top of page

Terranova Corp's Stephen Bittel Reflects on the Importance of Recognizing Potential

Founded in 1980, multifaceted real estate development and management firm Terranova Corporation has enjoyed steady growth in Florida’s commercial real estate sector. From its inception, the company focused on growing an impressive portfolio, providing unparalleled customer service for managed assets, and maximizing the growth potential for businesses. As the company prepares to celebrate its 40th birthday, Founder Stephen Bittel reflects on Terranova’s growth and his commitment to evolving the commercial real estate sector. Throughout this successful venture, Bittel has guided his team forward by recognizing the potential of various types of assets, listening to consumer demand, and watching trends emerge. Now, Bittel looks to the current national climate to determine Terranova’s next steps and commercial real estate’s future.

As a leader, Stephen Bittel has been committed to taking chances, and recognizing the potential in building strong long-term relationships with tenants. Under his leadership, the potential of these relationships has been recognized via multi-unit deals, impressive long-term professional endeavors, and a loyal following from some of the biggest names in retail and commerce. Bittel has personally overseen all facets of operations since the inception of Terranova, using his expertly honed eye for potential to leverage continued growth, development, and success. Growing his team to nurture the talent and potential of co-workers, Bittel has worked to inspire, mentor, and grow his team from the ground up. Now, he looks to the future of Terranova, and his ongoing quest for recognizing the potential in human talent, commitment to excellence, and the forging of long-term relationships.

Terranova’s Beginning

During his second year at the University Of Miami Law School, Stephen Bittel entered the realm of commercial real estate management. Asked to operate a commercial space for a local partnership, Bittel swiftly recognized that he could maximize revenue, streamline operations, and effectively manage the property. He founded Terranova Corporation and set forth to invest in a commercial property of his own. In 1980, Florida’s commercial real estate sector was heavily monopolized by unanchored strip malls. 

He initially invested in two commercial shopping centers on Sunset Drive and garnered three more properties in collaboration with other investors. In charge of operations, management, and growth of these commercial properties, Bittel grew his reputation quickly. He was committed to exceeding expectations, enhancing management-tenant relationships, and securing additional tenant relationships through multi-unit deals. By exceeding tenant expectations from the beginning, Bittel recognized the potential prospects of future business ventures.

Though additional investors were involved in these inaugural property acquisitions, Bittel maintained operational control of these properties from the get-go. He recognized this as an opportunity to hone his leadership skills, and develop trusting relationships with tenants. He saw the potential of putting in the proverbial “grunt work” to build his company’s reputation, along with the soft skills needed to successfully work alongside industry giants in the future. Armed with an ability to recognize the potential benefits of seemingly small details and activities, Bittel took every chance for self-betterment, business growth, and the development of a reputation that would elicit long-term success. From these beginnings, Bittel perfected the myriad of skills and services that ultimately set Terranova apart from the competition as a one-stop-shop for commercial real estate development, management, and investment.

The Potential Of Anchored Strip Malls

After initial successes, Bittel decided to reinvest Terranova’s early profits into up-and-coming ventures. Before this time, Florida’s commercial real estate sector was led by unanchored strip shopping centers. As increasing numbers of families relocated into the suburbs, Bittel saw the potential of drawing in traffic via strip malls anchored by large grocery stores, pharmacies, or liquor stores. These types of emerging commercial locations would allow suburban dwellers to complete multiple errands in one area and encourage impulse shopping at smaller retail locations flagged by large stores. 

With suburban sprawl in its heyday, Bittel purchased anchored commercial real estate properties in Southern Florida, and swiftly secured tenants. Though this move was seen as innovative and forward-thinking at the time, Bittel recognized the potential of evolving the shopping experience to meet the changing needs of local residents. As these subtle changes in behavior occurred, he worked to usher shoppers into a new era of activity by shifting the infrastructure needed to support these newly emerging behaviors. Bittel saw the proverbial writing on the wall, and acted accordingly.

Looking back at this shift, Bittel considers this a turning point in his journey as a leader. While traditional peers were convinced that unanchored shopping malls would reign supreme forever, Bittel followed his own business instincts, and the trajectory of shopping reports and trends to frame his beliefs. He was able to see the future of retail before it was “fully cooked”, allowing him to acquire property in this fashion before the naysayers joined the ranks, and the industry fully exploded with anchored shopping areas. 

