Miami River Commission backs vast downtown development
Written by John Charles Robbins on May 8, 2018
The Miami River Commission is endorsing the latest plan to redevelop a city-owned property in the heart of downtown.
By unanimous vote Monday the commission recommended approval of a proposal to redevelop a 4.2-acre site at 400 SE Second Ave., home to a Hyatt Regency Hotel and the city’s James L. Knight Convention Center.
The matter is up for review by the Miami City Commission today (5/10).
The commission will consider two resolutions: one to waive competitive bidding and approve an amended and restated lease with Hyatt Equities LLC, and one that places the matter on the Aug. 28 ballot.
The city charter requires the proposed sale or lease of city-owned waterfront go to referendum.
The supportive vote from the river commission came after a review of the site plan and a new set of colorful renderings showing the conceptual plan to clear the site, start from scratch, and build a sleek three-tower mixed-use project.
It would mean razing the old convention center and hotel, and constructing a new hotel and two residential buildings with possible space for office and retail uses.
The latest proposal is similar to an idea considered last year, which the city commission put off with a directive to negotiate further.
Officials with the city and Hyatt, along with CBRE representatives, are presenting the latest proposal to city review boards with a goal of getting the plan before voters in August.
A draft of the ballot wording reads: “Shall the City Charter be amended to extend City’s Lease with Hyatt of 4.2 acres of waterfront land at 400 S.E. 2nd Avenue for additional 49 years (total 99-year term) and include: convention center land; new hotel and mixed-use development; new public Riverwalk and other public amenities; and Minimum guaranteed rent to City of $2,000,000 annually, plus percentage of gross profits from all other uses?”
Hyatt now pays about $1 million a year.
The plan calls for adoption of a new master plan and selection of a third-party developer.
At Monday’s meeting, Hyatt’s Tim Gomez said the city and Hyatt have gone the extra mile to plan a more “family friendly” use of the important site.
A CBRE representative said a study a decade ago found the convention center was outdated and had served its purpose. Removal of the hulking, low-profile convention center opens the site to added view corridors, green space and plaza design, said officials working on the latest proposal.
The concept of open vistas and landscaped plaza space, extending back from the water and the public riverwalk, was the focus of a presentation by architect Kobi Karp.
Mr. Karp said redevelopment of the property offers opportunities of public access second to none.
He said the intent is to create a type of town square green space – a community gathering place, with terraced sections, green lawn, public promenade, where people who call Brickell and Flagler Street home can congregate.
Mr. Karp said the openness of the plan relies on elevating the new buildings 45 to 50 feet.
This open design on pedestals would allow free flow of the breeze and light, and offer views of the riverfront, he explained.
Mr. Karp showed the river commission new renderings showing the open green spaces, riverwalk and more.
In one, he pointed out how people on the site will be able to see the Brickell Avenue Bridge, the statue that’s part of the span, and the bridge operator’s building.
“This will allow a lot more cross breeze and light coming in,” he said.
Mr. Karp said that after a meeting with the Urban Infill and Greenways Subcommittee of the river commission in April, the design team refocused on the potential for multi functions in the green space.
River Commission Chairman Horacio Stuart Aguirre complimented Mr. Karp on a great presentation and an imaginative design.
Vice Chair Frank Balzebre asked about a probable timeline to redevelop the site.
Mr. Gomez said if the voters approve the lease extension in August, negotiations toward a master plan layout and final plan would commence immediately. He said the goal would be to have a final plan and a developer selected for a vote by city commissioners in the fall of 2019.
Under that timetable, Mr. Gomez anticipates a groundbreaking in the first quarter of 2020.
There was some discussion of the ways the land will be cleared, noting the cramped site with its close proximity to the river, an I-95 feeder ramp, and one of the busiest intersections in the city.
Mr. Gomez said the buildings will probably be dismantled floor by floor.
“It’s got to be done as delicately as you can, when demolishing a building,” he said.
River commission members also asked about the connection to a proposed tunnel under the river to handle Brickell Avenue traffic to and from downtown.
When the city commission put off the Hyatt plan last summer, some commissioners suggested keeping options open to allow for using part of the site to stage construction of a tunnel. Others pushed for a new master plan to redevelop the entire riverfront in that area to connect to city-owned Fort Dallas Park just to the west.
Mr. Gomez said the tunnel impact was considered and mentioned the Hyatt plan is a phased development, leaving the eastern side of the site the last to be developed.
Questions were also raised about Fort Dallas Park. Officials clarified that the redevelopment plan does not include a privately owned parcel and hotel, sandwiched between the Knight Center and Fort Dallas Park.
A public riverwalk extends from the Hyatt-Knight property and connects to the park.
In proposed developer guidelines, one says to renovate and expand the riverwalk to encourage safe public use, walkability, connectivity, and ease of access to the nearby Fort Dallas Park and Riverwalk Metromover Station.
The city owns the park at 60-64 SE Fourth St., home to The Flagler Worker’s House, the last known building in Miami directly associated with railroad magnate and developer Henry M. Flagler.
City officials have been pursuing separate plans to improve and reopen the park.
At Monday’s meeting, city officials indicated the park will not be redeveloped with a major commercial use. A restaurant had operated there before under lease.
The city intends to keep the property and will focus efforts on restoration of the historic house and introducing an educational component to reopen the city-owned site, officials said.