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Real-estate billionaire Barry Sternlicht puts his finger on the ‘impossible’ thing holding Miami back from really becoming Wall Street south: the schools

Long known for its pristine beaches and its pleasant year-round climate, Miami attracted attention during the pandemic as Wall Street South, a haven for northern financial types.

Attracted in part by lower taxes, a flood of wealthy people and major companies have migrated south to the Miami area in recent years. Companies such as Ken Griffin’s hedge fund Citadel and Paul Singer’s Elliott Management have shifted their headquarters to the city and others such as Goldman Sachs, Blackstone, and Point72 have expanded their presence there. Thanks in part to this monied migration, the city has 75% more millionaires than it had a decade ago, according to a 2023 report.

Still, one of the city’s most prominent billionaire residents, Barry Sternlicht, the CEO of real estate giant Starwood Capital Group, said Miami still has to improve on education before it can become the new U.S. financial capital.

Speaking to Bloomberg Television’s David Westin, Sternlicht said there aren’t enough private schools in Miami and it is holding the city back from attracting the talent it needs to reach the next level.

“There are a lot of companies that would move down if they could get their employees’ kids into schools, which is impossible,” Sternlicht said in an interview with Bloomberg. 

Indeed, demand has far surpassed availability at some of the area’s most popular private schools, according to the New York Post. In order to get spots at top area schools such as Gulliver, Ransom Everglades, and Miami Country Day School, where Tom Brady and supermodel Gisele Bündchen’s kids attend, wealthy parents have reportedly offered five-figure donations (on top of the tens of thousand of dollars for tuition) to try to get their kids in, according to the Post.

In 2018, Sternlicht moved Starwood from Greenwich, Connecticut, to Miami, where it built a new six-story, 144,430-square-foot headquarters a block from the Miami Beach Boardwalk. The company has about 5,000 employees in 16 offices worldwide and has $115 billion in assets under management, according to its website.

Sternlicht has taken a liking to Miami, where he owns a waterfront home off North Bay Road. The land alone cost $17 million in 2015

Apart from Sternlicht, some of the most famous newcomers to Miami include former Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos and Citadel CEO Ken Griffin. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn also has a home there

Griffin in particular has brought in many wealthy employees to the Miami area since he moved his hedge fund from Chicago to Miami in 2022. Sternlicht said the rush of financial types that followed Griffin will help the area grow.

“They alone have decided they’re going to make Miami into the financial capital of the United States and they have the power to do that,” Sternlicht told Bloomberg. “If I was really smart, I would just buy all the houses in Coral Gables and sell them to the Citadel employees as they move down.”

Although some have said Miami real estate is overvalued, Sternlicht said he has faith in the city because of the great attention it has already garnered, he said.

“I don’t think Miami has peaked,” he said. “I think Miami and Florida have cycles because they get overbuilt, but they’re ever-higher cycles. You just have to have stamina to stay with it.”

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