Four blocks at heart of downtown in hands of Miami commissioners
By Frank Norton and Susan Stabley
A massive four-block private development that would anchor Miami's downtown with entertainment, retail and residential units could leap forward this month.
South Miami-based MDM Development Group plans to seek design and zoning permits from Miami commissioners Nov. 19 to develop 6 acres of mostly paved lots near Dupont Plaza.
If the plan gains approval then, work on MDM's $600 million project would begin in early 2004 and finish by late 2005, said company Vice President Timothy Weller. The proposal is part of the 9-acre One Miami project, which also includes two already-approved residential towers to be built by The Related Group.
MDM's plans call for two roughly 40-story towers to mark the site's southeast and west corners, with a taller building on the northwest tract at Second Avenue and Second Street. Residential units would total 1,300 to 1,500, all anchored by first-floor retail, planners said.
Architectural firm Nichols Brosch Sandoval & Associates said the real gem, however, is a planned four-story retail and entertainment center, equal to eight stories high, in the heart of the development. The entertainment facility would include a 14-theater, stadium-seat cinema on the fourth floor, a health club and "high-energy retail at the ground plane that spills out across the street," said John Nichols, president of the firm.
"We concentrated heavily on what goes at the sidewalk," Mr. Nichols said, "the urban faces of the buildings and what the streets are to look like."
If Miami city commissioners have an opinion on the One Miami project, they aren't saying much until they have a chance to review the developers' request for a major use permit.
When considering such a permit, the commission must act as a "quasi-judicial" body and cannot have any preconceived notions going into the meeting, said Commissioner Johnny Winton.
"We not allowed to talk to people who are for or against the project," he said.
When the One Miami project came up for discussion at the last meeting of the Downtown Development Authority, Mr. Winton said, he had to leave the room. For him, it could be twice as hard to avoid an opinion because the project falls in his district.
He did divulge what he'd be seeking in the project: design, density and the right treatment at street level.
"I want it to be very pedestrian friendly," he said.
Four of five commissioners are very open about their enthusiasm to build Miami into a true "urban village."
When asked about the One Miami proposal, Commissioner Joe Sanchez said attracting residents to downtown is the only way to make it a vital part of the community. Tomas Regalado calls the Riverwalk portion of One Miami - the parcel under production by Jorge Perez's Related Group of Florida - "a beacon for the reversal of downtown."
"It's important to bring a project of this magnitude no matter what the problems are in terms of congestion," Commissioner Regalado said. "It's something that needs to be in the downtown."
Arthur Teele Jr. said he's "very much in support" of One Miami, again referring to the Related Group's parcel on the Bay, and supports a major reworking of the roadways to reduce the traffic.
"We need to re-engineer the entire downtown including the ramp from I-95," Mr. Teele said.
The fifth commissioner, Angel Gonzalez, could not be reached Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Mayor Manny Diaz says he's seen renderings of the One Miami plans and is "very excited" about plans to turn the city into a vibrant 24-hour downtown.
With a projected cost of $900 million, the 9-acre project may be the largest privately paid-for development proposed for Miami. Four non-contiguous parcels make up the project, proposed to stretch from south of the Hotel Inter-Continental Miami and Biscayne Bay west to Southeast Second Avenue and the Hyatt Regency Miami and north of Biscayne Boulevard Way to south of Southeast Second Street.
"It's high time those lots got developed," Mayor Diaz said. The commitment of so much private funding shows "faith in our city."
"The face of Miami, particularly the downtown, is going to look quite differently in five to 10 years," Mayor Diaz said. "And I'm happy to be a part of it."