South Miami

Is South Miami’s $300 million mall makeover back on the table?

A rendering shows a proposed new hotel and apartments on the corner of Red Road and U.S. 1 at the Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami.
A rendering shows a proposed new hotel and apartments on the corner of Red Road and U.S. 1 at the Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami. Zyscovich Architects

Just a day after surprisingly nixing a proposed redevelopment at the failing Shops at Sunset Place, South Miami commissioners did another unexpected thing: They agreed to reconsider the plan in response to pleas from residents and business people.

It’s unclear whether the reconsideration move, which came during the commission’s regular Tuesday night meeting but was not on the agenda, will lead to a revival of the project. The mall’s principal owner, Federal Realty Trust, declined to comment on Thursday.

The commission will now formally vote on a motion to reconsider Federal’s proposal at its Nov. 21 meeting, said Mayor Philip Stoddard. That would lay the groundwork for drawing Federal back to the table, he said.

Commissioner Josh Liebman, one of three “no” votes on Monday, asked for the reconsideration even though he said he was not ready to change his position. If that motion passes, he said he could then agree to defer the proposal to allow time to negotiate elements of the plan, including the height of a proposed 18-story hotel, that concerned some commissioners.

“Still to be seen is whether Federal will be persuaded that we’re acting in good faith, and, hopefully, re-engage,” Stoddard said Thursday.

By a 3-2 vote on Monday night, the commission denied land-use changes that would have allowed Federal Realty to redevelop the portion of the mall closest to U.S. 1 by razing existing structures and erecting a hotel, apartments and a pedestrian promenade in their place. That would help finance a makeover of the rest of the enclosed mall to modernize and open it up to downtown streets.

During Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Steven Alexander warned glum-looking commissioners that if they did not reopen consideration of the proposal, the project, which he valued at around $300 million, is likely dead. He said the town could be stuck with a white elephant and a dying downtown because the Federal-led investment group that bought the mall two years ago for $110 million would probably sell it at a loss to a “discount” operator.

“They have turned off the engine,” Alexander said of Federal executives. “If we don’t do this, they will go back to Bethesda and we will never see them again.”

Several business and property owners earlier urged commissioners to revisit their decision, said Scott Rosenbaum, a South Miami real estate broker.

“I said they’d missed the boat,” Rosenbaum said. “Federal Realty doesn’t need the city. The city needs Federal Realty.”

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