Mindy McIlroy, President of TerraNova Corp.

Parkinson’s Diagnosis Hasn’t Hindered Terranova President’s Success: ‘Outlook Plays a Big Role in How You Feel’


Mindy McIlroy, president of commercial real estate investment firm Terranova Corp., has completed $1 billion in retail leasing deals throughout her unique career in South Florida, but her success hasn’t come without challenges.

McIlroy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014. But instead of letting it slow her down, she decided not to view herself as a victim and tackle the disease head-on by being open about it with her colleagues.

“It hasn’t been a challenge as far as how the community views me. Some days, physically, are more challenging for me than others, but I really believe with any sort of illness, whether physical or mental, your outlook plays a big role in how you feel,” said McIlroy.

Parkinson’s is a central nervous system disorder that affects movement and often causes tremors.

Even while battling her condition and on top of her responsibilities at Terranova, McIlroy joined the board of directors of the National Parkinson Foundation and became chairwoman of the Moving Day Miami, the foundation’s annual fundraising walk. She also served as co-chair of the development committee for the foundation.

Today, in her role as president of Terranova, Mindy oversees all day-to-day operations for the company’s national retail portfolio. She focuses on a variety of retail properties, such as suburban shopping centers, lifestyle, entertainment centers, urban retail and mixed-use projects.

During the most challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, McIlroy is credited with leading her company to complete over $230 million in capital markets transactions in 2021 and closing deals worth over $61.7 million across 200,000 square feet of South Florida commercial retail space on behalf of a Terranova-affiliated landlord.

McIlroy is also known for conceptualizing establishments such as The Lincoln Eatery, a food hall in Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road district. She co-founded the Lincoln Road Property Owners Association, which is now the Lincoln Road Business Improvement District, and is currently an executive board member.

Employees ‘Aren’t Just People Sitting at a Desk’

McIlroy said one of her biggest accomplishments is creating a work environment that feels like a family.

“We care about each other, we have a nice working environment and everybody helps each other to get things done. Being a leader and developing that culture has been very rewarding and is one of the highlights of my career,” she said.

To create that kind of culture, McIlroy said business owners must take the time to get to know their employees on a personal and professional level.

“They aren’t just people sitting at a desk. It takes time, energy and effort to really care about your staff. You need patience, to spend time offline and not always within the confines of the office, and take them out to lunch from time to time,” said McIlroy.

McIlroy’s career began in 1997, when McIlroy moved from Atlanta to South Florida. After going through a staffing agency, McIlroy was hired as an executive assistant at Terranova working under its chairman and founder Stephen Bittel.

“I never sought this career. I think it sought me,” said McIlroy. “I ended up in that role because I was in the hospitality industry and I was in a sales position, and, in order to grow in sales, you have to be able to relocate often to larger locations.”

After a couple of years, McIlroy resigned from Terranova with the intent to go back into sales in the hospitality industry, when Terranova’s then-president offered her a real estate sales position. From there, she moved through the ranks.

McIlroy credits much of her success to her mentors, including Terranova chairman and founder Stephen Bittel, along with her predecessors Trish Blasi and Beth Azor.

“People who are in leadership roles should absolutely be conscious of the fact that they need to give back and mentor someone,” said McIlroy. “A lot of my acceleration in my carerr was due to the fact that I had worked directly for him [Bittel] for two years.”

Since Bittel is such an icon in the real estate industry, McIlroy said she was able to recognize all of the big hitters who came through the office and get acquainted with them.

“You develop a relationship where you can talk very candidly with each other, so he certainly didn’t miss any opportunity to tell me when I wasn’t doing something right,” said McIlroy. “From that, I would learn very quickly, because you want someone you trust to tell you what you need to do differently to improve your situation.

It’s Not Who You Know, But ‘Who Knows You’

Being successful in any field means developing thick skin, in McIlroy’s experience. She said the key to success in being involved in the community, nit just for networking purposes, but to improve it.

“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you,” said McIlroy.

McIlroy held a leadership position for two consecutive terms as president of the Coral Gables Business Improvement District, and has also served as a retail advisory board member of the Kelley A. Bergstrom Center of Real Estate Studies at University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration, and as a mentor in the Women of Tomorrow Mentor and Scholarship Program. She’s currently a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers. 

For fun, McIlroy said she likes to work.

“Because I find all aspects of my work fun, including the work I do for my company and the work I do for my community,” she said.

In her downtime, she enjoys traveling, planting and growing fruits and vegetables, and considering new real estate concepts from around the world to better enhance Terranova’s real estate portfolio.




