Media towers vote requires trolley, Museum Park cash, but limits retail
By Jacquelyn Weiner
A few years from now, the Omni area may be home to a hip, happening and very bright entertainment district if Miami commissioners approve zoning changes and an agreement today (7/29) allowing a 10-acre development that has gained recent fame for its two massive media towers.
Commissioners gave unanimous initial approval to developer Mark Siffin's City Square last week following several changes demanded by commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff and a lengthy public session voicing largely praise.
Concerns in the past have centered on the media towers' brightness, but the clear majority of those who spoke said they felt the light would keep them safer and create an exciting vibe for the area.
The project, between the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the Miami Herald building, is to include a retail complex and an 11-story, 1,600-space garage topped by 250- and 350-foot interactive LED towers.
Originally approved in 2006 and not-so-affectionately dubbed "Wal-Mart on the Water," the new, scaled-down version has zoomed through the city's approval process with highly unusual speed. Many municipalities — Miami included — are notoriously slow to approve construction plans.
While it seems City Square and a bevy of tailor-made zoning rules governing "Omni Media Tower Regulations" may speed on through, developer Mr. Siffin isn't getting away unscathed.
Before giving the initial OK, commission Chairman Sarnoff laid out a bevy of amendments to the City Square development agreement and zoning regulations for the media towers aimed at tightening the project's timeline and sweetening the deal from the city's standpoint.
Among the changes:
nThe developer must provide a trolley to serve the trolley route proposed in the development plans.
nThe developer must commit to not changing the development after approval and must abandon plans to build high-rise residential towers.
nNo media tower may be within 1,200 feet of any other media tower. This would appear to rule out competing towers built within almost a quarter of a mile by any other developer.
nRetail is restricted to 75 feet in height.
nIf the developer doesn't break ground on phase II of construction within five years after the building permit is issued for Phase I, the developer is subject to an additional $1 million permit fee, raising the total permit fee from $1.2 million to $2.2 million.
nThe developer must contribute $800,000 a year for the next ten years to a Museum Park trust fund, of which the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency's board would be trustee.
nIf the developer is late on any of those payments, fees will also be raised from $1.2 million to $2.2 million after 10 days' notice.
Developer Mr. Siffin said he "absolutely" agreed to the amendments.
While Mr. Sarnoff was opposed to the previously approved big-box plans, he said a pedestrian-friendly development that brings light — literally — to the Omni area was something he could get behind after the changes he laid out.
"I think it's time for the City of Miami to make some progress," he said.
Commissioner Francis Suarez had similar words: "We need to continue to make the areas that are appropriate for growth vibrant," he said. "I think it's going to be wonderful to have a media component."
Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II said his support for the project centered on the possibilities to improve the area's safety.
"Potential criminals thrive on darkness," Mr. Dunn said. "Whenever you have an opportunity for illumination, you can't lose."
He also gave a nod to the project's supporters who spoke at the meeting: "What I witnessed today was overwhelming support of this project," Mr. Dunn said.
If the City Square project and its media towers are approved, Mr. Siffin has said he plans to close the long-in-limbo purchase of the land from current owner McClatchy — the Miami Herald's parent company — soon after. According to the land sale agreement, failure to close by December would allow McClatchy to charge the buyer an added fee, a condition that may contribute to the project's suddenly swift pace.
Mr. Siffin said in a previous interview that he would not comment on the sale price, but McClatchy has reported in securities documents that it would receive $190 million for the land from the original buyer. That buyer reportedly contracted with Mr. Siffin for a $230 million resale of the land.
The price does not include the Herald building, though its potential purchase later was in original contract terms.
The project has been in the works since 2005.
Mr. Siffin has been cryptic in his explanation of project finances, solely saying that the media towers "assure the financial success of the project."
Once the land deal is done, he has said he hopes to break ground quickly.