Miracle Mile office tower wins preliminary approval
By Marilyn Bowden
Starwood Urban could start building a $36 million office tower on Miracle Mile by year's end, principals said.
The Coral Gables Board of Architects has given a preliminary thumbs-up to Fifty-Five Miracle Mile, a 215,000-square-foot building at Aragon Avenue, said Starwood CEO John Richman.
He said the Washington, DC-based investment firm, which has poured nearly $40 million into Coral Gables and Miami Beach in the past two years, in April filed two development plans for the site. Starwood prefers its alternate plan, a mixed-used project featuring a heavy residential component fronting Aragon with only 59,000 square feet of office space, Mr. Richman said.
But the mixed-use plan requires further approval from the city commission. In April, an anti-development groundswell in the community contributed to election of a new mayor and two city commissioners and led to halting of construction on a City Hall annex on Coral Way.
Mr. Richman thinks the residential-office proposal is stalled.
"We believe the more comprehensive design, which would bring a critically needed residential component to Miracle Mile, is the better choice," Mr. Richman said. "But we have an economic reality with regard to our investments in Coral Gables and therefore must begin to move forward with at least one of our plans.
"We are going forward with plans for the office building because it did not require City Commission approval. The plan that requires their approval has not made substantial progress, although almost to a person we have received positive responses.
"It's an administrative delay."
The office building, granted a 16-story height limit in exchange for its Mediterranean design, would rise at the former site of Uptons and Old Navy, he said. It's the only site along the shopping strip that will support office development, he said, since alleys prevent the assemblage of sufficient land.
Office space would begin at the ninth floor, Mr. Richman said, affording "spectacular views of the Miami skyline as far as Biscayne Bay and Coconut Grove."
The lower levels would house ground-floor retail and close to 600 parking spaces.
Mr. Richman said negotiations are under way with a foreign investor for about 50,000 square feet. Randy Olen of Insignia-ESG will handle office leasing and Lyle Stern of Felenstein Koniver Stern the retail leasing. Codina Property Management will manage the property.
He said Starwood would move ahead on both plans and begin construction on the office alternative at the end of the year if the mixed-use project is rejected or still in limbo.
Assuming a first-quarter start and a 15- to 18-month build-out, Fifty-Five Miracle Mile could hit the Gables market at about the same time as a proposed Hines Partnership office development, said Jack Lowell, vice chair at Codina Realty.
Mr. Lowell and Tere Blanca de Ulloa are leasing agents for 355 Alhambra, the most recently completed of a spate of Coral Gables office projects.
"The question in our business is always timing," Mr. Lowell said. "Right now the market is fairly healthy. We're about 50% leased at 355.
"Then there's three more projects coming along - Alhambra Towers, 4000 Ponce and the office portion of Village of Merrick Park.
"So if Hines and Starwood were to deliver about the same time, the market might get a little soft."
Mr. Richman said Coral Gables is the best office market in Miami.
"Although a lot of space has come on the market recently," he said, "we feel it will fill up quickly."