Miami’s new skyline due to tower over the great unknown
Written by Michael Lewis on October 6, 2015
In 32-plus years of detailing development in Miami we’ve had far too much to report on. For decades we’ve said that our state bird ought to be the construction crane. But this is ridiculous.
In the past month we covered nine major high-rise projects either under way or announced – and that doesn’t count dozens of tall or bulky residential towers rising or planned around town. Nor does it include low-rises like the Miami Wilds amusement area near the zoo and the Miami Ocean Studios film complex.
Even the title “major project” has escalated. Twenty or 30 stories doesn’t make the big-time cut today. What we used to call office towers on Brickell now are being sold as teardowns for really big buildings.
Take 444 Brickell, where this paper first had its home more than three decades ago. It’s a teardown, along with a far smaller building, to be home for One Brickell’s three towers, the tallest about 80 stories.
A more recent site where Miami Today spent 20 years at 710 Brickell is already razed, opening land for a 1,000-foot-plus tower of about 83 stories.
These days nobody bats an eye at announcements of 800-plus-foot or 80-plus-story towers. That’s the new normal – though the tallest of our county’s 300-plus high-rises today is still the 13-year-old, 64-story Four Seasons, at 789 feet Florida’s highest.
So either we’re going to suddenly get a whole outcropping of buildings as tall as anything we have today or some of what’s being announced in bunches is going to shrink or sit on the sidelines awhile. Probably some of each.
One of the nine mega-projects we covered last month, for example, is Flagstone’s Island Gardens, a mixed-use Watson Island project centered on a mega-yacht marina on city land. The lease was signed more than 14 years ago and work is still scratching the surface.
The other eight, not all towering but all major projects, include All Aboard Florida’s multi-tower rail complex on downtown’s west side; Brickell City Centre, with occupancy in parts of the first phase due this year; 25-block Miami Worldcenter by a host of separate developers just north of downtown; a so-far-unapproved hotel, convention site and more on PortMiami land; Related’s One Miami at 444 Brickell; Related’s Auberge Residences & Spa, towers of 59, 59 and 48 stories across from the Arsht Center; the Skyrise recreation tower at Bayside; residential project Miami River, four towers rising 58 to 60 stories each; and two 60-story residential towers rising beside three already on the river.
These projects will add thousands of residences, and we’re not even listing 30- to 40-story residential sites planned everywhere. They used to seem major. Now there are just too many to even watch carefully.
Nobody questions the viability of most of these projects. But as a group, is there enough need? The last near collapse left 20,000 unsold condos, though all sold in a few years. Why would another downturn differ?
New circumstances today include altered economic positions in lands like China and Brazil, from which buyers were relied on in planning this new flood of construction. Other new variables might be meager local job growth, lack of investment in transportation and the now-strong US dollar.
But each announced major project is unique, relying on different needs and opportunities. Some are clearly solid, others iffier. Timing will be vital.
A long-time reader brought that point home. He just dropped off a scrapbook of Miami newspaper clippings from the late 1950s of big announced developments. For many, the depth of the newspaper page trumpeting the plan was as tall as the tower ever got.
There was the Miami city hall planned across the street from the Dade County Courthouse. The raft of buildings proposed in Bal Harbour that never rose. The tallest apartment tower in Miami Beach and more that were never built.
But the scrapbook also shows an aerial photo of Brickell Avenue with a single low-rise office building and a thought that the business world downtown could actually cross the river into Brickell.
In other words, vast overstatement mixed with vast understatement.
The 1950s unbuilt developments don’t necessarily translate to today. Everything changes. Nor does the vast open area of Miami Worldcenter necessarily translate into a new Brickell. In all cases, time will tell.
But one thing is certain: developers are eternal optimists. They see opportunity again and again.
The question is, how much of that is real right now? We asked that a decade ago and, as more and more really, really big projects are planned, we have to ask it again.
Unfortunately, nobody has the answer until long after the fact. Look at those plans 60 years ago that imploded. On the other hand, compare the Brickell skyline then with what actually happened. Who would have predicted that magnitude of growth?
Despite all the heady announcements, tomorrow’s growth is still the great unknown.