Walk into the office of Brent Reynolds, the real estate developer transforming US1 in Coral Gables with two large mixed-used projects, and it’s hard to miss the artwork of motorcycle racers. There’s one photo in a blur of speed behind Reynolds’ desk, a shot from his trip to watch the famed Isle of Man motorcycle competition.
Reynolds likes zipping on motorcycles in his spare time, when he’s not busy leading the international company that is building $530 million worth of projects in Coral Gables alone. He’s been on the fast-track in real estate since age 23, when he bought and renovated a historic home, making good on his college thesis in engineering. Soon, he was teaming up on projects in his native Maryland, and he’s been developing properties in the United States and Central America ever since. He’s just 40 now. “I’m always doing something. My wife says I can’t sit still,” jokes the trim, athletic Reynolds from his 2020 Ponce de Leon office.
Reynolds leads Nolan Partners International, the group developing what he calls the “architectural bookends” of Coral Gables on US1 at its Gables Station and Paseo de la Riviera ventures. The combined half-billion dollar projects are set to bring rental apartments, offices, retail, plazas and more to the city by 2021. NPI plans to retain ownership, so Reynolds and his team are deepening their local roots, working closely with The Underline park project, Coral Gables Community Foundation and other key organizations.
“We’re long-term holders of our real estate, and we’re hyper-focused on curating projects to create a community for our residents and the surrounding area, with a sense of connectivity.”
– says Reynolds, contrasting NPI with developers who sell their condos and properties.
From Surfing in Costa Rica to driving US1
Reynolds took a circuitous path to South Florida. After completing projects in the Baltimore area, the avid surfer – still in his 20s – headed to Costa Rica for an extended vacation. He began working in real-estate there and met Charles Nolan Jr., who was visiting from Minnesota and active with his family’s century-old construction business. In 2008, the two men formed Nolan Partners International to develop a hotel project in Costa Rica and mixed-use ventures across the Americas.
Soon, Reynolds found himself traveling regularly from Central America through Miami to reach NPI’s office in Minnesota and its U.S. projects. He decided in 2013 to set up a South Florida office that would be more convenient for travel. He selected Coral Gables for the hub, seeking a spot that felt “more entrepreneurial, less corporate and had more of a community spirit.”
The idea for the US1 projects came to Reynolds during his commute between his Pinecrest home and Coral Gables office. “It didn’t take long to realize that the US1 Corridor had come of age and had the ingredients to create something special,” he says, pointing out its existing Metrorail links, the ample residential and commercial space nearby, and the proposed linear Underline park – “but nothing connecting it.”
Producing a film on Coral Gables’ black builders
His team reached out to neighbors for input and support on the projects, both bigger and denser than the structures they’d replace. NPI held more than 100 group and one-on-one meetings. One group, the Lola B. Walker Homeowners – made up mainly of descendants of Bahamians and African-Americans who had built Coral Gables and shaped its oolite rock for buildings – asked NPI to help preserve their history.
“I still remember the first day we went to their homeowners’ association meeting and sat in the living room with six older women, who had faces of skepticism. I could feel the tension,” says Reynolds. Inspired by their story, NPI produced a 30-minute documentary on their community, “Graceful Voices”. The film was shown last year at Coral Gables Art Cinema and picked up for national broadcast by PBS.
Reynolds’ attention to history was a key draw for Coral Gables architect Jorge L. Hernandez to work with NPI. The longtime professor at the University of Miami met newly-arrived Reynolds at an event to save the Miami Marine Stadium. He found the young developer warm, positive and “very, very high energy.” In talking, the two men discovered common interests in historic preservation and community building.
“Reynolds’ grandfather was an architect who championed access to all in the design world, when that was unheard of at the time. His mom was active with nonprofits, and he’s involved in education,” says Hernandez. “There’s a depth to him that is intriguing.”
Hernandez’s boutique firm designed NPI’s two Coral Gables projects, envisioning live, work and play communities with greenery and plazas, all linked to mass transit. “From the beginning, Paseo de la Riviera was about creating this beautiful public space” that connects with nearby Jaycee Park, the Metrorail and the proposed Underline park, says Hernandez, describing their initial collaboration.
Asking to buy a US1 site not up for sale
Other commuters surely have imagined ways to revamp US1, but what sets Reynolds apart is his dynamism to get things done, Hernandez says. The site of the former Holiday Inn wasn’t even for sale when Reynolds conceived the development of Paseo there. “Brent knocked on the door and got them to sell it. He has that kind of energy, but also grace, so he doesn’t end up being too pushy,” says Hernandez.
Today, Reynolds oversees some 25 staffers in Coral Gables and 115 more in NPI’s offices in Minnesota and Costa Rica. His right-hand in South Florida is Lou Dorso, executive vice president for construction and a 15-year veteran with the Nolan family. Dorso moved south after building a mixed-use project for NPI in Gainesville, Fla. that spans 64 acres and features a nature preserve.
“We often do projects other developers shy away from,” says Dorso. NPI can embrace locales known for lengthy approvals or other hurdles because of its long-term horizon as an owner, he says. “There’s an interest in being part of a community and not just building and running away.”
Dorso says Reynolds keeps up a steady, brisk clip on projects, even after office hours. “Brent will call me at midnight, and say, ‘Lou, are you dealing with this?’ He’s always working,” says Dorso. “It’s tough for anyone else in the company to keep up with him. He definitely sets the pace.”
Supporting literacy worldwide
The NPI chief still makes time for education and nonprofits. He serves on advisory boards at the University of Miami and the Transit-Oriented Development Institute based in Washington, D.C.
He’s also active with Miami’s Alfalit International, a faith-based nonprofit that teaches reading and writing to some 36,000 people yearly in the U.S. and overseas. Reynolds was on the board of directors for years, donating the bibles from the former Holiday Inn on US1, and connecting the group to a hotel program called Kind Traveler that’s boosted its media exposure, says Alfalit Executive Director Catherine Penrod. Reynolds’ wife, a Costa Rican lawyer, also has helped the nonprofit on legal matters.
While Reynolds has left the board because of his busy travel schedule, he remains engaged by email. “It’s very rare that it takes him more than a day to get back to me,” says Penrod, describing the multitasking developer as “very smart and very efficient.”
Yet even go-getter Reynolds recognizes limits to his speed. On the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, he zooms motorcycles up to 120 miles per hour, while “the pros go over 200,” he says. Professionally, he’s sticking to real estate, where the Coral Gables projects are keeping him in the fast lane.