Billionaire Daniel Dantas has spent the past 30 years increasing his fortune through the Opportunity firm he helped found in Brazil. Now it’s investing directly in U.S. real estate for the first time.

Opportunity oversees about 58 billion reais ($11.5 billion) in assets, from rural land holdings to port operators to palm oil producers, making it one of the biggest independent asset managers in Brazil, filings show. It separates its activities into private equity, asset management, wealth and real estate.  

Through the real estate business, Dantas and his partners are pushing Opportunity far beyond their home base to build apartment towers and condos in the hot Miami market.

While Opportunity has invested through third-party real estate funds in the U.S. over the past seven years, it’s now buying land and developing projects directly through a joint venture with Miami-based Leste Group, founded by fellow Brazilians. LORE, as the venture is known, has already bought seven plots for about $100 million in the Miami area and plans to spend more than $1 billion over five years. One of its first developments will be a 70-floor apartment tower with 500 apartments in the Brickell neighborhood. 

The current real estate portfolio has about 3 billion reais under management and returns since inception in 1996 have averaged 19% a year, according to Jomar Monnerat, the head of the division, who’s been at Opportunity for 29 years. The fund pays dividends twice a year, which have averaged about 8% of profits.

“We’ve been successful in U.S. investments in the past, but we saw that a lot of the premium from the deals” was going to the fund managers, Monnerat said in an interview at his office in Rio de Janeiro. “So we said, ‘We know how to do that ourselves,’ and set up a company.”

While building multifamily projects in the U.S. has been a popular investment in recent years, Monnerat said Opportunity is eyeing condos in Miami that can provide better short-term returns while interest rates remain high and the economy slows. They’re developing several in Coconut Grove, Brickell and in the south of the city, he said.

Already the largest real estate developer in Rio, Opportunity has completed more than 100 commercial and residential projects. It’s now retrofitting a historic 1922 hotel into a residential complex. Hotel Gloria, which was Brazil’s first five-star hotel and hosted the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein in its heyday, was acquired in an auction following the downfall of former billionaire Eike Batista. 

After purchasing the property for 100 million reais, Opportunity invested another 300 million reais. It will have 266 apartments and open in 2026. 

The firm had record sales of 800 million reais in 2022 and is on track to surpass that this year. 

Dantas, 69, who shuns the limelight since a tumultuous period in 2008, founded Opportunity in 1994 with partner Dorio Ferman and his sister Veronica Dantas. 

Opportunity was hired by Citigroup Inc. in 1997 to help the bank invest in the telecom industry during the privatization of the sector. After managing their private equity portfolio for years, Dantas’s firm was removed in 2005 and became embroiled in a legal battle with the bank. 

Three years later the financier was briefly jailed twice as part of bribery and money laundering investigations but was later cleared of the charges. In a 2017 email to Bloomberg News, Dantas said the investigation was a ruse to help Opportunity’s competitors.

It’s unclear how much of Opportunity’s 58 billion reais of assets are his money or what percentage of the company he owns. A spokeswoman for the firm declined to comment, citing “legal restrictions.”

A single investor in the Opportunity Gestora de Recursos firm, which lists Dantas as a controller, is responsible for 6.8 billion reais of the 13 billion reais under management, filings show. At another firm, Opportunity HDF Administradora de Recursos, where Ferman is listed as controller, a single investor has 11.2 billion reais of the 19.8 billion.

Opportunity’s real estate fund was born out of a single project in Rio’s Barra neighborhood and then moved into office buildings, Monnerat said. Once rents peaked around 2012 and 2014, they began to sell commercial space and pivot to residential projects in the affluent Zona Sul.

Beyond Rio, Opportunity owns more than 400,000 hectares (988,420 acres) of land in the northern state of Para where it raises cattle and produces soybeans and corn through the firm AgroSB. 

About 170 kilometers (105 miles) east of Rio, Opportunity is developing a luxury condominium project called Arete in Buzios, an arid peninsula with pristine beaches. In a Florida-esque touch, the homes are built on man-made canals with an 18-hole golf course and nearby airstrip. About 300 of a planned 3,000 houses have been sold, said Raphael Zanola, Opportunity real estate manager.

Further north, a large residential project in Espirito Santo state and another gated community in the capital Brasilia are in the works. Opportunity has preferred to not enter the crowded market in Sao Paulo and instead focus on places it knows and can dominate, Monnerat said. 

A new venture with local developer Rafael de Carvalho Ramos called BRIX has begun to flip old properties in Rio’s upscale Ipanema and Copacabana neighborhoods with Opportunity owning 75% of the venture. 

Their partners in Miami at Leste are led by Stephan de Sabrit and ex-Banco BTG Pactual SA executive Emmanuel Hermann, who have known the Opportunity team for decades. Monnerat and Zanola spend a week every 45 days in Miami and work out of the Leste office space in Brickell.

“The U.S. is very pro-business, which helps a lot,” Monnerat said. 

They originally planned to build 250 apartments at the location, but because the land was adjacent to a train station, they were able to expand the project, he said.

“So instead of 40 floors, we could do 60 or 70,” Monnerat said. “That’s not something we typically can do in Brazil.” 

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.