Meet Lissette Calderon, the Miamian Redesigning Her Hometown


In its more than 20-year existence, Neology Development Group has left its mark on Miami’s multifamily development landscape. With Founder & CEO Lissette Calderon at the helm, several undervalued communities in the metro became sought-after neighborhoods.

In this in-depth interview with Multi-Housing News, Calderon expands on her vision, upcoming projects and her evolution as a businesswoman in South Florida.

Was real estate a career that you wanted to pursue from the beginning? Why did you choose this path?

Calderon: This has been my dream since childhood. My father was my hero, and every Saturday was an adventure, accompanying him to his job sites. There, amidst the sounds of construction for single-family homes, we shared visions of our future company. His passing in my high school years was a profound loss, yet the passion for real estate development he nurtured within me remains undiminished. The legacy of our shared dreams fuels my dedication to this path—I cannot envision myself doing anything else.

One of Lissette Calderon’s missions is to dismantle barriers and alter stereotypes in the real estate industry. Image courtesy of Neology Development Group

Is there a synergy between the experience and the business knowledge that you gained so far and the type of projects you develop in your hometown?

Calderon: Initially, my professional journey commenced in New York City, but the pull of real estate development lured me back home to Miami. My challenge in finding urban, pet-friendly, and affordable housing, coupled with my own lifestyle as a young professional with a beloved dog, highlighted a gap in the market. The time I spent living in a loft had an impact on me, inspiring me to introduce this living concept to Miami.

Observing how rivers contributed to the vitality of major cities during my travels, I saw an unexploited opportunity along the Miami River. This insight led to the creation of Neo Lofts, marking my solo real estate development debut and sparking the Miami River District’s transformation into a vibrant, sought-after area. This project, alongside others like Neo Vertika, Wind by Neo and Pier 19 Residences & Marina, solidified my legacy as the ‘Queen of the Miami River’ and established me as a visionary developer in South Florida.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced throughout the years? How have those experiences helped with the way your residential projects take shape?

Calderon: My journey in the real estate sector has been marked by several formidable challenges, not least of which was defying the stereotypes often faced by a Hispanic female developer in a male-dominated industry. The decision to initiate the Neo Lofts project represented a significant leap of faith, especially as it unfolded less than a year after the tragedy of 9/11—a time of unparalleled uncertainty. It was the courage to defy expectations and the resilience to pursue my vision that eventually led me to carve out my own path.

I’ve also grappled with the challenge of balancing ambitious professional goals with personal aspirations, such as motherhood. Despite progress toward gender equality, the stark underrepresentation of women in leadership roles within commercial real estate starkly underscores the persistent barriers. These experiences have not only shaped my determination but have also ignited a passion to inspire young women to chase their dreams, embrace failures as integral to growth, and face adversity with unwavering resilience, all while challenging and overcoming stereotypes without apology.

What is the thought process behind planning and choosing the design of your residential projects and how is that connected to the Miami neighborhoods that you build in?

Calderon: In the heart of our approach to residential development lies a commitment to embody the unique essence of each neighborhood we become a part of. Our projects are far from one-size-fits-all; they are meticulously crafted to reflect the distinctive culture, history, and vibrancy of their surroundings. This philosophy ensures that every one of our developments, from Neo Lofts to Pier 19 and beyond, stands as a unique narrative piece of Miami’s rich, multicultural tapestry.

Our design process is holistic, considering not just the architectural aesthetics but also the finer details that bring each project to life. Everything, from the naming to the on-site artwork, the curated amenities, and even the ambient scents, is thoughtfully aligned with the project’s identity.

For instance, Pier 19 draws its inspiration from its waterfront setting on the Miami River, incorporating design elements that reflect this connection to water. Similarly, No. 17 pays homage to the industrial roots and vibrant hues of the Allapattah neighborhood, once known for fruit packing. The Julia stands as a tribute to Miami’s founding mother, Julia Tuttle, blending tropical and metropolitan vibes to celebrate the area’s heritage. Our Palmer Lakes project, nestled at the nexus of Miami’s transit networks and near Miami International Airport, draws from the golden era of aviation, mirroring its dynamic, central location.

Your company is also involved in the community through various partnerships, including with students that are set to become the future generation of developers. Why is such social responsibility important for you and the real estate development industry?

Calderon: The inclusion of diverse talents, perspectives and strengths is not merely beneficial but crucial for the vitality and innovation within any sector, particularly in commercial real estate. My involvement with The University of Miami’s Master of Real Estate Development + Urbanism Advisory Board, alongside my roles with the SE Florida/Caribbean Urban Land Institute and as a member of the International Women’s Forum of Florida, underscores my commitment to nurturing and guiding the forthcoming wave of industry leaders.

