CLIENT NEWS: Miami Beach Planning Board Gives Kudos to Urbin Concept but Tells Founder to do More Community Outreach

February 3, 2020

Miami Beach Planning Board members loved what they heard from the founder of Urbin, a global “live, work, wellness” concept proposed for Washington Avenue, but after nearby residents expressed concern about noise from outdoor entertainment areas, they  suggested he meet further with the neighbors to try to find a solution.

Rishi Kapoor wants to build a co-living, co-work, hotel space on half a block on Washington Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets. He plans to restore a 1961 office building on the site and demolish an adjacent strip retail space to build a new six-story building.

Attorney Michael Larkin, partner with Bercow Radell Fernandez & Larkin, told the Board Kapoor plans to invest $50 million “in the resurgence of Washington Avenue.” His plans include 56 hotel rooms, 49 co-living units and suites, two micro-retail bays, two restaurants, one outdoor bar counter on the ground level and one outdoor rooftop bar counter with a pool deck, as well as a wellness center, according to Larkin.

Kapoor needs Planning Board approval for outdoor entertainment as well as to operate what is known as a Neighborhood Impact Establishment due to the number of people that will be onsite. Proposed hours for the ground floor courtyard bar are 11 am to 5 am with no entertainment after 11 pm and only ambient background music. The applicant is seeking rooftop pool and outdoor bar hours from 11 am – 9 pm Sunday through Wednesday and 11 am – 11 pm Thursday through Saturday.

“The entertainment venues, as you might imagine, are integral to the success of this project,” Larkin told the Board, providing amenity space for residents, hotel guests, and office tenants. The restaurants and bars would also be open to the public. “The goal is to have live, work, wellness integrated here within the property which includes areas to socialize,” he said.

Kapoor then described the concept behind Urbin… spelled Urbin rather than Urban “because it’s about inclusion in the urban core” – a “progressive housing solution” at an “accessible price point.”

“Everything I’m here today to speak about is about community, the balance and health within it, and the opportunity for happiness for people having a higher quality of life by saving commute times, spending less dollars on rent, and living and enjoying their local community. I’ve made this my mission and my life’s work to bring to communities across the globe,” Kapoor told the Board.

“We’re trying to solve the problems of affordability, sustainability, and mobility and what I mean by mobility is giving a rising generation of people the option to be able to have a hotspot, a backpack, and a laptop to travel and work anywhere they want throughout the world,” Kapoor said. “The Economist called it ‘The Rise of the Roaming Empire’ and that’s exactly who we are catering to as part of the audience.”

Other targets include local service professionals working in the hospitality industry, teachers, government workers, artists and entrepreneurs “that are priced out of living in high demand neighborhoods of Miami Beach,” he said.

The average price point in the area is $2,000 a month according to Kapoor for an unfurnished studio or small one-bedroom apartment. “That’s often for dated housing and not at today’s standard of what many people are seeking for comforts in 2020,” he said. “What we have found is that people are increasingly willing to exchange what we call personal space for community space and ‘micro’ and ‘co’ aren’t dirty little words but they’re successful solutions for people that are priced out of these locations.”

Helping to make the project economically viable is the extended stay hotel operated by the Urbin Retreat brand. The people who will choose to live and vacation on Washington Avenue are looking for activity, he said, and that includes entertainment into the evening. There are other areas of the City “if you want a quieter environment” but, he said, the new Washington Avenue Overlay “was specifically created to help to foster” development like Urbin.

Kapoor said his team has been sensitive to recommendations from City staff and in listening to the concerns of neighbors, “but having these options for our residents is important.”  In addition to a place to live, work, and seek wellness, he said the residents and guests who would be attracted to Urbin also want “a place to have an entertaining lifestyle.”

“I feel like we’re doing this on a very controlled basis,” he said. “You’re talking about a hundred bedrooms between extended stay and co-living. We’re not looking to create conditions that drive out our own residents.”

