One of the Bal Harbour Shops’ anchor stores has emerged as an opponent to the luxury retail center’s proposed $400 million expansion — an unexpected revelation from a public meeting Tuesday where the community was unsurprisingly divided over the latest plans.
Among the 200 people who sat in the room at the Sea View Hotel, many heads turned when an attorney for Saks Fifth Avenue, the marquee and highly-visible tenant that occupies the southeast corner of the shopping center, told Shops ownership that it strongly opposes this version of the expansion.
340,387 square feet is the size of the Bal Harbour Shops’ desired expansion
A spokesperson for Saks later provided this statement to the Miami Herald:
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“We are committed to our location at the Bal Harbor Shops, however we have concerns that the proposed plan would be detrimental to the shopping experience for our customers.”
In previous expansion plans, Saks Fifth Avenue would have moved and expanded. The current proposal leaves the store untouched.
On Wednesday, Whitman Family Development, owner of the Shops, responded. In a statement, it said Saks owns the building it occupies subject to a ground lease with the Shops, and the store decided to stay in place when the overall expansion was scaled back. The center’s owners allege that Saks wants money from the Whitmans to expand its store.
“Saks then requests tens of millions of dollars from us to improve its own building and threatens to be ‘a thorn in our side’ during the public hearings if we refuse,” reads the Whitman statement. “And here they are tonight.”
In the small village of Bal Harbour, tucked between Surfside and Haulover Cut, the Shops is a sort of de-facto town center next to the municipal hall, just south of the gated neighborhood of single-family homes and across Collins Avenue from a row of condo towers and hotels.
I don’t think they’re in touch with the economy.
Resident activist Lynne Bloch Mullen, criticizing the Shops’ desire to expand
The internal scuffle is a new wrinkle in the fairly predictable battle over the expansion, where some residents contend that the retail expansion will worsen traffic and others think the Shops need to grow in order to survive.
The Shops has desired to expand for years. An expansion plan that included a land swap for the tiny village’s municipal building failed in a council vote last spring. The land swap would’ve triggered a public referendum, but the 2-2 vote last April killed the plan.
The Whitmans have retooled the proposal a few times before starting another concerted effort in January. The new plan doesn’t include buying Village Hall or any public land. It is packaged with land north of the Shops for a new municipal building, funding to build that new hall, the SunTrust Bank across the street that comes with lease revenue for the village, and money to build a new bayside park by the current village hall.
After a detailed walkthrough of the new vision with a video animation of lush renderings and a description of the phases of construction that would last an estimated four years, people either voiced their support or declared opposition.
A few asked questions about the future of brick-and-mortar retail in the face of intense competition from internet outlets like Amazon. Shops representatives maintain that high-end retail remains viable.
Before the meeting, resident Elsie Howard told the Herald she believes the Shops have the right to pursue higher profits, and she liked the redone sidewalks.
“I like the change to the entrance,” she said, referring to the proposed open plaza on the Collins side. “I love that fact that it is going to enhance the sidewalk. I think they have scaled it to the size of the community.”
Village Council meetings about expansion
First reading: 7 p.m. April 25 at the Sea View Hotel, 9909 Collins Ave.
Second reading, if necessary: 7 p.m. May 16, at the Sea View