Fostering the growth of future professionals in commercial real estate, and particularly empowering young women in this field, is a responsibility I hold dear. Through active participation in educational settings and advisory capacities, I aim to inspire and mentor these rising talents. My engagement is rooted in the belief that real-world insights and encouragement can profoundly impact their professional journeys.

As a testament to the attainability of the American Dream, my own narrative as a first-generation American and the first in my family to attend college serves as a beacon of what can be achieved through resilience, determination, discipline and an unwavering work ethic, coupled with a readiness to embrace failure as a stepping stone to success. It’s my aspiration that by sharing my journey and providing guidance, I can illuminate paths for others to follow, thereby enriching not just the real estate development industry but the broader community it serves.

What role does identity and gender play in the way you build a portfolio and create a life’s work? How has that influenced you as a businesswoman?

Calderon: As a native of Miami and a first-generation Cuban American woman, the intersection of gender and identity fundamentally influences my approach to cultivating a distinctive portfolio and forging my legacy through Neology’s projects. These aspects of my identity have profoundly shaped my journey as a business leader and the nature of the projects I embark upon. My mission transcends merely navigating the industry; it’s about dismantling barriers and altering stereotypes. By vocalizing my experiences and underscoring the vital contributions women have made—and continue to make—in urban development, I aim to empower the next generation of female leaders.

Neology’s projects, such as The Julia, are more than architectural feats; they are celebrations of female influence and testimonies to a leadership ethos that is deeply committed to enacting meaningful change in Miami and the broader realm of real estate. Beyond addressing the conventional requirements of urban living, my perspective as a woman informs a nuanced approach to development. This includes a keen focus on aspects like safety, privacy, and the facilitation of social gatherings, ensuring our buildings cater comprehensively not just to adults but also to the experiences of children and guests.

In essence, my unique position as a female developer allows me to infuse our projects with considerations that might otherwise be overlooked, fostering environments that are not only innovative but deeply attuned to the diverse needs of all residents.

Tell us more about what was behind your decision to name The Julia Residences project after Julia Tuttle.

Calderon: The decision to name The Julia Residences after Julia Tuttle was a deliberate tribute to her pivotal role as a founding figure of Miami—the only major U.S. city to claim its inception by a woman. This move is emblematic of my commitment to extend Tuttle’s pioneering legacy, offering a beacon of inspiration for young women harboring grand aspirations.

Lissette Calderon at the groundbreaking ceremony of The Julia Residences in 2021. Image courtesy of Neology Development Group

Neology is known for reviving and transforming Miami areas that had been underdeveloped. How do you further envision the development of these areas in the years to come?

Calderon: Our efforts in reinvigorating the Miami River District have not only placed it among the city’s most vibrant and desirable locales, but have also set a precedent for how thoughtful development can transform underdeveloped areas into flourishing urban oases. Similarly, our initiatives in Allapattah have breathed new life into this historic neighborhood, aligning its rich heritage with contemporary living.

As we look to the future, our vision for these neighborhoods remains unwavering. We’re excited about the prospects of the Palmer Lake District, where we’re poised to launch a groundbreaking mixed-use development. This project, featuring 1,350 units alongside a new waterfront enclave and marina, embodies our commitment to innovation and community revitalization. Set on a 7-acre site, this endeavor, scheduled to commence in late 2024, represents the next chapter in our journey of transformation.

By entering areas like the Miami River and Allapattah, we’ve not only added value but have also sparked a wave of investment. This influx from both developers and major institutions has been instrumental in catalyzing widespread transformation across these districts… As we continue to shape the city’s landscape, our vision is to see these areas not only thrive economically, but also emerge as exemplars of balanced, sustainable urban development that others aspire to replicate.

Do you intend to expand your company’s footprint in other South Florida areas? How do you pick the best development opportunities outside Miami?

Calderon: The strategic expansion of our footprint beyond Miami and into other regions of South Florida, including Central Florida, is a key objective for us moving forward… Primarily, we seek out areas that, while perhaps overlooked in the past, hold significant untapped potential for transformation and growth. Our goal is to identify locales where our developments can serve as catalysts for positive change.

Moreover, our expansion strategy is rooted in a commitment to creating ‘attainable luxury’ living spaces that cater to the needs of young professionals and families alike. This involves a careful analysis of demographic trends, market demands, and the unique character of each potential location to ensure that our projects will resonate deeply with the community and environment.

How will Miami look like a decade from now? How do you expect its multifamily market to evolve?

Calderon: As we look into the next decade and beyond, my excitement grows for the burgeoning synergy among various neighborhoods, including Allapattah and Palmer Lake … Our commitment is steadfast in rejuvenating and breathing new life into urban districts, thus cultivating lively neighborhoods where residents can immerse themselves in a 24-hour lifestyle, seamlessly integrating living, working and recreation. This endeavor not only continues but also accelerates Miami’s ascension, ensuring its place among the illustrious cities globally—a testament to our dedication to community enhancement and urban innovation.

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