Real estate developer Tony Cho brings climate and innovation hub to Little Haiti

Nearly 20 years ago, Tony Cho purchased a warehouse in Little Haiti — his first-ever property in Miami.

It was the first step in a successful career that would connect Cho with some of the most prominent real estate projects in the region, including the creation of the Wynwood Arts District.

Now Cho, the founder and chairman of real estate brokerage Metro 1, is returning to that Little Haiti warehouse to open the Future of Cities Climate and Innovation Hub. The 26,000-square-foot space is designed to serve as a meeting place for climate technology startups, entrepreneurs and events. It's a passion project for Cho, who launched the Future of Cities organization in 2021 to drive sustainable real estate development and urban design in metros like Miami.

"My journey brought me full circle back to the neighborhood that started it all for me," Cho said.

Located at 224 NE 59th Street, the innovation hub will serve as the headquarters of the Future of Cities organization and will house a Metro 1 office. The building was constructed with sustainable features, including solar panels and a reclaimed rainwater system, that Cho hopes will make the structure the first net-zero office in Miami. The idea is to offset the building's carbon footprint with practices that remove emissions from the atmosphere.

"Net-zero is aspirational," Cho said. "We won't be able to know if we can accomplish that goal until the building is fully operational and we can track the data."

Nearly 40% of all carbon dioxide emissions come from the real estate industry. Encouraging sustainable building practices, with the goal of reaching net-zero, is essential in the race to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help fight climate change.

To do that, real estate developers must turn to emerging technology, like carbon-capturing concrete and renewable energy sources like solar panels, when creating new projects. Even small moves, like building-wide composting or eliminating single-use plastics, can make a difference, Cho added.

But that can be easier said than done.

Much of the real estate sector has yet to focus on sustainable building or invest in research and development to improve those practices. That can be especially challenging in communities with political leaders that dismiss the risks of sea level rise and other consequences of climate change, Cho said.

"Miami in particular seems to have an interesting perspective [on climate change] and has historically turned a blind eye, especially the development community," he said.

However, there are signs of improvement. The flood of new climate technology startups in South Florida is one reason for optimism, he said. Nationally, those ventures have raised billions this year as investors search for companies capable of solving some of the globe's most pressing environmental concerns.

That's trickled down to South Florida, where Cho said the business community is beginning to turn its attention to how industry can impact climate.

"For a long time, developers were willing to overlook [the environment] for short-term gains," he said. "Now, more people are recognizing the risks than they did before and willing to have that conversation."

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