Watch the Miami skyline evolve over decades
On a stretch of Ocean Terrace in Miami Beach, where worn low-rises and MiMo style hotels overlook sand dunes laced with sea oats, a trade-off is in the making that would allow a developer to restore old hotels with more rooms than usually would be allowed.
The proposal, to be considered by the Miami Beach City Commission Wednesday night, uses a roundabout tactic: The developer would be allowed to count public property as part of his development acreage in order to build more hotel rooms. In return, the developer would build a new streetscape for the city, a $15 million public park on what is now a road and sidewalk.
Although some are touting the public-private partnership proposal as a benefit for the public, others are uncertain.
Paula King, a North Beach resident, said she’s apprehensive about the idea of the city turning over public land to developers — even if it’s only on paper.
“It seems like every developer gets a piece of Miami Beach these days,” King said. “It’s all sounding extremely exclusive.”
Under the proposed partnership the real estate company, Ocean Terrace Holdings, would build streetscape improvements and public park space at no cost to the city. The improvements would change the look of Ocean Terrace, turning the street and sidewalk into a lushly landscaped, pedestrian-friendly area.
In exchange, the city would relinquish the street and sidewalk to the developer — Ocean Terrace between 74th and 75th streets and portions of 74th and 75th streets between Collins and Ocean Terrace. The additional land would increase the project’s floor-to-area ratio or the maximum square footage for buildings. The city would still retain control of the land.
The redevelopment includes the restoration of the facades of the historic Days Inn (formerly the Broadmoor) and Ocean Surf hotels, which would be connected and operated as one and would gain another 50 rooms. The project also would include a new 235-foot tall, 58-unit condominium tower.
With the city turning over the land that makes up the street and sidewalk to the developer, Sandor Scher, Ocean Terrace’s principal, would be able to build the 50 additional hotel rooms, which some residents view as an unfair workaround.
Acknowledging residents’ concerns, Scher noted the provisions that leave full control of the property with the city. “This is a very commonly used mechanism in Miami Beach,” Scher said.
At a Finance and Citywide Projects committee meeting earlier this month, assistant city manager Eric Carpenter compared the proposed deal to the pedestrian area along Lincoln Road.
“This is similar to what was done on the 1100 block of Lincoln Road,” Carpenter said. “It was a vehicular street, with pedestrian access, and we turned it into a pedestrian plaza. That’s more or less what we’re proposing to do, with the city still having all the rights and controls that we have today.”
Commissioner Michael Góngora, vice chair of the city’s Finance and Citywide Projects Committee, said although the streetscape plan seems promising, he’s hesitant about how it will influence future developers.
“Obviously the project has a lot of merit,” Góngora said. “I don’t like the legal mechanism being used because I’m not a fan of the city vacating streets to make development more viable. I think it creates bad precedent.”
The streetscape improvements would lie on Ocean Terrace between 73rd and 75th streets, replacing much of what is currently public parking. The revamped streetscape would have pedestrian walkways, more expansive lawns and landscaping, ponds and other water features and a better view of the beach.
“Everybody comes to Ocean Terrace to be closer to the beach, but they can’t see it,” said Colin Brown of Raymond Jungles Inc., the development’s architect. The new design would change that, he said.
Brown said projects such as Lummus Park and the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens served as inspiration for the streetscape project.
The current version of the redevelopment plan comes after contentious community meetings and years of writing and revising that produced the North Beach Master Plan and later the Ocean Terrace Neighborhood Urban Design Plan.
In 2015, voters turned down a citywide referendum that would have allowed denser development in North Beach, including an earlier Scher plan for Ocean Terrace that included demolishing a number of historic buildings. The vote led to Scher’s latest plan, which preserves most of the buildings.
Kirk Pascal, a North Beach resident and community advocate, said a citywide referendum should choose the fate of this streetscape plan as well.
“I have very serious concerns about vacating the public right of way,” Pascal said. “The implications for the city I think are really bad. If there’s a strong public benefit, then it should go to the voters. I find it extremely concerning in terms of the process.”
However, Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola, chair of the city’s Finance and Citywide Projects Committee, said the deal is too good to pass up.
“I think it’s a beautiful project,” Arriola said. “For me, it’s a no-brainer. I think the fact that there’s a developer involved is what creates [residents’] angst. I think they’re just very anti-business and developer, they’re not objecting to the park.”
Bill Vitale, president of the board of directors for the St. Tropez Ocean Condominium Association Inc. — which sits in the next block of Ocean Terrace — said at a committee meeting earlier this month that St. Tropez board members welcome the streetscape plan.
“We’re coming at this not as a project that’s being foisted on us, but as something that we’re invested in, and that we’re an integral part of,” Vitale said.
North Beach resident Jamie Straz sees the streetscape plan as an opportunity for improvements the city itself wouldn’t be able to offer.
“It’s a huge opportunity to get high quality design,” Straz said. “Let’s say [the developers] don’t do it, and the city says, ‘Okay we’ll take care of it ourselves.’ There’s no way you’re going to end up with the same quality and design.”
Carpenter, the assistant city manager, said he’s aware of residents’ concerns about the city turning the land over to the developer, but insists there will be no infringement of public property.
“People are concerned the private property is going to encroach on the area or they’re going to build all the way to the dune,” Carpenter said. “None of these things are accurate.”
Scher said he’s confident Ocean Terrace Holdings and the city are taking the right approach with the streetscape plan.
“We are not doing any land grab, nothing beyond our project,” Scher said.