For decades, these three large city blocks in a prime location — straddling Miami Avenue and butting up against the Miami River and the Brickell financial district — lay inexplicably vacant.

Now, in the seeming twinkling of an eye, they have been utterly transformed. Brickell City Centre, which opened in November, is an urban animal of a concentrated intensity more evocative of Hong Kong or Tokyo than anything Miami has seen before: five towers connected by a multi-level, open-air shopping center plugged directly into a Metromover station and layered over underground parking tunneled beneath the streets. Pedestrians enter porous breezeways seamlessly from the surrounding streets, while above, shoppers cross bustling pedestrian fly-overs, protected overhead by a “climate ribbon” canopy that snakes across all three blocks like a long strip of origami.

It feels like a real city. And that’s precisely the stated goal of the relatively new, largely untested and increasingly controversial zoning category that produced it, and that now may be paving the way to a redrawing of broad swaths of Miami.

The goal: to create true urban neighborhoods and districts in underdeveloped areas of the city that, far from being self-contained islands, are painstakingly planned, interwoven and compatible with the city fabric around them. Often in exchange for greater height and density, developers must spend millions on new public spaces, streets and amenities — sometimes paying cash into public kitties — while giving city planners and the city commission a significant say in the shape of the final product.

The concept has taken off, to the consternation of some neighborhood activists. SAP was once reserved mostly to the city’s core, but developers building in far-flung, residential neighborhoods are now taking advantage.

“What the SAP does uniquely is, it sets up a table where the city comes in, stakeholders come in, and we can all figure out what the optimal shape this project can take is,” Miami planning director Francisco Garcia, who helped author the Miami 21 code while at the private planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk, said in an interview. “In Miami, I don’t think there is any area that is not undergoing some degree of change, or redevelopment, or thinking about redevelopment. This is our world today here in Miami. So let’s approach this emphasis to redevelop and reshape the city in a creative way, and have it yield the best results.”

Aside from Brickell City Centre, which has two more planned phases yet to start, the SAP has also led to the lauded, near-total redevelopment of the formerly dormant Miami Design District. The rebirth of the district, about 60 percent complete, has meant new, street-friendly retail buildings and a pedestrian promenade connecting two large public plazas.

Meanwhile, on the north bank of the Miami River, River Landing would bring a multi-story restaurant and retail center with apartments to the site of the demolished Mahi Shrine in the Civic Center area. On the south bank, Chetrit Group’s $1 billion Miami River complex would bring 58- and 60-story towers and three levels of shops to a site formerly occupied by an abandoned restaurant and empty warehouses. Both projects would include new public spaces; Chetrit would underwrite upgrades to Jose Marti Park and contribute millions into an affordable housing trust fund.

If anything, these projects were celebrated. But as SAP applications proliferate across the city for everything from tech villages to mixed-use residential and commercial districts and even school and hospital redesigns, the sheer size and scale of some of the proposals is giving many city residents pause, if not provoking outright alarm.

Entrepreneur Moishe Mana’s massive Mana Wynwood SAP, which would bring shops, a trade center and residential towers rising up to 24 stories to two dozen acres of mostly vacant land, prompted a year of negotiation and public battles with other property owners in the rapidly redeveloping warehouse district. Mana won commission approval after agreeing to spend millions putting utilities under ground and redrawing the original plan to scale back construction facing the heart of Wynwood.

Elsewhere, developer Michael Simkins talked about using the SAP process to design an innovation center in blighted Park West immediately south of Interstate 395, including a controversial observation tower designed to also serve as a digital billboard, although his attorney says he’s currently reassessing whether to pursue an SAP.

And now a flurry of potential new SAPs has raised concerns that the process could become a runaway train barreling through established neighborhoods and dramatically changing their character. In and around the city’s Upper Eastside, three developers and a hospital have submitted applications to the city or are expected to soon, all within a tiny area of roughly 40 square blocks:

  • Legions West, a 1.2-million-square-foot complex abutting Legion Park, to be built on the site of a recently demolished American Legion post and neighboring Art Deco apartment buildings that formerly housed dozens of low-income families. The developer would spend millions on improvements to the park.
  • Eastside Ridge, proposed by the owners of Design Place, who want to turn 22 acres of moderately priced townhouse units into a mass of sky-high residential and office towers with nearly 3,000 condos.
  • Miami Jewish Health Systems, across Second Avenue from Design Place, which is planning an expansion of an existing campus. The hospital wants to open a new dementia-focused assisted living facility, research center and convention hotel, and redesign other aspects of its campus.
  • Magic City, a 15-acre assemblage including industrial buildings and a demolished trailer park straddling Little Haiti and Little River that developers Tony Cho and Bob Zangrillo want to convert into a technology, residential and cultural center.

