Real Estate News

Developers want to build luxury condo — for cars, not people — in Overtown

The layout for a unit at AutoHouse.
The layout for a unit at AutoHouse.

Would you park your Porsche or Maserati in Overtown?

Developers plan to build a condo — for cars, not people — on mostly vacant land in the historic neighborhood struggling with high crime and low employment. The seven-story storage facility would include a members-only social club and roof-top restaurant. No one will live there. It’s a place to store and show off your ride and mingle with other collectors, with 24-hour security.

“A lot of people that own second or third homes here in Miami, when they leave to go back to wherever they live, they take vehicles that are high in value and they store them,” said developer Louis Birdman, who’s also part of the team behind ultra-luxury One Thousand Museum condo tower in downtown Miami. “We’re trying to make a space where they can display their cars in a gallery-type setting and get together with people who share their interests.”

The site sits just west of I-95 at 375 NW 7th St. near the Lyric Theater. Prices for the 45 climate-controlled units range from $350,000 to more than $1.5 million. Buyers can also outfit them with wet bars and sound systems.

We’re trying to make a space where they can display their cars in a gallery-type setting and get together with people who share their interests.

Louis Birdman

Some activists say the project, called AutoHouse, strikes them as tone deaf.

Overtown is racing full-throttle for gentrification, as downtown Miami’s building boom spills into areas where land is cheaper, said Kian Frederick, executive director of nonprofit South Florida Voices for Working Families. While locals welcome opportunities for growth, they don’t want the old Overtown to disappear.

“Building a luxury condo for cars [in Overtown] is like putting up a big billboard that says ‘We’re kicking you out,’ ” she said. “I don’t know how much more clearly you can say to residents, we value our luxury cars over your community.”

“This is not the kind of development this community needs at all,” agreed Irby McKnight, who has lived in the neighborhood for 50 years and serves on the city of Miami’s advisory board for Overtown. “We need workforce housing.”

McKnight fears the new wave of projects will displace locals as prices rise.

But he acknowledges the inevitable.

“If it’s their money and their land, they can do what they want,” McKnight said.

A new image

Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon said the project will help improve Overtown’s image. The neighborhood has one of the highest crime rates in the city.

“Any development that brings new investment to our community is a good thing,” Hardemon said. “You have to have a mixture of development in a community for it to be successful. This is a different kind of product that will encourage different types of people to come to Overtown.”

AutoHouse will not receive public funds or displace residents, he added.

A taxpayer-financed community redevelopment agency is paying for an $850,000 renovation of nearby People’s Bar-B-Que.

$350,000Starting price for a car “condo” at AutoHouse

Change is coming fast.

“I look at this as a gateway area to the rest of downtown,” said Birdman, who’s partnering with storage space developer Jay Massirman. “My experience has been that improvements lead to other improvements. What’s happening in Overtown is positive. It would be good to see even more projects.”

Massive mixed-use developments like Miami Worldcenter and Miami Central and a proposed David Beckham soccer stadium are springing up in or near Overtown, Miami’s historically African-American community.

Housing is already expensive for the people who live there.

People are going to be paying more to park their car than these workers can afford in rent.

Frank Schnidman

Roughly three-in-five Overtown renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University.

“You could not have a clearer example of a development that does not serve the people of Overtown,” said Frank Schnidman, a community development expert who recently retired from Florida Atlantic University.

Schnidman said any jobs created would likely be low wage.

“People are going to be paying more to park their car than these workers can afford in rent,” he said.

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