Stephen Bittel of Terranova: Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Real Estate Industry


As part of my series about the ‘Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Real Estate Industry’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Bittel, chairman and founder of Terranova Corp.

Stephen Bittel is the Founder and Chairman of Terranova Corporation, an opportunistic alternative investment firm with a core focus on U.S. real estate and an investment portfolio valued at nearly $1 billion. With a long-standing commitment of building better communities, the company is distinguished as a national leader making an indelible imprint on the commercial real estate industry.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

I was born in Miami in our public hospital in 1956 and went to K-12 public schools, in which I ‘m still very much engaged. As a child, I grew up hearing my family and their successful professional friends over dinner at our house talking about business and real estate investments, so these concepts were ingrained in my mind from an early age. I’ve always viewed real estate as the ultimate adult game of monopoly, and for some reason, I’ve always had an uncanny knack for it.

Interestingly, while I loved real estate, I grew up thinking I would naturally follow the footsteps of my father and grandfather, who were both very successful lawyers. I applied to law school while traveling Europe under the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship grant, after graduating magna cum laude with an economics degree from Bowdoin College. Since it was always my plan to come back to Miami, I attended the University of Miami School of Law with a partial scholarship and supported myself in law school by working full time at a commercial real estate firm.

When that firm offered to take me from salaried pay to commission, I decided to quit because I thought I could make more money by establishing my own business. I still earned my law degree and passed the bar exam, although my true passion was always in the world of business and, particularly, commercial real estate.

I started Terranova in the fall of my second year of law school out of my house. I had a great few years and graduated with an office, seven employees and three properties that we syndicated under management. We had a great run until about 1986 when the real estate industry blew up with the combined effects of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and The Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989. We then roared into building what would become the largest third-party management leasing business in the southeast United States. I named the company after seeing the word “Terranova,” which is Latin for “new land,” in a section on foreign words in the back of the dictionary. Today, I find it incredible that I get to have fun playing this game of adult Monopoly every day and make a lot of money at it.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

My entire career is so full of interesting and amusing stories that it’s hard to pick just one. So I’ll share something that illustrates an important characteristic that has been integral to our success , which can bring value to anyone making any strategic investment.

Years ago, when I purchased Terranova’s first set of properties on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach for $52 million at $850 per square foot, I was widely criticized for spending an amount many called “staggering.” It always amuses me that I later sold these and other properties for a more “staggering” number: $342 million. This deal, which at first was so widely criticized by the masses, solidified Terranova Corporation’s position as a leader which today owns and operates an investment portfolio worth almost $1 billion. So the lesson is: know when to follow your gut and ignore other people’s opinions. It takes vision and courage, but that’s how most great things are achieved.

Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The road to success is always full of unexpected twists and turns. Some of the most important lessons can be learned from the mistakes you made and the ones you didn’t make. Embrace everything as a lesson, informing you what to do next.”

The deals where I’ve made the most money and for which I’m best known are ones where people called me “crazy.” I’ve always been grateful that I chose to ignore the noise and listen to my gut.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In addition to all the charitable and nonprofit work we’ve always done, much of which we have kept behind the scenes and under the radar, we will continue to pursue local, national and international opportunities beyond real estate. Terranova today is investing in innovative companies in such dynamic industries as life sciences, technology, healthcare, petroleum and agriculture that will increase public access to new ideas and solutions that will make life better for people.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Beyond our success in business, Terranova is distinguished for its long-standing history of building better communities. We’ve always donated our time, talents and treasure to impactful projects toward a greater good. One key example is the Parkinson’s Foundation. Our President, Mindy McIlroy, has Parkinson’s and serves as a board member of the organization, and I’ve personally been a major donor. With our help, the nonprofit has been able to open multiple Centers of Excellence across the country developing new treatments and improving care. Mindy has led campaigns for Moving Day Miami, which is the National Parkinson’s Foundation’s annual fundraising walk, and has set fundraising records which remain unsurpassed.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve always been naturally inquisitive and open to learning anything valuable from anyone, so it’s hard to narrow it down to one person. However, interestingly, I’ve learned most of my greatest life-changing lessons from those who weren’t necessarily trying to help me. One of the earliest examples was when I was at law school at the University of Miami, and the commercial real estate firm where I worked to support myself tried changing my pay from salaried to commission. Believing I could make more money on my own, I quit to start Terranova — and this has always served as a powerful reminder that it’s important to know who we are and believe in our ability to achieve our goals.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry? If you can please share a story or example.

