Best use for prime property in Miami's arts district still up for discussion
By Paola Iuspa
and Jaime Levy
After Ryder Systems Inc. announced it would not be moving near Miami's planned performing arts center, stakeholders in what is pegged to be an arts & entertainment district are talking about whether a corporate headquarters is the best addition to bring the area to life.
Now a parking lot, the parcel that Ryder Systems considered - but dismissed because of space constraints - was part of 10 acres between Biscayne Boulevard and Biscayne Bay owned by Knight Ridder.
The company, parent of The Miami Herald, also donated 2.4 acres to the Performing Arts Center Trust. The center's concert hall will go on that site at 14th Street and Biscayne Boulevard.
Although Philip Blumberg, president & CEO of American Ventures Realty Co. in Coral Gables and Knight Ridder's long-time real estate adviser, had his fingers crossed for the opportunity to build Ryder's headquarters, several of others with interests in the area said a corporate building would provide little more than a symbolic presence. The arts district is planned between I-395 and NE 20th Street.
"In the best scenario, I'd love to see residential development surrounding it," said Gail Thompson, project manager for the performing arts center. "Corporations are great but at 5 o'clock or thereabouts, you end up with a dark neighborhood. To have the vibrancy we hope for, we need a significant residential presence."
Still, she said, arts center officials were rooting for Ryder because it would have shown that the business community has confidence in the future of the area.
But Miami Commissioner Tomas Regalado said building apartments would be the only way to "save downtown."
Developer Avra Jain, who with her New York-based investment partners owns more than 3 acres near the center, said a performing arts center was a strong foundation for a people-driven community.
"Residential is very important. You need to get bodies there," said Ms. Jain, who said she is looking for joint-venture partners for her residential projects. "We'd like to see other developers do the same: residential, providing services for people who live there - restaurants, cafes, grocery facilities.
"A performing arts center is a great anchor for a neighborhood, because that's kind of a sexy neighbor."
Mr. Blumberg, in the meantime, is trying to work with Knight Ridder to enter a long-term lease through which his company could develop and rent out the 10 acres. If the landlord agrees to at least a 50-year lease, Mr. Blumberg said, his company would build an office building for anyone who wants to locate there.
Lee Ann Schlatter, spokeswoman for San Jose-based Knight Ridder, said that although there is no offer on the table right now, "we will continue to review options as time goes by."
Mr. Blumberg added: Neither Ridder nor we want to develop the property quickly."
But Raul L. Rodriguez, who helped put together a Performing Arts Center Trust report about what that neighborhood should look like in 2025, warned against letting the land sit idle. A principal with architecture firm Rodriguez & Quiroga, he said Tuesday that vacant land in the area would be a worst-case scenario.
"Anything that brings activity to the area is desirable," he said, adding that residential development is paramount. "I think that the development of the Knight Ridder parcels is critical to the area, because they are one of the largest land owners in the area. They were so generous in contributing one of the parcels" for the concert hall.
"It seems to me that once you do something like that, it'd be important to follow up with the development of other parcels, to support their investment and donation, and the public's investment in the performing arts center.
"Now," Mr. Rodriguez said, "the important thing is that they not remain empty - that they bring life to the investment they helped make."