Negotiations Lead to $1 Billion Deal

November 4, 2015

$14 million kicker seals $1 billion 4-tower deal

Miami commissioners have approved a large mixed-use development on the Miami River that is expected to revive a city park, extend the public riverwalk, connect Brickell and Little Havana and bring jobs and tax revenue to the city.

Called simply Miami River, the complete build-out will add more than 1,600 residential units to the growing urban core. The final vote came Oct. 22.

Between the first and the final votes, Commissioner Frank Carollo negotiated with the developer and secured promises that will provide money for affordable housing and space for a paramedic station within the development.

He said he met with the developer’s team and worked to gain extras. Mr. Carollo said he made affordable housing a priority in these talks, and there was discussion of adding 400 units of affordable housing in the project itself or in the immediate area, or a straight financial contribution to the city with the money earmarked for affordable housing.

In the end the developer agreed to pay $14 million into an affordable housing trust, in staggered payments, with the first $1 million to be paid by Feb. 1, according to Mr. Carollo.

“We will see this immediately,” he told fellow commissioners.

The second $1 million will be paid within three to six months of the developer getting a building permit for the first tower, he said.

“I appreciate the developer’s openness to address this,” said Mr. Carollo.

With the added density and population this project will bring, issues of public safety are even more of a priority, he said, mentioning the impact on response times for fire-rescue calls.

To address this, the developer agreed to provide 8,500 square feet for the city’s fire department to establish a paramedic station inside the development, said Mr. Carollo.

“These are important issues to all residents,” he said.

Mr. Carollo said it is a beautiful project. “I commend the architect and design team,” he said.

The project promises to bring new life to the mostly vacant land just east of I-95. It’s planned for an area bordered on the north by the river, on the south by Southwest Seventh Street, on the west by Southwest Third Avenue, and on the east by Southwest Second Avenue.

Along with its size – four towers, 58 to 60 stories tall on 6.2 acres – this project stands out because the city is a partner.

As part of the Special Area Plan under the Miami 21 zoning code, a portion of Jose Marti Park will become a part of Miami River.

That would result in an extension of the riverwalk west and under I-95, and improvements to the park. A deal struck with CG Miami River LLC also ensures the riverwalk will be extended east under the Second Avenue Bridge and past neighboring condo tower Latitude on the River.

The overall project will see creation of a new street accented by public art, and more than $21 million in public benefit improvements from the developer, including upgrades to the park and the riverwalk.

Mr. Carollo also said he got the developer to agree to increase public benefit payments over time if portions of the project remain unbuilt, with rates tied to hikes in the Consumer Price Index.

The approved ordinances:

–Amended policies to allow up to 400 dwelling units per acre.

–Authorized the area to be master planned to allow a greater integration of public improvements and infrastructure and greater flexibility.

–Authorized the city manager to make a development agreement for the Miami River Special Area Plan. The area plan consists of a phased project divided into five parts, which include 4,181,087 square feet of development consisting of 1,678 residential units, about 330 lodging units, 66,541 square feet of office space, 176,350 square feet of commercial uses, 2,376 parking spaces, 17 boat slips, at least 35,964 square feet of civic space and at least 15,175 square feet of open space.

Melissa Tapanes Llahues, an attorney representing CG Miami River LLC, said the project will transform an eyesore into an empowerment zone.

“This is not gentrification – not one resident will be displaced,” she told the commission.

Ms. Tapanes Llahues said it is a billion-dollar investment that will have a $24 million impact on the city, of which $10 million will go to road improvements and $6 million to parks.

Currently the vacant site generates about $520,000 a year in taxes, she said. Once built to its full potential, Miami River is expected to bring $41 million in taxes each year, she said.

Horacio Stuart Aguirre, chairman of the Miami River Commission, spoke favorably of the project, saying the river commission is very enthusiastic about the development coming to a blighted area.

Calling design of the project “fresh, light, airy,” Mr. Aguirre said it will be a neighborhood improvement.

Several residents of Little Havana spoke in support, saying they look forward to the new jobs and the improvements to the park.

Area developer Avra Jain commended the developer and architects on a “beautiful project,” and for outreach to keep residents and officials informed of details as the project progressed.

“They were listening,” she said of the developer’s team, while seeking community input.

Ms. Jain said she bought property in the neighbor in the hope that this project would go forward. She is the new owner of the historic Miami River Inn, just up the river from Jose Marti Park.

Max Vlessing, one of the founders of Water Taxi Miami, said he is 100% in favor of the project, particularly its plan for dedicated dockage for water taxi service to Miami Beach, Virginia Key and other areas. “I’d like to see more like it,” he said.

One major goal of the project is to create a sustainable neighborhood that offers a transition from the lower density of East Little Havana to the higher density of downtown. – John Charles Robbins

Published in Miami Today, Nov. 4, 2015

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