high-powered executives, premier entertainers, and world-class athletes. Now, Cedrik Denain, the new C.E.O. of Fisher Island Holdings Development team, insists that he has what it takes to not only improve the cachet of this unique enclave, but also to make it the best in the world.
Cedrik Denain’s story begins in Monte Carlo, the storied playground for anyone seeking truly opulent living, situated amidst exquisite natural surroundings. Growing up in there, Denain quickly became acquainted with the whims and desires of the most affluent class. But in his mid 20s, Denain left the scenic locale behind to forge his own path in America. Hailing from a family of developers, he was eager to get things started abroad, but encountered a big stumbling block: a real estate market downturn. “I went to New York to look for opportunities,” said Denain, of his earliest days in the United States. “That was in 1989-91. It was a pretty hard market at the time there.”
Instead of fleeing back to Europe, Denain charted another course. He traveled south to Miami, which at the time, “was beginning to take shape as a major metropolis.” Shortly thereafter, the young developer got involved with several projects in the burgeoning Florida market, and, later on, became co-owner of two businesses: a construction company and a high-end interior design firm.
However, it was in the summer of 2004 that Denain’s life would drastically change, when a close friend from Europe arrived on Fisher Island in search of a pied-a-terre apartment. One day, while the two were touring the island’s sales office, they devised a bolder idea. Instead of buying a single unit, why not purchase the ownership interests of the entire island, which has included bold face residents like Oprah Winfrey, Boris Becker, Mel Brooks and real estate mogul Howard Lorber.
“Fisher Island should be a step higher than everything around,” said Denain, recalling the day they decided to go for it. “He was asking me if I thought the island management would sell. I said, ‘Anything is possible.’ So we started the whole process.” These days, the ownership interests of Fisher Island are not going to be traded over for a sprawling ship. Nevertheless, the savvy business partners saw great possibilities for the future, and decided to make a deal. “When we closed in late 2004,” remembered Denain, “we started this master plan of developing the island.”
Of course, Fisher Island already had a lot going for it, with a hotel and resort that attracts tourists seeking an idyllic retreat and is just a short ferry ride from the more bustling South Beach. Also, there is a breathtaking private beach; a P.B. Dye-designed, nine-hole golf course with a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse; 18 tennis courts; a world-class spa, and eight restaurants. Currently, the Club board is working on making a number upgrades to Fisher Island’s already impressive facilities.
One of the first tasks for Fisher Island’s new ownership team was to increase property value, obviously a pivotal concern to the community’s residents, which includes 650 of the world’s richest families. “When we got there, it was about $600 a square foot,” said Denain. “As soon as we came onboard, we raised prices substantially. We couldn’t imagine Fisher Island real estate not being the price leader. Today, on South Beach, developers are flirting with $2,000 a square foot and higher and they don’t even begin to have our amenities.”
If Fisher Island Holdings Development’s master plan comes to fruition, real estate values will continue to rise on Fisher Island, and potentially surpass the lofty price points that are being achieved at Miami’s most luxurious towers overlooking the Atlantic. But to keep prices rising, Denain is making sure not to over-build, assuaging any community fears of a condo glut that would send prices spiraling downward.
The Fisher Island Holdings Development team just celebrated the topping off of its latest building, Palazzo del Mare, built by ASR Construction, and the group is working on two Kobi Karp-designed condominiums: Palazzo del Sol and Palazzo del Luna. The buildings will be equipped with state-of the-art technology, sleek, modern amenities, a movie theater, and a gym. This summer, the first units will be released. And while it’s very common for developers to say that they are selling a scarce product, in the case of the Fisher Island, it’s actually true. Indeed, Fisher Island Holdings Development is only planning to build less than 200 units, the maximum number that the island can accommodate.
“It’s simple mathematics and supply and demand,” says Denain. “In Monte Carlo there is a moratorium on building because there is simply no more space. The real estate is skyrocketing. It’s no doubt that Fisher Island will experience the same phenomenon.”
Over the years, Denain and his team have been keeping a close eye on Fisher Island, and are excited to finally develop their vision. Through ASR Interiors, his firm with partner Joseph Dieppa, he has gained experience creating custom living spaces for affluent buyers. “At Fisher Island, we are not cutting any corners,” says Denain. “We are striving for excellence.” To achieve this for his customers, ASR will help build out apartments, which could save six to eight months for the buyer. Also, ASR has hired two in-house designers: Hilda Flack Interiors and Levine, Calderin & Associates. And regardless of whether one’s tastes lean toward traditional or modern (or perhaps a little of both), the ASR team travels around the world to seek out the finest building materials.
Not only are materials coming from across the pond, but also buyers attracted to the European flair that Denain brings to the project. Even though Fisher Island is luxurious, it can use a little 21st-century style upgrade. Not to mention, with the Euro comparatively strong against the dollar, there are certain to be some international buyers with money to burn on a beachfront residence. “You have exclusive places on different continents,” says Denain. “I see Fisher Island as a place of the rich and famous. It’s the best of the South Beach lifestyle, but with added security and impeccable amenities all in one place.”
Of course, billionaires are a tough bunch to please. And, over time, there has been plenty of friction between Fisher Island’s developers and its well-heeled residents. But Fisher Island Holdings Development has tried to alleviate any fears in the prosperous community, which according to the U.S. census is the wealthiest in the country.
“It was difficult to understand the relationship between the previous developer and the residents on the island,” says Denain. “We had to get to the core issue. In the end, we found we share a lot of common goals and objectives. We all want the best for Fisher Island. We want to keep it safe, secure and beautiful, all the while protecting our investment. By doing this, we paved a clear path for the island’s future.” Another obvious change has been the island’s demographic makeup. While there are retired executives from Fortune 500 companies, a lot more younger families are moving in, too. For that reason, an elementary school was built on the island.
Surely, lots of ink has been spilled in recent years as to whether there is a housing bubble, and if a catastrophic pop will ruin the dreams of countless investors. While it is apparent that the market might have cooled off a bit, prices should continue to rise over time, although not at the frenetic levels of just a couple years ago. Regardless, Denain remains optimistic. “Miami is poised for a slight correction, but there is no doubt that it will rebound,” he predicts. “I think the Miami market is here for a long time. To me, there will be a downside at some point or other, but just to consolidate. It is just a period of time for the market to be stronger.”
And Denain makes a clear distinction between the over-built areas of Downtown Miami market and the ultra-exclusive Fisher Island. “You can’t go wrong with superior locations,” he says. “Just look at the people buying on Fisher Island. They are extremely wealthy. Whether the market goes up or down, they will still be there. Nothing else can be compared to Fisher Island.”