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Shaq takes on real estate market

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Shaquille O'Neal is taking his game to downtown Miami, but in the real estate market rather than the hard court.

The Miami Heat star announced Tuesday the formation of The O'Neal Group, a real estate company, to organize his property holdings and invest in new projects. His first venture: investing in a billion-dollar development called Met Miami that encompasses three blocks in the heart of downtown.

''People sometimes ask me who is my favorite athlete. They expect me to say Chamberlain, Russell, Kareem,'' said O'Neal, ticking off the names of former basketball greats. ``But I say Dave Bing, because he did great things after basketball.''

Bing, a prolific scoring guard now enshrined in basketball's Hall of Fame, runs a multimillion-dollar steel business in Detroit and is a civic leader there.

O'Neal said he wants to make a similar mark in Miami and intends to keep a home here after his basketball career. However, O'Neal said his primary residence will remain in Orlando, which he has called home since launching his professional basketball career with the Orlando Magic.


Neither The O'Neal Group Vice President Christopher Handy nor Met Miami developer Luis Pulenta would provide specifics about financial arrangements. But each said they involved a significant financial investment by the Heat center.

''This is not a fee arrangement, I am partners with the gentleman to my right,'' said O'Neal, referring to Pulenta, who is a principal at Miami-based MDM Development. The O'Neal Group said it would also assist in marketing the project.

Plans for the Met Miami call for two condominium towers, an office and Marriott Marquis hotel, upscale shopping and a movie theater.

Retailers include the grocery store Whole Foods, and O'Neal plans to bring in his 24-Hour Fitness/Shaq Ultra Sport workout facility.

The project is going on land that once housed the historic Royal Palm Hotel built by industrialist Henry Flagler.

The condo tower Met One at Biscayne Boulevard and Biscayne Way is under construction, and preliminary work is underway for the other buildings.

O'Neal said he has invested in real estate for more than a decade, including strip malls and residential rental properties. The company is targeting mixed-use projects that focus on what Handy called ''integrated living'' and is exploring several other deals.


O'Neal is not the first NBA star to move into real estate.

Earvin ''Magic'' Johnson, the former guard who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA championships, launched Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds after his playing career ended. That fund, with nearly $1 billion in capital, has focused on urban renewal projects across the country. Johnson's South Florida investments include the Downtown Dadeland condo and retail project in Kendall.

''This lovely thing we do, we can't do forever,'' O'Neal said, who won his fourth NBA title this year after the Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks in six games. ``We've scoured the country to find an appropriate venue through which we could launch the O'Neal Group and ultimately decided that the best place to start was in our own backyard.''

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