Turning up the Heat with Shaquille O’Neal’s new Real Estate Company

Shaq Secures a Spot as Miami’s Newest Real Estate Superstar. With his Miami-based The O’Neal Group, Shaquille O’Neal enters the real estate game-and plays to win.

By Seth Semilof and Dakota Smith
Photography by Reynaldo Alés


 “I see a lot of opportunities in Miami, and I want to build something that will effect and change the city landscape.”

Coming directly from a rehabilitation appointment, Shaquille O’Neal arrives at the Haute Living photo shoot dressed in sweats and flip flops. But don’t think that a knee injury- the Miami Heat center tore cartilage in his left knee last November-will slow down this NBA superstar. Upbeat as ever, the 34-year-old O’Neal spends the photo shoot cracking jokes and good-naturedly debating which of the six suits he should wear for the cover.

Famous for his big frame (7′ 1”, 325 lbs) and equally big personality, O’Neal certainly knows how to enjoy himself. After all, what other pro basketball star dresses up as Shaq-a-Claus every Christmas to visit children in hospitals? Or appears on Saturday Night Live? Or hands out $150,000 Rolex watches to every member of his Los Angeles Lakers team?

Not surprisingly, O’Neal brings the same ambitions and energy to his business projects; be it his rap records, clothing lines, or his latest venture: The O’Neal Group, a new Miami-based real estate and development company.

No novice, real estate is a game that this Newark, New Jersey native knows well: O’Neal’s own portfolio of both commercial and private property tops $50 million. “I have been very selective when it comes to real estate,” he says.

Indeed, recent newspaper headlines are all about his Star Island property, a lavish Miami Beach spread he just listed for a whopping $35 million. Considering that O’Neal bought the property two years ago for $18.8 million, it’s clear he knows a thing or two about making the right investment.

Formed last fall, The O’Neal Group will work to develop and promote various projects across the country with a focus on mixed-use, urban renewal projects.

The company’s first, and very high-profile, investment is MDM Development Group’s Metropolitan Miami, a $1 billion mixed-use project on 9.3-acres of land in downtown Miami. Upon completion in 2009, the development will house a 47-story office tower; a 42-story luxury hotel called ‘The Marquis’; an entertainment complex called Met Square; restaurant and retail options including the top Zagat rated Manny’s Steakhouse; and two residential towers called Met 1 and Met 3. Met 3, the tower in which Shaq has already purchased a unit, is set to be the tallest residential building south of New York City at 76 stories. Met 3 will also feature a Whole Foods Market and a 24-Hour Fitness/Shaq Ultra Sport Fitness Center. This is what Shaq calls the “Shaquille brand,” one that will, for the most part, focus on mixed-use, urban renewal projects that are transcending and helping to transform an entire area.

If the local press has already noted the clever marketing ploy-one of the tallest players in the NBA helping sell one of tallest buildings in the South- O’Neal points out that he has a personal interest in the development.

“I see a lot of opportunities in Miami, and I want to build something that will effect and change the city landscape,” says O’Neal, noting that the area once housed the Royal Palm Hotel, a once-glitzy hotel and casino that was torn down in the 1930s.

Returning Miami’s downtown blocks to their former glory days is an important mission for O’Neal, says Christopher Handy, Executive Vice-President of the O’Neal Group. According to Handy, seeing the downtown streets filled with excited crowds during the Miami Heat championship parade last year was particularly inspiring for O’Neal.

“For him, real estate isn’t just about making money, but also about changing people’s lives,” says Handy. “When people think about Miami, they think about South Beach, but Shaq has said that downtown Miami should be a mecca, just the way downtown is a mecca in any other city.”

Future The O’Neal Group projects will include developing properties in New Orleans, Orlando, Florida, and Newark, New Jersey, according to Handy.

Describing his role as very hands-on at the company, O’Neal says his job will encompass everything from meeting with local politicians to socializing with real estate moguls (after the photo shoot, he’s having dinner with Donald Trump at Mar-A-Largo).

And he’ll use on-the-court teamwork lessons to encourage the Met 3 sales force. During a break at the photo shoot, he signed the tops of construction hats, which would be handed out to the top-selling sales agents at an upcoming party.

“Makes sure only the top sales people get these, only the ones who are selling units,” he told his assistant, his eyes twinkling.

Executives at MDM know the value of having O’Neal, whose public persona is overwhelmingly positive, on the project, and point out that the basketball player could have invested in any of the planned downtown Miami projects.

“The fact that Shaquille O’Neal himself approached us is a testament to the Met’s significance in downtown Miami,” says Luis Pulenta, principal of MDM Development.
“The O’Neal Group clearly saw that the Met is a true urban mixed-use development with integrated living and intelligent design in an area that is growing at a fierce pace,” added Pulenta.

A longtime off-and-on again resident of Florida, O’Neal attended Louisiana State University before being drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992. In 1996, he joined the Los Angeles Lakers, where he helped the team win three championships, and racked up three MVP awards himself.

In a move that broke Los Angeles fans’s hearts, in 2004 he signed a five-year, $100 million contract with the Miami Heat, returning to the state where he’d launched his career.

While proving himself as one of basketball’s reigning players, O’Neal, whose name means “Little Warrior” in Arabic, also has proved himself as an exceptional entrepreneur. Earning an online MBA from the University of Phoenix, he has started numerous business ventures, while also racking up dozens of endorsement deals from companies such as Pepsi, Reebok, Nestle, Verizon, and 24-Hour Fitness.

But if some question O’Neal’s decision to enter the Miami real estate market amid concerns about a glut of condos, he remains optimistic. “All my friends, everyone I know wants to live in Miami,” he says.

Indeed, O’Neal has purchased multiple homes in the area. In addition to owning a home at Isleworth Golf & Country Club, a prestigious 600-acre community outside of Orlando (Tiger Woods and Ken Griffey Jr. also own homes at Isleworth), O’Neal purchased a home on Miami Beach’s tony Star Island, one of the area’s most exclusive neighborhoods (and home to residents like P.Diddy, and Gloria Estefan).

O’Neal purchased the 20,000-square-foot home from former Heat center Rony Seikaly, living in the residence with his wife Shaunie Nelson, and their six children (they have four children together, while O’Neal also has a daughter from an ex-girlfriend and Nelson has a son from a previous relationship).

Sitting on 2.5 acres, the sprawling home has six bedrooms, an indoor basketball court, tennis court, racquetball court, gym, and 300 feet of dockage, as well as very tall doorways to accommodate the basketball players. The estate also boasts a two-bedroom guest-house.

While O’Neal looks to sell his Star Island home, he says he’s looking to purchase in the Fort Lauderdale area. (Although when Haute Living showed him a listing of a $35 million home in Fort Lauderdale from our November issue, he laughed. “Out of my price range,” he said, despite listing his home for that very price just weeks later).

As for life after basketball, O’Neal has publicly stated his desire to go into law enforcement field after retiring. A reserve police officer at the Miami Beach police department, he has worked with numerous agencies across the country.

But with The O’Neal Group set for success, might O’Neal instead look to establish himself as a real estate star rather than the local sheriff?

“I see myself doing both,” he says, with a wide grin. “I will be bigger than Trump and be the sheriff.” And knowing O’Neal, it’s likely he will do whatever it is he wants.