I’m excited by the continued growth of markets like South Florida, as evidenced by the fact that leasing of restaurant space at Terranova properties is at 100% and rates are higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Also excited to see that restaurant tenants are figuring out how to reinvent their businesses with new online ordering, takeout and delivery and outdoor dining options — and for this reason the restaurant industry will continue to come back stronger. Markets like Coral Gables, for example, are continuing to grow in popularity for meals any time of day.

Most importantly, we can expect to see continued opportunities for strategic investment in real estate, including i​ndustrial and multifamily, in key markets across the country.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.

The return to office is always a concern. Every company will have its own policy based on its unique situation, and I am not sure we will see folks returning in full force for a while. We’ll just have to wait it out.

Staffing shortfalls in construction will continue to cause project delays for the foreseeable future. Considering that we’ve kept our borders closed for five years, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that many of these positions are going unfulfilled.

Traditional retail had been suffering long before the pandemic and is probably the commercial real estate sector that will have the trickiest recovery. Retailers, especially those like Kmart with older models that haven’t updated their offerings, will continue to hurt. Modernization is key, and Walmart and Target are great examples of the benefits of creating an online presence and changing store offerings.

What advice would you give to other real estate leaders to help their teams to thrive and to create a really fantastic work culture?

Involve your company in corporate social responsibility initiatives that support meaningful causes and enhance the community you call home. Engage your team members in these initiatives — there’s nothing like bringing people together to work toward a greater good. This has always been part of Terranova’s DNA.

Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

  1. Know your passions and follow them because that’s where you’ll find your greatest destiny. While it wasn’t easy at the time to not follow the footsteps of my larger-than-life father and grandfather, my decision to not become a lawyer after graduating law school has made all the difference.
  2. Don’t just take what you’re offered because it’s easy — think outside the box and follow your vision. My decision to turn down a high-paying position at a commercial real estate firm in order to start my own company enabled me to achieve the success I have today. I always knew I could make more money on my own, and indeed, I was correct.
  3. Follow your gut. I bought Terranova’s first set of properties on Miami Beach’s iconic, world-famous Lincoln Road for $52 million at $850 per square foot — a price many criticized as “staggering.” Interestingly, I later sold these and other properties together for a more “staggering” number: $342 million. This deal solidified Terranova Corporation’s position as a leader which today owns and operates nearly $1 billion in assets.
  4. Cultivate leaders within your company. Our President, Mindy McIlroy, started out as my assistant in 1997. Our culture of empowerment and mentoring positioned her two predecessors — former Terranova presidents Trish Blasi and Beth Azor, together with me — to support Mindy. With our mentoring and guidance, she grew into this leadership position where she ​​oversees all day-to-day operations for Terranova’s diverse retail portfolio and has personally completed over $1 billion in retail leasing transactions.
  5. Outwork your competition. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but be bullish and put in the time to know everything possible about every detail so that you can tell a cohesive story. Manage viciously. Retire the biggest debt first. Take advantage of long-term plays. Pick the right person as a source and that you look up to, get to the office before them, stay later and be always available when they want you to go look at a deal on a Saturday or Sunday. There is no easy way out, but to outwork your competition.

Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would like to see clean meat really take off and clean meat labs replacing farms and slaughterhouses. We are continuing to see demand for vegan meat increasing, a trend I fully expect will continue as people get smarter and wiser about the wellbeing of our population and our planet. Investment opportunities in this arena are very exciting.






2022 Predictions for South Florida Commercial Real Estate with Terranova Chairman Stephen Bittel

DIGITAL JOURNAL -March 3, 2022 For many people, 2022 holds the hopeful promise of some return to relative normalcy after two years of strife and uncertainty. Practically every industry and business has been forced to reassess and restrategize, first in part due to the abrupt and sweeping shutdowns of 2020, and later in 2021 because of supply chain difficulties and rising inflation amongst other pandemic-related ramifications.

In many ways, the health of the real estate markets can be used as an indicator of health for other industries and it appears that the year has held a promising start in the sector as far as South Florida is concerned. According to Stephen Bittel, chairman of one of the area’s top commercial real estate firms Terranova Corporation, real estate transactions have exceeded typical activity. The firm closed a record volume of transactions in the last quarter of 2021, and has several more pending in the first quarter of 2022.

In an interview for Law.com’s Daily Business Review, Bittel told the publication “I feel incredibly fortunate that I get to, in my career, play an adult game of Monopoly. That’s incredible fun, we make a lot of money at it, and it enables us to take our profits and do good in our communities.”

However, Bittel also acknowledged that while there is plenty of room for growth, the effect of factors such as the rise of interest rates and inflation in combination with a lack of policy being issued may give people pause in regards to asset values. He also observed that as year-end earnings are released retailers will likely see a resulting underperformance as a result of lack of consumer confidence, indicating that in a consumer-driven economy interruptions in supply can cause economy-wide disruptions.

