Will Cutler Bay Be Miami-Dade’s New Boomtown? Its Hopes Are Set On A $1 Billion Project

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The town of Cutler Bay has set its sights on becoming the next boomtown of South Miami-Dade County. Those hopes are pinned on a semi-vacant shopping mall that has struggled to rebound since Hurricane Andrew and is now the site of a $1 billion redevelopment project.

“We will be the geographic heart of South Dade, and we’re going to be the economic engine of South Dade in a very short period. All the opportunity is right there,” Mayor Tim Meerbott said last month during a meeting of the Miami Association of Realtors. “It’s already great now, but we’re going to be by far the best city you will ever see.”

Once one of the largest employers in South Miami-Dade, Southland Mall has struggled to attract customers and restore its image after Andrew destroyed most of the structure in 1992. Despite its location at the convergence of the Florida Turnpike and U.S. 1, the mall remains partly vacant.

Cutler Bay leaders say this project will be a much-needed boon for the town of 45,000 where 96% of residents work elsewhere, according to the town’s 2021 Transportation Master Plan. If successful, it may become a blueprint for future large-scale developments in the often-overlooked South Dade region, as available land across South Florida continues to shrink.

But analysts say it’s also a gamble.

“I know as land becomes more scarce, especially in Miami-Dade County, that we’re going to see developers venture into some areas that were thought of as not Class A locations,” said Jack McCabe, a real estate analyst who owns Jack McCabe Expert Services based in Deerfield Beach. “It’s just a very grand scheme for Cutler Bay, I think.”

Miami-Dade County is projecting it will run out of empty lots on which to build single-family homes, including duplexes and townhouses, within the Urban Development Boundary by 2026, which makes the 83-acre site in Cutler Bay that is already zoned for commercial and residential use “like a godsend,” said Ned Murray, associate director of Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center.

“You can go on and on about what can be done when you repurpose a mall,” Murray said. “They have almost this carte blanche opportunity to create something that’s really, really special.”

Developers BH Group and Electra America in April purchased the Southland Mall property for $100.35 million. Then in October they acquired the adjoining Sears for an additional $34 million.

“It’s still early on in the process, but we envision a ‘city within a city’ for living, working, shopping, and playing,” Ron Gaither, Electra America’s chief development officer, said in an email to the Miami Herald. “We have a track record of 30 years developing and acquiring mixed-use residential properties, but this will be one of the largest, most ambitious projects in our portfolio.”

Preliminary plans for what will become the Southplace City Center include a 150-key hotel, 60,000 square feet of medical office space, a terraced community amphitheater, golf cart trails, a trolley system, restaurants, retail and approximately 4,400 housing units to be built over a seven-year period.

Developers plan to break ground in mid-2023. The Southland Mall project will not require Town Council approval, unless the developers ask for exemptions. That’s because the mall is located within the town center district, which allows for mixed-use, commercial use and multi-family development, as well as hotels, nightclubs and even medical marijuana dispensaries, according to the municipal code. That also means the developers, who submitted their site plans in September, can circumvent a public hearing process.

Source:  Miami Herald