Miami commission set to act on future of 25-acre Worldcenter project
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
After several delays, the awaited arrival of 25-acre Miami Worldcenter development to the city commission is here.
Today (10/23) commissioners could decide the fate of this massive project that for weeks has captured the attention of Miamians for its large-scale and proposed world-class amenities.
Developers are requesting approval of a special district zoning and a development agreement for the nine-block development in Park West.
While developers promise to turn the largely abandoned stretch of Park West into an upscale commercial complex for all to enjoy, the Overtown community won't just take their word for it. It vows to see that the group considers the historic neighborhood in its building plans.
If the commission OKs the project, it would become "one of the largest private master-planned urban environments in the world," said Stephen Colamarino, director of finance for Miami Worldcenter LLC in a presentation to the Downtown Development Authority to enlist the agency's support.
The vision is led by investor Marc Roberts and Art Falcone, co-chairman and CEO of Miami Worldcenter Group, who've teamed to develop the massive complex.
The proposed Miami Worldcenter is a nine-block site in the Park West neighborhood downtown. It's bounded by Northeast Second Avenue to the east, North Miami Avenue to the west, Northeast 11th Street to the north and Northeast 6th Street to the south.
As of now, developers own 75% of the land, Mr. Colamarino said.
The city-within-a-city building concept proposed for phase one would encompass 450,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment. It would include 1.3 million square feet of hotel and conference center space: a 750-room hotel, a four-star hotel, a signature hotel and a select service hotel, said Nitin Motwani, managing director of Miami Worldcenter. Add to that 800,000 square feet designated for parking.
Mr. Motwani said the project targets both business and leisure travelers. "…With downtown growing, more people are coming here for leisure."
Some group officials affirm that no casinos are planned as part of the entertainment complex. "Not planning any casinos, absolutely no," Mr. Colamarino insisted.
Mr. Motwani has suggested the venues would offer "sophisticated type of entertainment" but wouldn't specify details.
They hope to contribute new concepts aligned with Miami's strong reputation for nightlife and live entertainment options, he said.
Other concepts developers are dreaming up are a "World Plaza" the size of two football fields envisioned as the host location for book fairs, fashion shows and food festivals. Another is a "World Square" to feature an eclectic mix of retailers and serve as a spot for shoppers to congregate.
Mr. Motwani said the project would be "the hole in the doughnut," because it is surrounded by Overtown and three Metromover stations and is steps from city landmarks and performance venues.
The site sits a few blocks from Bicentennial Park, the Adrienne Arsht for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County and Miami Airlines Arena.
To finance a project of this magnitude, Mr. Colamarino said developers are targeting well-capitalized domestic and overseas investors who would see this as an opportunity for a windfall,
Once the project receives city approval, he said, it still has a long road ahead in the design phase. He estimates solidifying agreements with investors and completing phase one designs will take at least a year.
If the project is ready to begin construction by 2010, he added, it would take three to four years to build out phase one.
Developers are solely focusing on building out phase one because they are cautious of South Florida's volatile realty market.
"You have to build what the market demands," Mr. Motwani said, "putting thought in the process, making sure the first phase benefits the area and the city."
Then, in phase two — not yet identified — "we can continue to build what the market demands," he said.
Mr. Colamarino said the development is taking into account the Community Redevelopment Agency's plans for Overtown. It incorporates infrastructure such as wider sidewalks and tree-lined streets.
Jim Villacorta, executive director of the redevelopment agency, said the agency has worked with the Miami Worldcenter group since 2006.
"This project fulfills a number of objectives of the redevelopment plans and this area is fully supportive," he said.
Mr. Villacorta said the project could help eliminate blight and provide up to 10,000 new jobs when complete. And the agency could fund the project by paying some infrastructure costs with development credits, he said.
But some Overtown activists are concerned with the developers' intention and whether they would keep their promise of integrating Overtown's history with the massive project.
More than 20 years ago, the neighborhood was promised to become part of future developments in the vicinity, said Dorothy Jenkins Fields, founder of the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida.
The Black Archives has long planned a Historic Overtown Folklife Village, a mixed-use retail corridor to bring visitors to the area and showcase the architecture and heritage of this historically black neighborhood.
Of the village plans, only restoration of the Lyric Theatre and construction of the Ninth Street Pedestrian Mall in the heart of Overtown have come to fruition.
It was the city's planning board that first suggested allowing the community to review the development plans before the board voted.
Within days of the board's recommendation and voiced wishes of City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who represents the area, a town hall meeting was held in Overtown, and subsequently, a redevelopment agency special meeting.
Then, on Oct. 15, the planning board approved the zoning change needed to accommodate the project — a decision that now awaits city commission approval.
Next, Miami's Downtown Development Authority board endorsed the architectural venture Oct. 17. Two board members abstained from voting on the item: Neisen Kasdin, an attorney for the project, and Tony Alonso, owner of department store La Epoca, who owns property within the proposed site.
Ms. Jenkins Fields of the Black Archives said she sees the redevelopment agency as the catalyst to see that the mixed-use project integrates in its plans the vision for a cultural village and respects the community's historical significance.
Mr. Motwani said the idea is to build an all-inclusive project. "The point of Miami Worldcenter is to be for everyone, whether you are a resident or a tourist. We want people to feel welcome and come back again."