Following a large response from developers interested in building Class A office space on three city-owned parking lots north of Lincoln Road, Miami Beach Commissioners this week decided to add one more option to a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) process – the 17th Street garage across from City Hall.
Eighteen developers including Design District developer Craig Robins’ Dacra, Michael Comras’ The Comras Company jointly with David Martin’s Terra, and Integra partnering with Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital, responded to the City’s Request for Letters of Interest (RFLI) to build Class A office space on the three surface parking lots. It’s part of an effort to diversify a tourism-dependent economy hit hard in recent years by hurricanes, Zika, and, more recently, COVID.
Adding the aging garage structure to an RFP would allow the City to “have someone else pay for the rebuilding of that garage,” said Commissioner Ricky Arriola who raised the idea after Miami Beach Planning Director Tom Mooney suggested it. It also would open the door to a “more elegant” structure that could address concerns about a need for more height. “If we could smooth [the space] out over a greater area, we might avoid having the height issues that I think is going to be of concern to our residents,” he added.
Commissioner David Richardson said, “It’s an interesting idea and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for us to hear solicitations, but I’m not of the belief at this point that we should surrender that piece of land right now.”
Calling it “a gateway property” leading from 17th Street to Lincoln Road, Richardson said, “There have been many discussions over the years about ways to open up the funnel” from the Miami Beach Convention Center to Lincoln Road. “I do agree the parking structure is coming to the end of its useful life” but he expressed concerns about the amount of parking that will be needed there in light of the request by the developers of the planned Convention Center Hotel to eliminate parking and reduce the hotel’s size as a way of increasing the likelihood of getting financing.
“Never hurts to listen but I would say it’s a pretty high bar for me to let that property leave government hands,” Richardson said.
Mayor Dan Gelber addressed “the funnel” to Lincoln Road. “It’s almost like people don’t walk that way sometimes because it feels like there’s a wall there,” he said. “We ought to be looking at ways to make that more of a gateway,” the opposite of what it is now, he said, which is “almost like a barrier.”
“Obviously, there’s an appetite for [Class A office space],” Gelber said, but added, “I’m not looking for Class A office buildings because I think it’s better to have… The goal is to diversify your economy so that you have more than just [tourism]” to rely on.
“We love our hospitality industry, but it’s not the most resilient industry,” he said. In addition to the potential to attract “knowledge-based industries, information-based industries,” Gelber said, “If we could have better office space here, you really do get people out of their cars and off the causeway… We have a huge number of residents who go back and forth” between Miami and Miami Beach.
“We don’t’ have to commit to it, let’s just see,” Gelber said.
Interim City Manager Raul Aguila told Commissioners, “This is really the time that this city has to consider some really bold planning ideas… This garage is a relic and we’ve been trying to reprogram Lincoln Lane for the longest time.” Developing the garage site would “activate that area,” he said.
Adding it to an RFP would not be binding, Aguila emphasized, but “since there’s been so much interest from high-profile developers, I think it’s just a terrific idea to authorize us to add the 17th Street garage as a developer’s option.”
He reminded them the RFP has to come back to the Commission for approval and any proposals would be further vetted by the Commission.
“I think it’s a cool idea,” Commissioner Michael Góngora said, while noting he wasn’t sure he could support it given the request for reduced parking for the Convention Center Hotel. He agreed the garage “is kind of a big block of cement.”
“From an aesthetic perspective,” he said, allowing a private developer to “make it more beautiful” is appealing.
Aguila noted the City could require as part of the RFP that a developer replace the parking. “This is to give you all an option to look at this as a holistic site.”
Both Arriola and Góngora expressed concerns about the potential of four active construction sites along Lincoln Road at one time. “Sometimes these progressive ideas are difficult to oversee and administer in real life,” Góngora said.
“If you don’t like it, you don’t have to approve it,” Aguila responded, “but I’d like to put something before you to consider.”
Commissioner Mark Samuelian who has made economic diversification one of his priorites said, “Possibilities and options are right up my alley so I will support this tonight.”
“Offices often can be a less intensive use, 9 to 5 office [hours] versus a hotel,” he said. “My gut says I’d probably lean toward the office being a little more community friendly.” Once again, he urged the City to “engage the community early and often” as long-term leases on the properties under consideration would require voter approval.
Richardson said, “What that particular area is begging for is a gateway to Lincoln Road” but, to do that, he said, “It seems clear to me you’ve got to chop off a northeast corner of the building [to] open it up.” He suggested asking developers to take into consideration the desire “to eliminate the funnel” when submitting proposals.
“This is just giving a bigger canvas for developers to come to us with a proposal,” Arriola said. “We would still own the land.”
Reiterating the Commission would have final say over the RFP that is developed and voters have the ultimate word on long-term leases, Arriola said adding the 17th Street garage is “giving ourselves a lot more flexibility [taking] an aging garage that some future Commission is going to have to deal with and get the private sector to pay for it.”
“It is a brutalist structure and it divides the Convention Center from Lincoln Road,” Arriola said. “Any design should make it a holistic integration, so I think it’s a smart move by us.”
Source: RE Miami Beach