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Luxury condo tower begins to rise in working-class North Beach

A rendering of the 18-story tower in North Beach designed by Renzo Piana.
A rendering of the 18-story tower in North Beach designed by Renzo Piana. Terra

In a working-class neighborhood in Miami Beach, on a desolate stretch of Collins Avenue just shy of Surfside, Italian architect Renzo Piano is designing a luxury condo tower, one of just two residential projects the Pritzker Prize-winner has worked on in the U.S.

The 18-story glass-and-steel building will stand out from the modest low- and mid-rise apartments of North Beach. But in this quiet spot nestled just to the north of a popular public park, developer David Martin says he’s found an “undiscovered gem.”

“It’s a place where I can unlock hidden value,” said Martin, president of Miami-based developer Terra. “This is a 35-acre park on the ocean. How many cities can offer that connected to an urban grid?”

Martin said he plans to pitch buyers on the project’s proximity to North Shore Open Space Park. “This can be the Central Park for Miami Beach,” he said. The building, at 8701 Collins Ave., will be called Eighty Seven Park.

Last year, Terra gave the city of Miami Beach $10.5 million to redesign and improve North Shore park, which includes a running trail, dog run, playground and pavilion with tables and charcoal grills, and is used by locals and tourists alike. The city set aside $6.5 million for the project and will solicit bids from landscape and design firms to lead the renovation. (The remaining $4 million of Terra’s payment will be used for infrastructure improvements in the neighborhood.)

“This part of the beach is uncharted territory for luxury,” said Peter Zalewski, a local condo market analyst (he is also a contributor to Business Monday), although he said the success of projects in nearby Surfside and Bal Harbour were a positive sign. “The location and the fact that they hired Piano will probably help sales, too.”

This part of the beach is uncharted territory for luxury.

Peter Zalewski, condo market anaylst

The site used to be the old Biltmore Terrace Hotel, designed by revered local architects Morris Lapidus and Albert Anis in 1951. For many years, it was a Howard Johnson’s. Martin bought the three-acre property from the Dezer family, who had restyled the hotel as the Dezerland, for $65 million in 2013.

Originally, Martin proposed restoring the aging 10-story hotel, which was not historically protected, and building a condo tower nearby on the same lot. But he eventually decided to demolish the old structure.

That surprised city leaders at the time. “I’m just not sure how we ended up at the last minute with the hotel being demolished,” Mayor Philip Levine said at a city commission meeting late last year. “It’s kind of like a curve ball.”

Martin defended the demolition, saying after further study his team realized the project wasn’t viable with two buildings.

“It was ultimately Renzo’s decision,” he said. “He felt like we were squeezing these two buildings in when there was only room for one . . . It was claustrophobic.”

He also said the ceilings in the Dezerland weren’t high enough to attract a high-end hotel operator. But feelings were bruised in the community.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’re all very excited about a Renzo Piano building in North Beach,” said Kirk Paskal, president of the North Shore Historic District Neighborhood Association. “But it would have been different if it had been a vacant piece of land and not a Morris Lapidus building . . . It did feel like a bait-and-switch because at first they presented us with this shining picture of a renovated MiMo hotel. It’s not great when you promise one thing to the community and then do the exact opposite.”

It’s not great when you promise one thing to the community and then do the exact opposite.

Kirk Pascal, president of local historic district association

The city commission ultimately approved the plan.

Foundation work has since started on the site, with the building scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2018. The brokerage Douglas Elliman is handling sales.

Piano, who in 1998 won the Pritzker, considered the Nobel Prize of architecture, is known for his work on the Pompidou Center in Paris, the New York Times Building in Times Square and the Parco della Musica in Rome. He’s also working on a condo tower in New York City’s SoHo district.

In a video produced by Terra, Piano said the North Beach site feels like “you’re in the middle of nowhere. You’re in the middle of Miami but it feels like [you’re] on a little island, lost.”

Condos at the 68-unit project will start at $2 million, with square-foot prices ranging from $1,600 to $3,500. The average unit size is 2,600 square feet. That’s smaller than you’d find for most new construction in established luxury markets like Sunny Isles Beach and South Beach.

“In this market, people don’t necessarily need so much space for a second or third home,” Martin said. “You have to know what’s right for the area you’re working in.”

He added that apartments offer significant outdoor living space (with summer kitchens, terraces and outdoor dining rooms) that equal about 70 percent of the interior space.

Terra is partnering on the project with developers New Valley and Bizzi & Partners

Amenities will include concierge and butler service, a hair and makeup salon, and an outdoor juice bar. The luxury Bal Harbour Shops are just a mile up the road. And a full-time botanist will work on the building’s staff to tend to residents’ balcony gardens and a private park designed by Dutch firm West 8.

The park will be stocked with coconut palms, seagrape trees and gumbo-limbos, said Daniel Vasini, who’s in charge of designing the park for West 8.

“The design is inspired by Japanese imperial gardens but we wanted to claim the tropical identity of the area,” Vasini said.

Terra is planning a retail project in a small lot it owns across Collins Avenue, although it hasn’t announced any details.

$2 millionStarting price for units at Eighty Seven Park

The company also recently finished Glass, a luxury condo building designed by local architect Rene Gonzalez in Miami Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood.

The 18-story tower has just 10 units. The three-story penthouse sold for $20 million last month. Because of zoning restrictions and the number of historically protected buildings in the area, Glass will likely be the last high-rise tower in South of Fifth.

“We built the last tower in South of Fifth,” Martin said. “Now we’re building the first one in North Beach.”

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