Providing extensive support, services, and care for tenants, he grew trusting partnerships with owners and operators of the large-scale anchor stores that were at the helm of his properties. By providing those tenants with a multifaceted customer service experience, and successful locations that increased profits in the growing suburban market, Bittel gained the trust of formidable business owners. Looking ahead by at least five steps, Bittel knew that keeping these chain operators happy could ensure future tenancies, contracts, and long-term relationships. Instead of merely focusing on filling his commercial spaces with readily available tenants, he sought prospective tenants who were on the same trajectory as him, seeing the potential of growing alongside commercial partners.

When these grocery chains and liquor stores were looking to expand, they proactively reached out to Bittel as their first contact for leasing locations. Loyal to the landlord who respected their bespoke business needs, these companies trusted that their fruitful initial experiences with Terranova would be replicated in additional locations. Thus, Bittel was able to secure profitable multi-location deals with several retail juggernauts in this fashion, and Terranova continued to gain a positive community reputation as a leader in the commercial real estate sector. 

By pivoting to the anchored strip mall style of investment, Bittel was able to successfully transition the potential of this model into profit. He recognized the growth of suburban areas and their growing need for local shopping staples. Spearheading the popularity of anchored shopping centers, Bittel led the trend and built long-lasting tenant relationships that would help Terranova grow for decades to come.

The Potential Of Technology

Enjoying unencumbered retail growth year after year, Bittel recognized the potential for evolution during the proverbial Golden Age of Technology. Pivoting the traditional retail model to adapt to burgeoning tech-based trends, Bittel recognized that the future of commerce had to integrate technology. Therefore, physical spaces owned and operated by Terranova would have to be accessible to tech-based needs and fluidly adapt to changing shopping behaviors. Once again, Bittel remained several steps ahead of the competition, and set the tone for other property management companies to follow.

As e-commerce began to take off, the retail sector searched for ways to avoid becoming obsolete. Instead of shuttering, Bittel implemented his years of expertise in the commercial operations sector to consider ways to effectively flourish alongside emerging tech-based shopping trends. At a time when retail giants were worried about foot traffic, and were busy growing their online shopping infrastructure, Bittel promised the evolution of in-person shopping. He not only lent his vision to retail juggernauts, but provided the means to implement this vision through innovative amenities, and the tools that tenants would need to adapt to new shopping behaviors.

For his retail tenants, maximizing the potential of a new wave of in-person shopping required the implementation of a physical infrastructure that would utilize technology to draw in shoppers. From anchoring interactive directional screens that provided pivotal shopping center information to a passerby, to incorporating free WiFi for shoppers, Bittel leaned into the newly emerging marriage between technology and retail. Though these improvements and physical investments were costly, he recognized the potential impact they would have on commercial activity. He also recognized that they could mean the difference between a successful shopping plaza, and a failing one. 

As mobile technology became increasingly sophisticated, tech-based calls to action impacted the retail and hospitality industry even more. Recognizing the evolution of consumer behavior, and the prevalence of the “order online, pick up in-store” model, Bittel provided the tools necessary for his businesses to offer streamlined service. This meant setting up physical infrastructure for “mobile pickup” locations at stores and restaurants and providing internet throughout outdoor seating areas. By providing these amenities, Bittel knew that he could maximize the potential operations for restaurants and stores, welcoming patrons with the tools they needed to fit their new habits.

While other commercial property owners merely awaited the decline of in-person shopping, or replaced long-time retail tenants with tenants from other sectors, Stephen successfully maximized on the potential of this shift in consumer behavior. He proactively implemented the tools that would support evolving shopping behavior, enabling tech-savvy shoppers to marry the conveniences of technology with the physical experience of shopping. Instead of giving up on the prospect altogether, Bittel was able to successfully capture new audiences, and maintain successful operations on behalf of his tenants. His commitment to their success showcased continued loyalty, and grew confidence in all tenants.

The Potential Of The “Live-Work-Play” Microenvironment

As a reversal of the previous decades’ suburban sprawl, increasing numbers of individuals and families are now seeking the “live-work-play” microenvironment, where all needed services and commercial operations are within close proximity to entertainment, employment, and housing. As young families and professionals flock back to high-traffic and urban areas, the rise of the micro-neighborhood experience is emerging. Recognizing the potential this emerging desire can have on the commercial real estate sector, Bittel is once again evolving with the changing behaviors of consumers.

