Promising to invest $21 million into public spaces, a developer is seeking special permission Thursday to turn six acres along the Miami River into a $1 billion complex of shops, restaurants and towers with more than 1,600 condos and apartments.
The Miami River project, located between Southwest Second and Third Avenues, the river and Southwest Seventh Street, includes two 58-story and two 60-story glass and steel towers overlooking two low-rise commercial buildings to the north along a public river walk with boat slips. Elevated walkways and gathering spaces orbit parts of the project, and a new, private street would cut north to the river through the district’s core, lined the whole way by three stories of retail.
Miami commissioners will vote Thursday on whether to allow CG Miami River LLC to build the 4.2-million-square-foot project, which is taller and denser than what’s allowed by right on the site. The proposal comes before them with the blessing of Miami’s administration, which is partnering with the developer to seek special zoning regulations and extra density in exchange for millions in upgrades to Jose Martí Park and the river walk.
“We are creating a new neighborhood that will transform the Miami River’s urban environment into a dynamic, sustainable and safe mixed use destination that will connect the energy of downtown and Brickell to the cultural richness of Little Havana,” developer Ari Pearl said in a statement.
The design has been in the works for more than a year, dating back to when developer Pearl and the New York-based firm Chetrit Group assembled six acres of land from various owners along the Miami River, including the Finnegan’s River restaurant and the Pleasure Emporium adult superstore. CG Miami River LLC purchased the land for roughly $100 million, enticed by the river and the area’s proximity to Brickell.
The project was designed with the input of the Miami River Commission in order to tie in the river and “be inclusive” rather than exclusive, says Miami architect Kobi Karp. Cluttered dead-end streets will open up to views of the water. The cavernous I-95 underpass will be turned into a public gathering space with iridescent art and a projection system for showing films and simulcasts. The river walk will be lined with restaurants and shops, and made accessible to both residents of Brickell and East Little Havana.
“We didn’t want to enclose it. We wanted it to be open. By opening up the streets we started to create opportunities, a relationship with the river,” Karp said, adding that the unique grid of roads and river helped inspire the design. “The whole project grew from the ground up. Or in this case, from the river up.”
The entire complex, to be built over five phases, includes about 1,678 residential units, 330 hotel rooms, 200,000 square feet of retail, 66,000 square feet of office space, and more than 2,000 parking spaces. The first tower includes 200 hotel rooms and 328 condos, and is expected to be completed toward the end of 2018.
In order to build the project as designed, the developer purchased 1.2 million square feet of “air rights” from the city, at $17.82 a square foot. Normally, that would mean cutting a $21 million check to the city, but in this case the developer will spend the money on public assets, including the river walk, the highway underpass community space and on improvements to Jose Martí Park. That way, the money will be spent in the immediate area.
“The money is actually being spent locally, right on site, right in the dirt, right next door to Jose Marti Park,” said Miami River Commission Chairman Horacio Stuart Aguirre.
Melissa Tapanes Llahues, attorney for CG Miami River, told commissioners last month that when completed the complex will inject $24 million in development “impact” fees into the community, plus $41 million a year in property taxes. Some residents who live nearby lauded the developer for working with the community, and most commissioners were effusive about the project before giving the first of two necessary approvals.
But Thursday’s vote may not be a given. Commissioner Frank Carollo, who represents the area, wants more time to sit with the developer and address some concerns he has about the project’s lack of affordable housing.
“We’re doing all these luxurious residential units but you cross the underpass and all the sudden you have an area of dire need of workforce housing,” Carollo said. “I’m trying to see if we can work with the issues that I have and see if we can come to some type of conclusion. My preference is to defer it until November.”