Stephen Bittel is the founder and chairman of Terranova Corporation, an alternative investment firm specializing in commercial real estate. For over four decades Bittel has led the ownership and operation of the firm’s significant portfolio which today totals more than $1 billion in assets including those in urban retail, multi-family, as well as gas station, convenience store and car wash assets. A fixture in the South Florida community, Bittel is perhaps just as known for his commitment to organizations that aim to improve the greater Miami area and the lives of the people within it.
Bittel was born and raised in Miami, the third generation to reside there. His father and grandfather were both lawyers, and in his youth he believed he would eventually follow in their footsteps. Although he moved north to earn his undergraduate degree in economics at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, he returned to Miami upon graduating and enrolled in the University Miami School of Law.
As a graduating senior at Bowdoin College, Bittel had been awarded the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and spent some time traveling Europe where he completed an independent study on private banking models. The encounters he had during his trip encouraged him about the prospect of investment as a career rather than law, and while still in law school he made the decision to form his own commercial real estate investment firm. Seeking to use the connections he formed while studying in Europe, Bittel named his company Terranova, or “new land” in Latin. Working out of his home office, Bittel worked to build his company from the ground up while still completing his law degree.
In its first two decades in business, Bittel followed residential real estate trends and grew Terranova’s portfolio by purchasing assets in growing suburban markets such as shopping centers. Developing relationships with large companies such as Publix, Walgreens, Winn Dixie, Payless Shoes, and Starbucks, Bittel was able to build out shopping centers with chain store anchors, drawing customers with big chain stores to the benefit of them and the smaller surrounding tenants. At the peak of its investment in such structures, Terranova was operating over 100 open air shopping centers and had a total property base of over eight million square feet which also included office buildings, industrial parks, multi-family, and self-storage assets.
After over two decades operating with that business model, in the early aughts Bittel made the decision to diversify Terranova’s portfolio. Recognizing a shift in young professionals attitudes that saw them seeking to live in a place where they can work and have access to entertainment such as retail and dining, he began to transition the company’s strategy to focus less on suburban strip centers and more on urban retail in areas that were part of a walkable downtown core. Starting in 2003 with the purchase of an eight-property portfolio on Miracle Mile in downtown Coral Gables, over the past two decades Bittel has continued to grow Terranova’s assets in the category. Today it is the largest property owner both on Miracle Mile and Lincoln Road, a pedestrian mall in downtown Miami Beach.
In recent years, Bittel has diversified Terranova’s investment portfolio further, taking an opportunistic approach to commercial real estate and purchasing properties such as a multi-family asset in Austin, Texas and gas station, convenience store and car wash assets. He has also said he anticipates further diversification through investments in other industries such as life sciences, technology, healthcare, petroleum and agriculture in the future.
Outside of his professional career, Bittel has also had deep involvement in a number of community organizations in Miami. He has served on the board and in leadership board positions for the Miami chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation Washington D.C. Advocacy Mission, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, Chapman Partnership for the Homeless, Jackson Memorial Hospital Foundation, Teach for America Miami, Achieve Miami, the Lincoln Road Business Improvement District, and the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden amongst others. He has also worked closely with the Parkinson’s Foundation on numerous fundraising efforts while making considerable personal donations himself.