Miami-Dade County

Wynwood mega-project good to go, with unexpected twist

A rendering of conceptual plans for the Mana Commons in the east zone of the Mana Wynwood mega-project
A rendering of conceptual plans for the Mana Commons in the east zone of the Mana Wynwood mega-project

Entrepreneur Moishe Mana won Miami Commission approval on Thursday for a mammoth redevelopment project in the heart of Wynwood in an unusual hearing that saw commissioners publicly mediate a dispute between the developer and his fellow neighborhood property owners through several twists and turns.

In the end, a proposal by Commissioner Ken Russell, who represents a portion of Wynwood, won the day: Mana’s development team agreed to pay for burying overhead electric transmission lines that run through his properties and across the neighborhood that have long been regarded as a serious eyesore. That undertaking could cost as much as $25 million, according to the developer.

If that job is not done within five years, Mana will be required to pay $7.2 million into a city-created Wynwood trust fund designed to help the burgeoning hipster district cope with new development by making street and other infrastructure improvements — something the developer had resisted agreeing to until the hearing.

That figure matches the portion of a pledge of nearly $10 million in impact fees from Mana that the developer, at the behest of Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, had agreed to shift from Wynwood to adjacent Overtown in a series of private meetings, prompting a dispute with other Wynwood property owners that threatened political support for the mega-project.

Mana had originally promised the money to the Wynwood Business Improvement District, a semi-autonomous public agency that represents more than 400 neighborhood property owners, as part of a wide-ranging agreement to secure its members’ support for his special 25-acre zoning plan.

The $10 million fee is compensation for allowing Mana to build a cluster of 24-story towers — twice the maximum height allowed by existing Wynwood zoning — on three blocks running along Interstate 95 at the district’s western border. The towers would house a contemplated international trade center that has attracted serious investment interest, putting Mana under pressure to win approval from the commission for the long-delayed plan.

The Mana special area plan, one of the largest ever seen in the city of Miami, represents a massive upzoning for his holdings, with a staggering 10 million square feet of planned development — 2.5 million more square feet than would be permitted under existing Wynwood zoning, approved just last year to protect the neighborhood’s low scale.

That almost didn’t go forward. Both sides had agreed to a different approach in a public meeting on the eve of Thursday’s vote that would have split the 25-acre project in two, with just the western portion of the plan going to a vote on Thursday.

But that agreement apparently fell apart before the commission took up the Mana Wynwood special area plan Thursday evening. By Wednesday evening, the parties were already considering the FPL line undergrounding idea proposed by Russell.

The sticking point all along had been the $7.2 million that had been shifted to Overtown. But until Thursday evening Mana had resisted simply restoring that money to Wynwood above and beyond the amount he pledged to direct to the Overtown community redevelopment agency.

According to Mana architect Bernard Zyscovich, the developer was not comfortable putting up cash without a clear idea of how it would be used by the Wynwood BID. He wanted his money used only for the undergrounding of lines and improvement of streets and sidewalks, Zyscovich said.

“He didn’t just want to write a check,” the architect told the city commission Thursday.

But Commissioner Francis Suarez pushed Zyscovich and Mana attorney Iris Escarra to agree to simply deposit the payment in the Wynwood trust fund if the FPL line project did not pan out.

Mana was not present at the hearing, an absence that seemed to complicate the public negotiations at times. The negotiation was also complicated by the fact that BID board members in attendance could not formally agree to the undergrounding alternative as a group without a previously publicly noticed meeting and vote. That will apparently now have come in an after-the fact public meeting of the board.

But individual BID leaders making up a majority of the board indicated their consent to the commission.

The reinstatement of the full plan does mean Mana will be bound by a “phasing” agreement that allows him to build his towers only after completing significant portions of the project’s planned eastern zone, a collection of educational and cultural buildings surrounding an expansive public space dubbed Mana Commons.