In the past thirty-some years, Michael Capponi has been around South Beach’s blocks a few times. Today, the Capponi Group is ensuring that the homes lining those blocks are as beautiful as the views from their windows.
By Kristelle Devieux
Photography by Reynaldo Alés
He learned the business piece by piece, even bartering with landlords through the years for free rent in exchange for renovating the apartments in which he was living.
Show me a person in Miami Beach who doesn’t know the name Michael Capponi, and I will show you a person who has been living under a rock. They obviously aren’t connected whatsoever to the scene that pervades South Beach, but that is almost passé at this point. Because, while Capponi’s nightlife ventures continue to dominate Miami’s social calendar, his other businesses are making everyone sit up and take note.
Capponi is now running a portfolio of companies, including, of course, the much-heralded Capponi Events; Capponi Group Luxury Properties, a full-service company that emphasizes the development of luxury family homes; Capponi Building Company, specializing in residential and commercial construction; and Capponi Casa, a home collection that provides just the right look for the interiors of the homes he builds, whether from the ground up or the inside out.
How does he find the time to do it all? “I sleep very little,” he says with a laugh, leaning back on the tan couch—part of the Capponi Casa collection—in the living room of his beautiful home on Sunset Island IV. He is also quick to mention that, before he got his hands on the property, it wasn’t quite so beautiful. “It had low ceilings, horrible moldings. I ripped it all out, and created what I think is a mix between the ornate style of Palm Beach and South Beach cool.” The home reflects impeccable taste, one that Capponi says just came naturally. As he tells it, his amazing foray into the development world did as well.
A South Beach native, Capponi says he started out “as a nightclub promoter back in ’88, ’89, at the very beginning of South Beach. Over the years, I’ve gotten to meet everyone who comes through this town, and it was a great resource for relationship building. Some [promoters] stay in it forever and just get drunk with their clients, but I decided to utilize the relationships.” He has since nurtured those relationships into a brand that is constantly asking itself, “What housing slump?”
While other area developers and builders have stalled projects dotting the town, Capponi is currently juggling a portfolio that includes 11 houses and three commercial properties, with another ten slated to start this month. This doesn’t even mention the 20 or so that are still in the bidding stages.
He learned the business piece by piece, even bartering with landlords through the years for free rent in exchange for renovating the apartments in which he was living. Realizing that his revamping skills caught both attention and praise from his entourage, he launched a career in real estate and began investing the income he was pulling from the nightlife arena. By quickly renovating and flipping apartments, he raked in twice what he paid for them.
As his business grew with South Florida’s housing market, Capponi paired with friends, who provided the financial support needed for his initial development company, Capponi Group Luxury Properties. He explains, “We bought different houses on the Beach, remodeled them, and sold them for a higher price,” which is the ultimate real estate investor’s dream. But as the market slowed, so did Capponi’s pace.
While the night hours may have once again found Capponi mingling behind the velvet ropes at the area’s top establishments, during the day, he was on to new ventures. “After the market dipped, I decided to take all of my expertise as a developer and form a construction company.” In less than two years from that risky move, he has grown Capponi Building Company into a Miami Beach conglomerate, with hundreds of employees and four main divisions: Distinctive Luxury Homes & Interiors division, Commercial Construction, Residential Renovations & Construction, and a Historical Restoration Division.
A main source of his success is his ability to recognize his niche marketplace. While other contractors spread themselves thin, running from a project in Kendall to Key Biscayne before heading to Palm Beach, all of Capponi’s projects are located just minutes from one another, and just minutes from his home and office. The proximity of these projects allows him to personally oversee their progress on a daily basis.
And thanks to his constant supervision of the projects, he can ensure they are moving along at an appropriate pace, something that separates him from most of the competition. And he knows it. Driven by the clever motto, “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan,” Capponi has a set plan when he begins every project, which he posts on his website. A renovation of a 4,000-square-foot house in six months? No problem. He takes a before shot of the house, posts a rendering of what it will look like upon completion, and updates current construction phase photos weekly throughout the project. Seeing as more than three million visitors head to CapponiGroup.com each month, everyone can literally watch as Capponi transforms properties. He explains, “Since the whole town is looking at the website, it can really work in my favor or it can destroy me—so basically I don’t allow myself to fail. I will always do whatever it takes to succeed. Failure and delays do not exist in my vocabulary.”