He asked the Planning Board to consider the need to have a viable project. “Having places for people to be entertained in this neighborhood is important and it’s also important for us to have those sources of income. Otherwise, you’re going to see land depreciate in price and I don’t think that that’s something that we want to see in our community when we have accessible solutions as alternatives,” he said.

“The bottom line is that this project is helping people by building balanced communities,” he said. Pointing to the estimated 40,000 people who commute on and off Miami Beach every day, Kapoor said, “A big part of that is because people can’t afford to live here” so you have pollution and unhappy people spending time in the cars. Giving people options for a better quality of life, “the opportunity for happiness” at multiple price points, is Kapoor’s goal.

Urbin’s housing options range from the “more social” to the “more private,” he said. Furnished suites with up to six bedrooms with attached private baths but shared kitchen, living and laundry areas contained within the suite range from $1,000 to $1,200 a month. Micro-units, fully furnished with their own private bath, kitchen, and laundry start at $1,850 a month.

Residents and hotel guests will have access to a 5,000 sq. ft. wellness center on the ground floor of the office building.

“I think there’s enough hotel inventory throughout this section of the city and our desire is to separate ourselves by offering extended stay accommodations,” Kapoor noted. Everyone gets “the whole live, work, wellness package.” The bigger vision is to encourage the “freedom to travel” by staying in different Urbin Retreats around the world through membership.

The co-working component is also based on community. There’s a micro retail market “catering to boutique retailers that are priced out of desirable areas.” As part of new legislation allowing for the micro-units, Kapoor said Urbin agreed not to take any national brands as a part of its tenant mix. Instead, they will be independent local retailers.

“Every location including this one also has a local gardeners’ market,” he said. “The idea is that people can bring in produce, have an opportunity to shop local.” One of the neighborhood associations he met with asked for “local nights” with better pricing for local residents “which we’re proud to offer.”

Each Urbin location also has “dedicated space for artists and creatives because you’re seeing people very much priced out of those areas in all of these pockets of South Florida,” Kapoor said.

Finally, there’s a small business incubator and a technology incubator. “The goal is we’re not a space that’s just real estate over the head,” Kapoor explained. “We also provide onsite administration, accounting, marketing, and a business coach, that’s all there to sit with the entrepreneur and help them with their business.”

The offerings may be plenty, but Kapoor said the brand is “super simple – Live. Work. Wellness. That’s it.”

Neighborhood activist Frank Del Vecchio said he was called upon by residents of Drexel Avenue who live behind the proposed development project. While he called it “a very exciting project/concept,” he said neither he nor the larger Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association had had a chance to review it closely. He suggested the project discussion be continued for 30 days to allow time for the Flamingo Park group to further discuss it with Kapoor and his team at their meeting on Monday, February 3.

“This whole idea is exactly the direction in which the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Washington Avenue Revitalization went,” Del Vecchio said. “All of the design aspects that you’ve seen are terrific.”

“What an impressive gentleman with a track record and a wonderful group of consultants,” he said before pointing out what he considered “the one defect in this… the extent of the entertainment, specifically the outdoor entertainment.”

In addition to its impact on the neighborhood, Del Vecchio said he was concerned about “the precedent this will set” on the more residential west side of Washington Avenue.

That said, he concluded that he was “delighted for the neighborhood that this is a quality operation.”

Following the public comment, Board members all said they liked the concept as well but shared some of the neighbors’ concerns especially with regard to the rooftop entertainment. They voted for a 30-day continuance so Kapoor and his team could try to bridge the gap with the neighbors.

Chair Brian Elias summed it up. “I think the street desperately needs activation” but noted the number of residents who expressed concerns about their quality of life. “My mantra for six years on this board has been a balance between making sure businesses succeed and quality of life for the residents,” he said.

“It should be a win-win. Try to address the specific concerns,” he advised. “The closer you can come to narrowing your issues, that would be great.”

Meanwhile, the project’s design will be reviewed at the upcoming Historic Preservation Board meeting on February 11. Details here.

Our original story with renderings and site overviews here. – Susan Askew

Published February 1, 2020

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