Mixed-use complex could pioneer downtown Kendall idea
By Jaime Levy
Visions of a downtown Kendall put forth at a 1998 charrette are starting to take shape as developers plan a seven-building, residential-retail complex across from Dadeland Mall, which is ready to begin renovations.
Observers of the area say Gulfside Development's Downtown Dadeland project 7.5 acres on the former site of Williamson Cadillac is the first component in an urban planning process that could transform the parking lot-laden area off Kendall Drive into an elegant 24-hour community.
"The whole idea of downtown Kendall is it really creates an urban environment and one which is really pedestrian-focused," said Lee Rawlinson, assistant planning director for Miami-Dade County. "The project will really be the first example in Dade County of this kind of urban environment."
The $150 million development bordered on the north by North Kendall Drive, on the west by South Dadeland Boulevard, and on the south and east by US 1 will consist of a cluster of four- to seven-story buildings that will contain about 330 condos, 150,000 square feet of retail and limited office space. The buildings will be positioned along new roads. Condominiums, ranging from 400 to 1,350 square feet would sell between the low $100,000s and the low $300,000s.
The first level of each building, designed by Coral Gables-based architectural firm Spillis Candela and Coral Gables-based design consultants Hersh Vitalini Corazzini, would contain retail and restaurant space so far, Borders, Office Depot and Starbucks are on the verge of signing leases, developers said.
Plans call for buildings to be edged by wide, brick-paved sidewalks. Although there will be some streetside parking, most auto traffic would be directed to underground parking.
Originally, South Miami-based Gulfside Development had other plans for the site: a retail-entertainment center anchored by an AMC movie theater, Tower Records and high-rise apartments. But the faltering theater industry as well as local dissatisfaction with the plan made the company reconsider, said principal Jackson Ward.
"It was basically the beginning of this year when we decided the project wouldn't work in its current design and maybe we should re-evaluate," Mr. Ward said of the complex, which is slated to be finished 18 months after its April groundbreaking.
The reason the project already has a waiting list for people interested in the condominiums, Mr. Ward said, has to do with the community's and the county's desire to revitalize the Dadeland Mall region.
Plagued by heavy traffic, old apartments and oceans of parking lots, the eastern edge of Kendall was analyzed at a 1998 workshop organized by Chamber South. The result of the charrette was an 8-page document summarizing what participants saw as key factors in transforming the region, including pedestrian-friendly roadways, slowing the traffic flow on Kendall Drive, installing public squares and promoting in-fill development.
In December 1999, the county passed an ordinance to facilitate the charrette's results. It calls for strict urban design guidelines, identifies locations where the county should build public plazas and highlights sites inviting for pedestrians, Mr. Rawlinson said.
The ordinance was not without opposition. Dadeland Mall, for example, threatened a lawsuit challenging one aspect of it that would have required the mall be sliced into 47 sections if it began a major renovation. But county officials have been working with mall representatives to hammer out a compromise and on Monday, Dadeland announced a $30 million renovation that mall officials said would consider the theme of the downtown Kendall movement.
"Probably the major components will occur along the area closer to Kendall Drive. We're adding green space and landscaping, and improvements all along the area," said mall manager Debora Exley.
Along with the landscaping at the mall's entrance, 39-year-old Dadeland will double the size of its Lord & Taylor, among other improvements, Ms. Exley said. Demolition work, she said, is starting and renovations are expected to be done by November 2002.
Both mall and county representatives said the two were close to an agreement on a revision to the ordinance that would allow Dadeland to remain intact. Mr. Rawlinson said changes would come before the county commission in the next two months.
"I've maintained that the most important thing about the Dadeland property as it fits into the downtown Kendall idea is the fact that the buildings on that property present toward Kendall Drive," said Victor Dover of town planning firm Dover Kohl & Partners, who helped conduct the 1998 charrette.
He pointed to Gulfside's project as the cornerstone of what could become a bustling urban community.
"What's exciting about Downtown Dadeland is it's comprised of street-oriented buildings. It's not going to be an internalized project as much as it will be reflective of the streets in a town," he said. "Parking is not the main theme of the project. Instead, the dominant visual elements are people places sidewalk environments, storefronts. It's smart from a planning point of view and it's smart from a merchandising point of view."