Amongst the deals that occurred for Terranova in January include the closing of a $40 million refinancing deal near Miami Lakes. The Palm Plaza shopping center is a 90,621-square-foot property that is 95 percent leased and is also currently undergoing a $1.3 million renovation – its first in nearly two decades – with changes including a new parking lot and landscaping. Its anchor tenant is Navarro Discount Pharmacy, a pharmacy chain owned by CVS, and also holds other popular retailers such as Sketchers and Starbucks. Other tenants include MDNow and First Watch.

According to Bittel the deal, made with the Puerto Rican financial services company Banco Popular, pays off an existing loan and also provides Terranova with capital for future growth. “We signed both of them through long-term renewals, which stabilized the revenue stream from that property for the next 20 years,” Bittel said.

How tenants of Terranova’s retail spaces are faring appears dependent on both the industry they occupy and how they handled the shifts caused by the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the firm’s restaurant space leasing is at 100 percent and rates are higher than they were in the years before the pandemic.

Bittel said this as an indication of South Florida’s continued growth, additionally citing the fact that restaurant sales in 2021 actually exceeded what was earned by the same tenants in 2019. Although he acknowledged that 2020 was a difficult year for the industry, as a whole, he observed that those of his tenants who were able to adapt to the circumstances through offering takeout, deliveries, and moving operations outside have come out the other side stronger and more resilient as a result.

Along Coral Gables’ historic Miracle Mile stretch, restaurants have expanded outside and as a result the area has become a popular spot for dining at all times of the day from brunch to late night dinners. In 2021 over 70 restaurants acquired permits from the city for outdoor dining, and the already walkable area has since become a hotspot for restaurant dining post-pandemic.

However, Bittel also said that while the restaurant industry has proven that it is possible to adapt, many retailers within South Florida’s real estate market are still struggling to catch up. In particular, Bittel cites older retailers such as Kmart as examples of a company that failed to update its business model for the rapid changes and have continued to suffer as a result. However, other big box stores such as Walmart and Target who were able to maintain a strong online presence and update their store offerings to keep up with new demands have managed to continue seeing positive results.

Bittel also predicted a new category of stores that will likely see growth in the South Florida real estate market: grocery stores. “I think we’re going to see a lot more high-end, organic supermarket options in South Florida, like crazy.” Indeed, in 2021 the popular Amazon-owned chain Whole Foods announced it would be opening two stores in Miami, and the Arizona-based Sprouts Farmers Market moved into Miami-Dade county for the first time that same year with five new store openings.

Amongst the reasons for the increase in demand for supermarkets with a focus on organic products include the growth of South Florida itself. According to Bittel, migration that began last year of company leadership will this year see a new wave of the second level of senior leadership heading to the Sunshine State, seeking proximity to the top leaders who preceded them. This migration will also result in more out-of-market restaurants moving to South Florida.

“Institutional investors in real estate are heavily focused on industrial and multifamily,” Bittel told Law.com. “The multifamily serves the incoming population, and industrial serves the growing base of distribution both for e-commerce, as well as Central and South America and the Caribbean.”

Indeed, Bittel is not the only person to identify and predict the continued rise of South Florida as a viable location for business operations. When asked about his biggest tech predictions for 2022 by Fast Company, Atomic CEO Jack Abraham said that 2021 saw the first wave of tech migration and that in the next year there will increase to thousands more who will leave major tech hubs for a higher quality of life.

One thing the pandemic made clear was that location and opportunity are increasingly becoming decoupled, and for entrepreneurs and investors in particular it is likely that the rate of company building and venture investment will continue to increase in areas outside of the Bay Area such as Miami. Abraham predicted that in 2022 at least a few major tech companies will announce the opening of new headquarters or offices in Miami, which will become recognized as the major center for tech innovation as a result.

As for Terranova, Bittel has done his best to sure up operations and finances in light of the pandemic while also capitalizing on the opportunities that have presented themselves as a result. This has included the sale of Terranova’s headquarters of nearly two decades, a 52,000 square-foot building on 41st street to the tune of a cool $22 million, a $55 million refinance of its portfolio of properties along Miracle Mile in Coral Gables and the recent $6.8 million acquisition of 93 Miracle Mile. Operating in its 41st year of business, Bittel has sought to make Terranova a buyer of high-quality, long-term assets. With this finger on the pulse of Miami’s ebbs and flows in the new year, Bittel told Law.com that he was excited to see what other opportunities Terranova may encounter in the coming year.