Miami-Dade County

Sale of historic Miami Firehouse considered as developer buys up block

HOT PROPERTY?  City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff stands near the historic firehouse as it was being renovated.
HOT PROPERTY? City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff stands near the historic firehouse as it was being renovated. Miami Herald Staff

After spending millions to restore and reopen a historic city firehouse, Miami commissioners signaled Thursday that they’re willing to sell the building — and the property’s valuable “air rights” — if the price is right.

Commissioners, acting as the city’s OMNI Community Redevelopment Agency board, voted unanimously to issue an invitation to bid on the 1926 facility, designed by prominent early Miami architect August C. Geiger and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building at 1401 N. Miami Ave. is located in a blighted neighborhood that lately has become attractive to developers.

Pieter Bockweg, executive director of the redevelopment agency, said he brought the proposal to commissioners because real estate in the Omni area is selling right now. He said any money from a sale — to which the CRA isn’t bound to agree — would be reinvested back into the redevelopment area.

The CRA is seeking minimum bids of $4 million, though the property could be worth more than double that amount.

“I don’t think the government should be in the job of controlling buildings,” Bockweg said. “The market is hot right now. So you buy low and sell high.”

The CRA couldn’t have bought any lower. The city commission transferred ownership of the firehouse to the CRA eight years ago when it was run down and lined with asbestos. Bockweg said the redevelopment agency spent $2.9 million to restore and reopen the building in 2013.

And it would seem that the market for the firehouse property, located in a mostly undeveloped block, is indeed hot right now.

In May, a corporation registered to the chief operating officer of NR Investments, a developer that is constructing towers in the area, spent $5.8 million on seven empty lots surrounding the firehouse. Company representatives declined to comment Thursday through a spokeswoman, but Bockweg said principal Nir Shoshani has expressed general interest in the property, along with a number of other potential purchasers.

Purchasing the firehouse would be valuable for Shoshani or other developers — not so much for the site itself, which is located next to a CRA-owned mini park. As a historic property, the firehouse likely can’t be razed and what could be built on the lot would be restricted. But Miami code gives historic properties transferable development rights, or “air rights,” that like unused credits can be applied to other qualifying properties, including the surrounding lots owned by 14th Street Development LLC.

That’s why one appraisal listed the site’s market value at $2 million, and another listed its investment value at $8.7 million, Bockweg said.

“It’s a historic site, so there’s a lot of value to that property and I don’t have a problem as long as we get the maximum,” said Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort.

The firehouse and the surrounding properties are zoned for commercial development that can rise 24 stories, or all the way to 48 stories if a developer agrees to community benefits. Anyone can respond to the request for proposals, but NR Investments has not only bought up property around the site, it’s also established a working relationship with the CRA.

Earlier this year, the developer received a property tax subsidy worth up to $9 million from the CRA to build the Canvas tower, located on 16th Street a few blocks to the northeast of the firehouse. NR Investments also took over the Filling Station condos on North Miami Avenue and finished the project recently.

Bockweg said he plans to issue the invitation to bid around the beginning of the year.