Legions West and Eastside Ridge are perhaps the most controversial of the SAP submissions to date, in part because they would tower over neighbors and replace low-rise, low-cost rental housing. The Legions project would drop four towers up to 15 stories tall next to two protected historic districts: the MiMo Biscayne district with a 35-foot height limit, and the single-family Bayside Historic District. It would also include part of the adjacent and now-historic Legion Park in order to qualify for the needed nine acres to propose an SAP — an aspect that generated false fears that the developer, who plans to spend millions on upgrades, would privatize the park.

Renderings of the Eastside Ridge plan, which depict what seems to be a massive, gleaming steel-and-glass city-within-a city rising from the modest urban landscape of Little Haiti, has sent residents into a tizzy. Some in the community, already hyper-acute to the pressures of gentrification, believe they are being boxed in and pushed out by new development.

“The more we learn about these mammoth projects, the more concerned we are,” said Marleine Bastien, a Haitian-American activist who has been outspoken about gentrification of the neighborhood and the apparent lack of consideration for community input. “What we resent is for us to be brought in at the 11th hour when everything is cooked and ready to eat, and we get the crumbs.”

Garcia, Miami’s planning director, insists that community input is a central tenet of the Special Area Plan, which requires reams of paperwork, months of debate with city planners and multiple hearings in order to green-light a project. But some critics say there is evidence to the contrary.

“In Wynwood, they up-zoned 45 different properties to as high as 20 and 24 stories, which is a complete violation of the law,” said veteran Morningside activist Elvis Cruz, who argues that the city is flouting a Miami 21 requirement that all new development be compatible with its setting. “But that’s the way it works in the city. They just interpret things as they wish. It’s completely out of scale and character.”

People critical or skeptical of some of the newer SAPs even includes some prominent figures who have strongly backed such projects in the past. Horacio Stuart Aguirre, chairman of the Miami River Commission, which reviews projects along the waterway, said it’s one thing to approve SAPs on undeveloped land long contemplated for dense redevelopment, like the river properties close to downtown Miami, but entirely another to plunk those down amid settled, existing neighborhoods.

Though SAPs must be approved by the city commission, which has been no rubber stamp, Aguirre says he fears the “goodies” promised by developers of SAPs to the city — including new jobs, the creation of new public spaces and payments toward future affordable housing — prove too tempting to turn down. (None has been, yet.)

“Brickell City Centre is a wonderful idea, where it was done. It’s in Brickell, for crying out loud,” Aguirre said. “But should we have 20 of those reiterations all over the city? What happens to the character of individual neighborhoods? What happens to the idea of local communities?”

But Miami 21 designers say the SAP has always encouraged developers to embrace the neighborhoods in which they’re investing, and put in the extra expense, effort and time that sensitive master planning requires. They note that developers, even without SAPs, could always pursue up-zoning without providing anything in return to the community.

“They are a terrific improvement over the prior situation,” said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, whose firm authored the Miami 21 code. “It’s an invitation to making a better plan than what is there now.”

Garcia also says the city puts SAP proposals through a grind of an extensive review, and some submissions never make it out of the process because developers drop them after realizing what’s required for approval. He disputes the idea that developers and the city use SAPs in order to super-size projects.

“The perception by some is this is simply a race for the gluttonous,” Garcia said. “But I will tell you there are significant amounts of development capacity and density that are left on the table in each and every one of these SAPs.”

To be sure, height and density are part of the equation, but not the entire picture. What makes SAPs attractive to the city and developers is the flexibility afforded in designing what often are sprawling campuses. Roads can be moved. Buildings can be massed and shifted in ways they otherwise couldn’t. The rigidities of the city’s laws can be unlocked, although not ignored. “If I have the possibility to do that, why wouldn’t I?” asks Garcia.

Noting that the Design District SAP is hardly tall by Miami standards, Magic City’s Cho said he expects to submit an application for an SAP in part because the project he wants to build — the one he says is best for the area — is impermissible under the regular zoning code. For one thing, much of the 15 acres he and Zangrillo own are zoned industrial, and Cho says he’s hoping to include hundreds of low-cost residential units. Likely, that will be done by building “micro” units, tiny apartments made affordable by their size.

“The existing zoning is antiquated and outdated,” said Cho, who began investing years ago in Little Haiti real estate. “That’s not in the best interest of Miami. You don’t want a neighborhood that can’t develop residential.”

For Garcia, whose department hasn’t weighed in on Magic City, and has only begun to look at Eastside Ridge and Legions West, that’s the underlying truth behind Miami’s transformation. The city is evolving, and as downtown and Brickell become entirely built-out, and Wynwood’s land becomes price-prohibitive, developers will begin to invest and rebuild the city’s farther-flung neighborhoods. When that happens, he says, the city needs the tools to map out the right future.

“There has been a great explosion of building in Miami during the last six or seven years. But that’s a data-point. The real question is: Is that good? Is that bad?” he says. “It is a very positive trend and it is getting us closer to what Miami is and should be. Miami will not be in the near future a sleepy town that is a vacation resort for the wealthy. It should be a real city.”


