By Jordan Fitzgerald and Felipe Marques
Ivanka Trump strolls past the lush green golf course, blond ponytail poking through a white cap, her back to the house she bought for $US24 million ($36 million) and renovated. Next door is the mansion of superstar DJ David Guetta, down the street from homes owned by Tom Brady, Carl Icahn and Eddie Lampert.
It’s 22 degrees and sunny in Indian Creek Village, a town for the ultrarich on an island off the coast of Miami, a perfect winter morning in Florida’s billionaire bunker.
Out of sight that day was Jeff Bezos, the world’s second-richest person and the newest addition to the insulated enclave. His purchases mean the island’s five wealthiest property owners alone control fortunes totaling some $US191 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The exclusive paradise, accessible for those with invites via a single, heavily guarded bridge, is ground zero for the unprecedented migration of wealth to South Florida over the past five years. It’s also a showcase for the issues cropping up throughout the region as a result — soaring home prices, one of the country’s fastest inflation rates and a growing divide that separates the elite from the hoi polloi, who increasingly struggle to afford to live there.
The island itself even has its own version of gentrification — the merely affluent are now being displaced by the fabulously wealthy able to spend $US100 million for a mansion in Indian Creek, which was built almost 100 years ago for that generation’s rich.
“Florida has always been infamous for gated communities,” said Richard Florida, a serendipitously named professor at the University of Toronto’s school of cities. “What is new is the massive infusion of the top 0.0001 per cent in and around Miami.”
Bezos, the 59-year-old Amazon.com founder, announced he was moving to Miami in November. Already he’s shelled out $US147 million for two mansions in Indian Creek, which he’s expected to tear down and replace with custom builds. One of the houses had been in the same family since 1982, a wealthy Venezuelan dynasty that bought it for $US1.4 million. The other was purchased from a Brazilian executive whose electronics company thrived in the early 1990s.
Prices for homes renovated to the standards of billionaires in Indian Creek will soon start at nine figures, according to Dina Goldentayer, a real estate broker who has been involved with three of the island’s five most recent sales.
“This is all post-COVID, and it was actually quite different before,” Goldentayer said. About seven years ago, “there would be five or six listings at the same time and $20 million was a big sale”.
Bezos emissaries have reached out to at least three other homeowners on the island about purchasing their properties, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters. Conversations are ongoing.
A spokesperson for Bezos declined to comment.
Of course South Florida isn’t the only place seeing an explosion of wealth amid a realignment that picked up speed during the pandemic. New York’s Upper East Side and San Francisco’s Nob Hill have lost wealthy residents to warmer climes including Dallas, Austin, Charlotte, North Carolina, and even Nashville as hedge funds and other money managers move headquarters.
But while Miami has long been a magnet for the affluent, in particular for those with ties to Latin America, the scale of those fortunes has changed. In recent years hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin and his Citadel lieutenants embarked on a string of real estate purchases in the area. Other buyers include the former chairman of Alphabet, billionaire Eric Schmidt, and financier Josh Harris.
There’s perhaps no more exclusive address in the region, though, than the 41 lots on Indian Creek Island Road, which runs along the village’s perimeter. In the middle of the island is a luxury golf course and country club; its coveted memberships are one of the few ways outsiders can get in. There are no other businesses.
The island is its own municipality, with an elected mayor, a role currently filled by Benny Klepach, the founder of duty-free retailer 3Sixty. City hall and the police station sit just across the bridge that connects Indian Creek to the community of Surfside. The town’s logo features a drawing of the iron gates that bar outsiders. Sidewalks were only added in recent years and sewage is still collected through septic tanks — though there are plans to change that.
City officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Architect Kobi Karp, who has worked in Miami “since the Miami Vice and Scarface days”, said clients tell him that the island’s biggest draw is privacy.
“In other neighbourhoods, I can come in if I want to serve you papers or harass you or take photographs of you,” said Karp, who has designed several residences in Indian Creek. “Some people don’t like that at all.”
Though Indian Creek is about the same size as Bay Harbor Islands, another oceanfront enclave of wealth in Florida, the former is home to only 84 people, while the latter has a population of almost 6000, according to the 2020 census.
In addition to Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, Indian Creek Village property owners include short-seller Icahn, who purchased his mansion in 1997 for $US7.5 million. Colombian billionaire banker Jaime Gilinski assembled five properties on the island that he’s used to create a compound for his family.
Gilinski’s decades-long buying spree is emblematic of the shifts on the island. He made his first purchase almost 30 years ago, shelling out $US6 million. His latest was in 2021, for $US40 million. All told, Gilinski has spent close to $US80 million on his Indian Creek estates, about the same as the $US79 million Bezos spent on a single, seven-bedroom mansion in October.
“Only the very wealthy, the billionaires,” can afford to live in Indian Creek now, said Paul George, the resident historian at the HistoryMiami Museum. “Hundreds of millions aren’t gonna cut it any more.”
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