By bringing entertainment, shopping, and housing together, forward-thinking residents can establish a micro-economy, where local businesses can thrive from the loyalty of regular customers, and the undeniable rise of tourism that will result in the creation of these effective microcosms. Not only does this help local businesses thrive, it brings revenue to the area, which can then be reinvested in community beautification projects.

In Coral Gables, the completion of an extensive streetscape project spearheaded the area’s “live-work-play” mantra. On the famed Miracle Mile, increasing numbers of tourists flocked to enjoy a full day at the outdoor shopping area, complete with art installations, public seating and recreational areas, and an abundance of cafes and restaurants. These locally-owned restaurants benefitted from the rise in foot traffic, employing residents who then could reinvest in the growing local economy. With growing housing options in the immediate vicinity, patrons of the shopping area, and employees, could live close by, and add to the cycle of wealth generation for the area.

Recognizing the potential addition of value to the Miracle Mile area from tourism, Bittel’s newest project involves the erection of a vast mixed-use hotel and retail space. In the heart of Miracle Mile, this extensive project will feature street-facing ground floor retail space, with a large hotel component on the subsequent floors, and a rooftop bar and dining experience. The multi-use of a singular building further builds upon the growing desire for a “live-work-play” experience and confirms Bittel’s understanding of the potential of these types of environments.

People Potential

Since the inception of Terranova, Stephen Bittel has navigated numerous changes. Able to see the potential in evolution, he never shied away from leaning into the proverbial writing on the wall. Along the way, he led his team to confidently grow alongside his own evolving visions. As a leader, Bittel saw the inherent value of building his team of loyal, confident, capable, and successful peers, co-workers, and employees.

As his company grew, Bittel knew that he would not be able to maintain all facets of operations independently. There physically wasn’t enough time in the day for a singular leader to oversee everything. Believing in the potential of others, he sought team members who shared his love of commercial real estate, and who believed in Terranova as much as he did. Bittel provided the resources necessary to maximize the success of his team members, many of whom have loyally stood by his side professionally over a number of years. 

Enabling team members to flourish, Bittel has proudly led his team to collective success. Through effective coaching and mentorship, he has instilled the integral core values of Terranova into all team members. Simultaneously, he has championed for individual successes and leadership growth, and has welcomed the bespoke talents of team members. Ensuring that all co-workers are professionally fulfilled, challenged, and happy in the corporate environment upheld at Terranova, Stephen Bittel has created a workforce that can confidently thrive without his micromanagement. The potential of people has been realized by Bittel, and he often encourages other leaders and business owners to see the value of a successful team. 

What’s Next For Terranova

As Terranova Corporation celebrates 40 years of growth in Florida’s commercial real estate sector, Founder Stephen Bittel looks to the skills that made his company emerge as a juggernaut to dictate the future. Since the inception of Terranova, Bittel has worked diligently to provide multiple services to tenants, investors, and colleagues in the commercial retail space. He has successfully used his business insight, intuition, and recognition of the potential to stay ahead of emerging trends in the real estate realm. While others shy away from taking chances on innovative methods and ideas, Bittel remains open to evolution. Instead of turning away from change, he leans into the evolving desires of the general public and leverages this knowledge to provide services for evolving consumers.

As an industry leader and businessperson, Bittel fondly serves on various local boards, and gives back to the local communities that have welcomed his business throughout the last four decades. He proudly lends his business acumen to see the potential of community growth by providing services to local residents, boosting local tourism, and maximizing the robust possibilities offered by Southern Florida. Constantly looking to the future, Bittel works alongside community leaders and organizations to ensure a brighter future for all residents, business people, and local entrepreneurs. As a local leader in the community, Bittel’s involvement showcases his commitment to the people who live, work, and play alongside the proud Miami native.

With over $1 billion in commercial property assets and over $5 billion in commercial representation, Terranova is undoubtedly a leader in Florida’s commercial real estate sector. As the company enjoys 40 years of growth and expansion, Bittel looks ahead to the next decades of evolution, looking for potential in the changing tides of consumer behavior. With many exciting projects undoubtedly within his sight, Bittel is proverbially five steps ahead of the trend. While the rest of the industry looks to catch up, Bittel is recognizing the potential of newly emerging trends, situations, and behaviors. For Stephen Bittel and Terranova, the potential is endless.

Follow Stephen Bittel on Medium and ThriveGlobal.


bottom of page