Say what you will about the overdevelopment of the Florida apartment market, but the Cornerstone Group has found a home there. With more than 10,000 affordable, market-rate, and luxury apartment units built–and 5,000 more on the way–this development company is very bullish on its home state.

In order to be successful in an area that is full of competition, a company must be innovative and savvy at finding sites, says Jay Massirman, senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis Institutional Group. "Cornerstone [does that] and is able to find sites in which others don't see value," he says.

The company's strategy is simple: "To vertically integrate the development, construction, and leasing and management process of the company," says Stuart I. Meyers, chairman and CEO of Cornerstone.

Stuart I. Meyers, Chairman and CEO, Cornerstone Group
Stuart I. Meyers, Chairman and CEO, Cornerstone Group

And with more than $750 million in real estate assets, Cornerstone is meeting its goal and increasing production by 15 percent to 20 percent per year, says Meyers. "In 2000, we closed approximately 1,500 units, and in 2001 about 1,800 units–which ranked us 13th in Builder magazine's Top 50 Multifamily Rental Builders," he says. "In 2002, we're going to close about 2,200 to 2,300 units. That number is going to increase in 2003 to somewhere in the range of 3,000 units."

And because of all this activity over the past nine years, the company has grown from four people to more than 350 employees. The company is successful because it's able to focus on details and has the vision to see the bigger long-term picture. That is why Meyers was chosen as the 2003 Multifamily Executive Builder of the Year.

Affordable Housing Foundation The company's foundation is in affordable housing. Prior to starting the company, Meyers and his partner, Jorge Lopez, worked for The Related Cos. of Florida where they concentrated on the development of affordable housing.

The year after Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992, Meyers and Lopez, president and COO of Cornerstone, were helping to rebuild the area. By the summer of '93, the two men realized that there was a tremendous opportunity to go out on their own. "There was a lot of capital being made available to the rebuilding effort, and we had the experience and the exposure to be able to bring some real capabilities to the market," explains Meyers. "That was why we formed the Cornerstone Group, to take advantage of those opportunities and to assist the community in getting back on its feet."

By entering the market at an opportune time, Cornerstone was able to get financing during its early days. "For five or six years, we worked at a breakneck pace taking on every reasonable opportunity that was given to us," says Meyers. "We were able to close, deliver the product on time, and lease up before the units were completed. That compounded our credibility as developers.

"You know, success breeds success," says Meyers, "and the more successful we were, the more opportunities we had to select from, the more capital and resources were put to our use and that led us to where we are today."