The Bal Harbour Shops has not had much luck getting plans for an ever elusive $400 million expansion approved by the Village Council, so it has given up on trying to buy public land for the redevelopment and retooled its pitch to include money for the community to build a new village hall.
Residents will soon have a chance to evaluate the latest proposal, which now includes a public benefits package estimated to be worth about $100 million — the result of negotiations with the village administration. This includes land and funding for a new municipal building, money for a new park and a nearby property being leased by SunTrust Bank that would yield revenue from rent payments to the village.
A public workshop will be held at 7 p.m. April 4 at the Sea View Hotel, 9909 Collins Ave., where a detailed presentation of the new plan will be made. The council will consider the proposal for an initial vote April 25, then, if necessary, a final vote May 16. Both council meetings will start at 7 p.m. at the Sea View.
Opposition from the public and elected officials has in the past stymied redevelopment plans. Some residents worry traffic will worsen with an upgraded mall. Last spring, an earlier version of the deal that included a land swap for Village Hall died in a deadlocked vote by four council members. The fifth council member, Jaime Sanz, now a former councilman, recused himself because he is a manager at Neiman Marcus in the shopping center. Had the council approved the land swap, the proposal would have gone to a referendum because it involved public land.
Now, Whitman Family Development, which owns the luxury mall and wants to compete with other area shopping centers, hopes this round will be the last.
“With more than $100 million in community benefits on the table, and a plan that fits entirely within our current property, our hope is that the Village Council will now give this plan a fair, thoughtful review,” said Matthew Whitman Lazenby, president and CEO of Whitman Family Development. “Ultimately, we aim to deliver enhancements that offer new retail and dining options, and better serve our longtime Village neighbors and valued clients.”
The shopping center wants to add 340,387 square feet of new retail space, including the first Barneys New York flagship store in the Southeast. The mall’s layout would be reconfigured so that a new wing of stores would replace the current parking garage and a new garage would go up on the site of the old Church by the Sea, which was demolished last year amid controversy. That demolition angered some activists and parishioners who wanted the church to be protected with a historic designation.
When the previous plan failed last year and another scaled-back vision was voted down in the fall, the Shops poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaigns of Jeffrey Freimark and David Albaum, two candidates who favored sending a land swap to the voters. Both won, teeing up a new offer from the Shops.
But this time, the family wants to work on the land it owns. The Village Hall site would remain public, and it would likely get incorporated into the design of a new public waterfront park that would stretch to Biscayne Bay. The Whitmans would pay for design costs and about $2.5 million of the park’s estimated price tag of $3 million.
Village Manager Jorge Gonzalez said the park’s features, which could include a community center, would be determined publicly by the council. The Shops would also deed the lot directly north of the mall to the village, where a new municipal building would be built.
The new hall would include underground parking and house the tiny village’s services, some of which are currently oddly placed. The police department leases space inside the mall for its headquarters. The public works department operates out of a waterfront facility where the park would go.
The village would also take over the the SunTrust Bank site. The bank’s lease is worth around $800,000 a year in rent payments that would go to the village.
Additionally, the Shops would contribute $1 million for public art, half of which would go in the Shops. The village would determine how to spend the other half. During the mall’s expansion, the Shops would pay for off-duty cops to patrol the site.
“This is all a result of a negotiation with the village,” Gonzalez said.
LAWSUIT BY ACTIVISTS
For the expansion of the shopping center to proceed, the Whitmans need a host of land-use approvals from the council. Since there is no land swap, there would be no referendum.
Some activists angered by the demolition of the Church by the Sea still oppose the expansion altogether. They launched a petition to put up more barriers to expansion in the village charter by increasing the threshold required in a public vote to approve the sale of village land and requiring a referendum for the expansion itself. The charter amendments would require a public vote.
A group organized as a political committee called Good Government for Bal Harbour is suing the village after the petitions were not accepted by Village Clerk Dwight Danie because the the papers were submitted without an affidavit signed by the person collecting the signatures. Danie said in a January memo that the form, while not required by law, is a best practice when considering petitions.
The matter is in Miami-Dade civil court, where the village recently filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the proposed charter amendments are illegal. The village is arguing that the resident group is not entitled to a public vote on the proposed charter changes.
J.C. Planas, attorney for the anti-expansion group, said he plans to file a response next week.
“We find the actions of the village completely disingenuous,” he told the Miami Herald.