Source: Miami Herald

The Argentine investor who made international headlines in 2014 when he paid $125 million for 1.25 acres along the Miami River has filed plans to build a 69-story condo tower there.

This 69-story condo is proposed at 300 Biscayne Boulevard Way in Miami

This 69-story condo is proposed at 300 Biscayne Boulevard Way in Miami

Riverwalk East Developments, led by German Coto and Gloria Coto from a family that owns a supermarket chain in Argentina, wants to build the project at 300 Biscayne Boulevard Way. Tentatively named Epic 2, it would have 384 condos in 1.09 million square feet and 561 parking spaces. When combining the condos with the parking and other amenities, the tower would total 1.64 million square feet.

The sail-shaped tower would be topped with a lighthouse feature. It would have an open-air pool deck on the 55th floor, plus a gym and sky lobby.

The Miami River Commission’s Urban Infill Committee recently approved the Epic 2 project with conditions, namely that its new public riverwalk be widened to 15 feet from 12 feet. The riverwalk would allow people to walk from Bayfront Park to Brickell along the mouth of the Miami River.

“This is probably the most desirable location for the public to enjoy the river and the bay at the same time,” MRC Chairman Horacio Stuart Aguirre said. “That river walk will be one of the most desired locations for early morning and later afternoon strolls to take in the fresh air and enjoy the view.”

The condo at 300 Biscayne Boulevard Way in Miami would have 384 units,

The condo at 300 Biscayne Boulevard Way in Miami would have 384 units,

Aguirre said the building’s design is architecturally appealing, although it would need extra-strong structural support to handle hurricane winds because it appears narrow. He expects the project to receive the recommendation of the full MRC board in about three weeks. The project would also require city approval for its design. The density falls within the property’s current zoning.

The bigger question is whether the Miami condo market can handle another project where unit prices are expected to average more than $1.5 million. Sales to the foreign buyers that fuel the market have slowed down in recent months, and several experienced developers have decided not to launch sales for new projects until the market picks up. On the Miami River, Kar Properties’ One River Point and a project by the Chetrit Group are already competing for high-end buyers. However, the Epic 2 site is further east along Biscayne Bay, while those two are upriver.


Source: SFBJ

New York-based Chetrit Group and local developer Ari Pearl’s plans for a $1 billion Miami River project have moved a step closer to reality.

A rendering of the Miami River project

A rendering of the Miami River project

The Miami City Commission late Thursday unanimously approved a development agreement and rezoning of a 10-acre site where Pearl and the Chetrit Group plan to build the mixed-used site that includes four towers, a hotel, shops, restaurants, and a public river walk with boat slips. There, a large section of Little Havana along the Miami River will get a major facelift.

To obtain city approval for higher density, the developers promised to invest $14 million into an affordable workforce housing fund, as well as $7 million for public infrastructure surrounding the project, including renovating nearby Jose Marti Park. Raymond Jungles has designed the plans for the park.

“This project is of city-wide importance,” the developers’ lawyer Melissa Tapanes Llahues told commissioners. “It makes the vision of an interconnected city a reality.”

A rendering of the Miami River project

A rendering of the Miami River project

Located between Southwest Second Avenue and Southwest Third Avenue, the Miami River and Southwest Seventh Street, the project will be built in five phases. The complex would have 1,678 residential units, 330 hotel rooms, 266,000 square feet of retail and office space, and more than 2,000 spaces. The first tower with 200 hotel rooms and 328 condos, Tapanes said, is scheduled for by the end of 2018. The developer is also getting 1.2 million square feet of “air rights” from the city at $17.82 a square foot, or $21 million, which is being used for the public improvements.

Joseph Chetrit

Joseph Chetrit

Pearl and the Chetrit Group have been working on the project’s design since they assembled the land for roughly $100 million last year. Some of the properties they acquired included the Finnegan’s River restaurant and the Pleasure Emporium adult superstore.

The developers and their architect, Kobi Karp, also consulted with the Miami River Commission on the site’s design which calls for restaurants and shops to line the river walk that will be accessible to Brickell and East Little Havana residents. There will also be a public gathering place at an I-95 underpass.

“This is a very exciting project in a blighted area that could use some enthusiasm,” said Miami River Commission Chairman Horacio Stuart Aguirre.

The commissioners also heard from a dozen residents and property owners who spoke in favor of the project. City Commissioner Frank Carrollo, whose district includes the site, gave the project a thumbs up after negotiating some more concessions from Pearl. Carrollo said the developers had agreed to contribute $14 million to the city’s workforce affordable housing fund and to set aside a space for the city to build a small paramedic station. The first $1 million is due when Pearl and Chetrit submit site plans for the towers, which they expect will be sometime in February 2016. Another $1 million is due once the first building permits are approved.

“This is a beautiful project,” Carrollo said. “I am glad to say I met with the developer and his team to address some issues


Source: The Real Deal