Developer hopes to build 76-year-old tavern into $23 million Coconut Grove project
By Paola Iuspa
A developer with a history in the Omni area wants to build a residential project with some retail on a Coconut Grove corner now home to a nostalgic rock tavern.
Gino Falsetto said he plans to incorporate the almost 76-year-old Taurus Chops, 3540 Main Hwy., into his $23 million project with six townhomes and 40 condominiums. While the ground floor would house a restaurant, a wine cellar and a delicatessen facing Main Highway, Mr. Falsetto said, he is considering keeping the wood-frame Taurus as a bar.
He said units would sell from $500,000 to $800,000.
"The first time I went to Taurus I thought, 'What a beautiful site,' " Mr. Falsetto said. "So I started inquiring about the place and met with the owner."
Mr. Falsetto, head of Main Highway Development, said the Grove reminded him of European cities, where people walk from their homes to shops and work. That similarity, he said, helped him win over European investors who are now partners in the project.
Mr. Falsetto doesn't yet own the 1-acre site of Taurus and a parking lot but said he has a contract to buy it. He said he plans to close on the deal after he requests the City of Miami to change the zoning to allow mixed use on the entire site.
Mr. Falsetto said he expects to take the issue to the city commission in September.
A zoning change was denied a year ago, he said, when he proposed a combination of condos and hotel. Neighbors opposed the hotel, arguing it would generate too much traffic. That compelled city commissioners to defer a decision.
Mr. Falsetto said he redesigned his project, eliminating the hotel, and hopes residents will welcome it.
To maintain harmony with neighboring single-family homes on Franklin Avenue, he plans two-story townhomes facing the street. The five-story condo would front Main Highway, he said, and he would set back the two upper floors, hiding them from pedestrians' sight.
"The Grove is one of the few places where you can walk everywhere," Mr. Falsetto said. "So I invited friends from Europe to stay here. They loved it."
While the neighborhood has a good restaurant base, it still needs food shops, hardware stores, delicatessens and wine shops to be a self-contained village, he said. To fill that void, Mr. Falsetto said, he decided to include some of those specialty retail concepts in his own development.
"We are looking at a condo project with upscale boutiques and an international restaurant connected to a cellar in the basement," he said. "It will also have a high-quality delicatessen place - kind of like Perricone's but more elaborate," he said referring to the restaurant and market west of Brickell Avenue.
Henry Givens, president of the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce, supports the Falsetto project. He said development of that corner would bring job opportunities for West Grove residents and expand the city's tax base.
Mr. Givens said he also liked the prior proposal to build a mixed-use project with a hotel. A hotel, he said, would have attracted more visitors to enjoy the Grove.
"I spoke to a lot of people who have been living around here for many years and they all seemed to support the project."
Franklin Avenue resident Thelma Gibson said she was not aware of the new proposal but was "delighted with" the either plan.
Not everyone is. At least two area homeowner associations oppose any massive construction for a site surrounded by single-family homes and two-story townhouses.
Lisa Bradon, president of the Camp Biscayne Homeowners Association, said she and other residents plan to speak against the development. Camp Biscayne sits across the street from Taurus and stretches to Biscayne Bay.
"We are concerned with the size, the height and the density," Ms. Bradon said.
Because that corner acts as a transition between the residential neighborhood and the business district, she said, it should be developed as a gateway for the Grove.
"Whatever goes there needs to respect the residential community," Ms. Bradon said. She said she had seen the latest design, which she said is not as "Miami Beach Art Deco" as was the original plan.
"But he keeps changing the design," she said.
Architect Bernard Zyscovich helped Mr. Falsetto redesign his plans, the developer said. Mr. Zyscovich, an urban planner, is known for his work at the Lincoln Cinema and Retail complex at Lincoln and Alton roads on Miami Beach. He also restored and converted Miami Beach Morton Towers into the Grand Flamingo, a 32-story residential mid-rise with 1,100 units. Some of his historic preservation projects include the St. Moritz Hotel, first designed in 1939 by architect Roy France and now restored. It sits beside the modern Loews Miami Beach Hotel.
In the early '90s Mr. Falsetto bought almost 360 units at The Grand, 1717 N Bayshore Drive in Miami, off Biscayne Boulevard and 17th Terrace. He now owns 10 units there and runs a real estate operation from the building.