Miami-Dade school board to explore redeveloping downtown land

In this map provided by the Miami-Dade County School Board, a red line shows the board’s property near Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami.
In this map provided by the Miami-Dade County School Board, a red line shows the board’s property near Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami.

Sitting on 10 acres of prime downtown real estate, the Miami-Dade County School Board is once again considering getting into the development business.

Board members on Wednesday agreed to begin exploring plans that — if completed — could dramatically transform several blocks near the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and extend the booming development along Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard corridor.

There were no blueprints and only sparse details, but Superintendent Alberto Carvalho sketched out the potential concept of high-rises up to 60 stories in a mixed-used project that could provide alternative parking for Arsht patrons, take advantage of mass transit options downtown and maybe even provide workforce housing for teachers.

“This, in my opinion, can be one of the boldest actions that this board takes,” Carvalho said. “There’s a window of opportunity we believe is open for the next two years to get this done, and we should not miss it.”

Carvalho said he wants to maintain a school board presence downtown and structure any potential deal so that it would generate long-term profits to boost education spending — but still protect the funding Miami-Dade gets from the state. Additionally, the school board wants to create a semi-independent agency that would oversee spending of money generated by the massive redevelopment.

The board did not take a formal vote but gave its blessing to exploring options, with member Marta Perez noting that “the devil will always be in the details.”

The school board owns contiguous properties along Northeast Second Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard. On that land, the district has multiple buildings, two schools, surface parking lots and the WLRN public radio and TV stations. Carvalho said he intends for the schools and WLRN to be incorporated into any new development.

Whatever the ultimate deal is, Carvalho vowed the district “will never be anyone’s tenant” and called for the district to be incorporated into “a better, more cost-effective entity … at no cost to us, at the cost to the developer who is going to build it.”

The school board has offered up its properties three times before: twice in 2011 and once in 2014. Big-name developers have expressed interest in the past, including the Genting Group, the Malaysian casino and resort giant that purchased the old Miami Herald building and has amassed about $500 million in real estate in the Omni area.

Jaime Torrens, the district’s chief facilities officer, said the district got “very little interest” in the previous bids and closed them without any action.

“That was very broad,” he said. “This is going to be very focused.”

Carvalho said the district could be ready to issue its latest official bid documents as soon as 60 days.

“The longer we sit in a place without doing anything, we miss an opportunity,” board member Lubby Navarro said.