He has an incredible team to help ensure the success. Andrew Schottenstein, head of the Distinctive Luxury Home and Interiors division, has almost 20 years of experience in the construction of ultra expensive homes. Schottenstein brings the credentials that have allowed Capponi Group to land grand scale projects such as remodeling director Michael Bay’s beach estate, as well as a massive job on J.R. and Loren Ridinger’s Casa Sueños palace, just two doors down from the Bay property. He explains, “We just completed the [Ridingers’] major additions and made their property twice as nice,” which is a feat, considering the house pre-remodeling had already garnered media attention. Loren Ridinger sings his praises. “Michael is a magician,” she says. “Not only did our construction finish in half the time anyone else would have done it, but he was conscious of budgets and a complete professional. The addition was far more beautiful than we could ever expected.”
Knowing the power of valuable relationships, Capponi also partnered with Kevin Montez, former executive vice president/director of operations for the Tower Group of South Florida, who now presides over the commercial division of the Capponi Building Company. “Kevin was responsible for all the shopping centers in Midtown Miami. He probably has four million square feet worth of commercial experience from high-rises and industrial commercial sectors. Now our Commercial division is rapidly blossoming,” Capponi says. And “rapidly blossoming” doesn’t even begin to describe it, as Capponi Group recently secured the contract for Miami Executive Aviation at Opa-locka Airport, a feat for a company only two years in the making.
Capponi’s portfolio ends with Capponi Casa, a furniture branch that manufactures everything from drapes to couches for commercial and residential clients. “It gives me an edge because we’re not just general contractors. Most homes I’ve delivered to my clients come with couches, installed TVs and surround sound systems, et cetera,” Capponi explains. Capponi Casa manufactured the furniture for the recently opened Angler’s Hotel and Maison d’Azur restaurant.
Despite a heavy workload, Capponi still finds time to pursue his dedicated mission toward charitable causes. Unlike what many would expect, the man who makes all of South Beach’s glitz and glamour happen endured moments of turmoil and despair. “I was a night club promoter in the mid-90s who crashed and burned. I didn’t go through all these experiences to remain a promoter and party the rest of my life. So I definitely need to leave this planet with remarkable accomplishments on a grand scale,” he says.
Capponi’s past transformed him into a wise, strong, and wholehearted humanitarian. Thus Capponi embarked on his philanthropic missions. From providing food for the homeless on Thanksgiving, to organizing food drives and fundraisers benefiting victims of the Kosovo crisis, to spending countless hours raising money for the Red Cross and victims of 9/11, along with his presence as a key board member of various charities, Capponi’s humanitarian pursuits has helped countless individuals. The beginning of November saw Capponi being honored with “Best Developer: Building Communities and Rebuilding Lives” award at the Developers and Builders Alliance ceremony.
Yet, after attending the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, where the former president outlined all of the world’s problems, Capponi came home with the realistic view that his charity accomplishments are ephemeral compared with the daunting task at hand. “I feed maybe fifteen hundred homeless people on Thanksgiving; it’s nice and it’s cute but it’s like putting little Band-Aids on major problems. Through learning and understanding the world’s problems, by the time I’m 50 or 60 I hope to really accomplish something.”
Speaking of future accomplishments, Capponi’s already got an ambitious list. Aside from growing his construction enterprise to a well-known national and international business, “at some point, I’d like to be an ambassador of a third-world country,” he says.
The enthusiasm that resonates when he speaks of his companies and humanitarian efforts is a confirmation that Capponi Building Company is not a job but a life to which he devotes 18 hours a day, every day. If such devotion and cleverness is not a winning formula to drive a company to the top, nothing is. He may be a newcomer, but his company is already at the top of the ladder.