CocoWalk expansion includes offices, more retail
By Sherri C. Ranta
Owners of CocoWalk plan to open a $7 million, four-story expansion in Coconut Grove this spring that will add about 19,000 square feet of office space.
The Offices at CocoWalk are enjoying early success, said Carol Ellis-Cutler, vice president at Abood & Associates.
"We've had early success in leasing the property," she said. "Our biggest challenge quite frankly is we wish we could have the ability to go four more stories."
City of Miami zoning laws limit the project's height, she said.
The law offices of Ziskind & Arvin, Richard E. Brodsky and Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate Inc. have pre-leased a combined 6,500 square feet. Another 11,000 square feet, Ms. Ellis-Cutler said, is covered by two letters of intent, leaving about 1,700 square feet uncommitted.
Work on office interiors began in early February and is expected to be completed in May or June, she said.
The Offices at CocoWalk are one of two components in the 32,000-square-foot, four-story expansion being built on the former site of the Sci-Sci Cafe. The project will also provide additional retail space for The Gap, a national clothing retailer, an original tenant at the center, said Jay Miller, senior vice president at Steiner & Associates, the center's management company.
Chicago-based Transwestern Investment Co. bought CocoWalk in March 2000 from City Center Retail Trust. The trust sold many of its retail centers at that time, including a West Palm Beach property, also purchased by Transwestern, Mr. Miller said.
In the retail section, Gap General Manager John Robayo said his company has a March 26 date for opening stores in about 13,000 square feet of the expansion building. That portion will hold a new traditional Gap, with Gap Baby and Gap Kids on the second floor.
The Gap is also expected to retain its present 4,750 square feet which will be remodeled to open in June as Gap Body, an intimate apparel store, he said. The expansion space, he said, abuts the current Gap location. Once completed, a wall will be torn down, and customers will be able to walk into the expansion space from the remodeled space.
The existing Gap Kids and Baby, at 2982 Grand Ave. and across from the Mayfair, will be closed.
Ms. Ellis-Cutler said CocoWalk's first venture into office space is being well-received. "Our market has been predominantly residents in Coconut Grove and Key Biscayne that no longer want to fight the hassle of downtown and Brickell.
"The tenants we have signed," she said, "come from Coconut Grove, Brickell and downtown. Clearly in two to three situtations, they are electing to upgrade to a higher quality office building." Plus shorter commute times are bringing tenants to the center, she said.
Coconut Grove resident Jay Ziskind is moving his office from 444 Brickell after 12 years of working in downtown Miami. His firm is expected to occupy about 2,300 square feet. Mr. Brodsky's downtown firm is also moving from 25 NE Second Ave. to about 1,700 square feet in CocoWalk. Coldwell Banker officials are leasing 2,500 square feet.
Ms. Ellis-Cutler said tenants would be able to take advantage of amenities such as parking in the 865-space garage, valet parking for guests and a direct third-floor connection into CocoWalk for lunch, dinner and entertaining.
Another advantage, Ms Ellis-Cutler said, is a tenant's complete control of air-conditioning. The office rent - about $25-$26 per square feet - includes air conditioning, unlike some large high-rises that charge extra for use after-hours.
"If you wanted to work on weekends or evenings, you have complete control," Ms Ellis-Cutler said. "This is an advantage over high-rise office buildings that charge extra for electricity beyond certain hours.
"That was an added upgrade that we discussed with the owners. We recommended it to be an advantage over competing buildings."
The events of Sept. 11 slowed pre-leasing activity, Ms. Ellis-Cutler said. "We personally experienced a long pause after 9/11 from the prospects we were talking to and still into the fourth quarter. These tenants chose to proceed, others have put plans on hold."
The expansion of CocoWalk could be the center's last, Mr. Miler said, unless there is more demolition and rebuilding.
"We're pretty much tapped out," he said.
Financing for the expansion, Mr. Miller said, is from BHF Funding of New York. L. Milton Construction Co. of Coral Gables is general contractor. Architectural services are being provided by Portuondo Perotti Architects Inc. of Coral Gables and Design Development Group Architects of Baltimore.
Mr. Miller said CocoWalk's retail component is 96% occupied. He said many of its original tenants - Banana Republic, The Gap, Victoria's Secret and B. Dalton Books - remain strong.
"The original intention of CocoWalk was to bring national brand retailers to Coconut Grove, an area previously served by small boutiques," he said. CocoWalk provided large spaces and parking for these retailers, he said.
The center also houses some small boutiques, such as Cafe Tu Tu Tango and KoKo Palenki. Since opening in CocoWalk, he said, the stores have grown to become larger regional chains.
"They were one of a kind when they opened."