So far, 2011 hasn't proven to be the year of recovery for the Southeast that many analysts and some industry folks had expected, or hoped, it would be. Across the Southeast, contract awards are decidedly down, and most contractors seem to think it'll be 2012 at least until a true uptick takes hold. And most of the opinions expressed seem more hopeful than definitive, with mostly vague notions of when and where the recovery might occur.

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A view of ongoing construction at the Port of Miami. (Photo courtesy Florida Dept. of Transportation)

A major player in the South Florida construction market is convinced that Miami and the surrounding area is poised to lead the way to better days. Actually, to hear Thomas P. Murphy Jr., chairman and CEO of Coastal Construction Group, Miami, tell it, the near future of South Florida construction sounds like a second coming of the Big Boom.

"What I think we’re seeing right now is probably unprecedented, in my life anyway," Murphy says.

Here's what he means. Coastal tracks projects and puts potential jobs in the "hopper," so to speak, if they meet a list of criteria that includes: an owner that the company has worked with previously; the type of construction that Coastal has performed historically; and several others that break down to the company otherwise having the resources to pursue and build the project.

Murphy says the value of projects in Coastal's "hopper" topped out in October 2007 at about $3.2 billion. A month later, the boom was over, and about $1 billion of potential projects fell away. Recently, that number had dwindled to about $900 million. "But it was all on life support," Murphy says. "It might've been in the hopper, but it wasn't going anywhere."

That's all changed, and in a hurry. Today, Murphy says Coastal is presently chasing nearly $4 billion worth of projects, easily the largest amount ever. "I’ve never seen anything like this," he says.

The markets where these projects are popping up from are just as surprising. Leading the way: hospitality and, drum roll, please - retail and multifamily.

By now, you're probably thinking Murphy has flipped his wig, is having a heat-induced flashback or else has somehow managed to travel back in time. Well, Murphy's just as surprised as you, but it's all true, he says.

"Hospitality (projects) appear to be on every corner," Murphy says, adding that Coastal has signed on for three hotel projects and is looking at seven more. "Hospitality seems to be on fire. It’s everywhere!"

Likewise, "Rental apartments are everywhere," he adds, mentioning separate 27- and 44-story projects set to start in early 2012, one on Miami Beach and the other in the Brickell district.

Almost in shock, Murphy says Coastal's poised to start some condo work, too. "Believe it or not, I’d be surprised if we don’t start at least one but probably two condominiums on Miami Beach. Condominiums! For sale!"

Indeed, it's true. The Related Group's Jorge Perez, the renowned Miami-based condo developer -- who recently reached foreclosure settlements on several of his projects, including his $1-billion baby, ICON Brickell -- just announced Related was moving forward on six new South Florida multifamily developments. New investors, new opportunities.

McGraw-Hill Construction economic analyst Jennifer Coskren confirmed that, through May, the value of Miami's multifamily construction starts is up by about 35% compared to a year ago. Even so, the value of these new starts is only about $102 million so far, well down from the market's peak of about $2.7 billion.

"The earliest I would expect a more substantial amount of construction activity would be 2012," says Coskren, adding that 2011 may prove to be a "year of transition."

But Murphy could still be right. Many of the projects in Coastal's "hopper" represent 2012 starts. So maybe that boom really is just around the corner.

"I think Miami is going to surprise the nation," Murphy asserts. "We're seeing an awful lot of activity."

So what do you think? Is Miami poised for a robust resurgence? Or is it too good to be true?  Let us hear your thoughts!

Of course, if you're so inclined, don't forget to follow us on Twitter, @SEConstruction, and also over @ENRNews.