Joint venture could replace Miami's Dupont Plaza with residential towers
By Frank Norton
Plans to replace downtown Miami's Dupont Plaza with two or three residential towers should jump forward "in a matter of weeks," the property owner says.
"We're talking to potential development partners for that project but have nothing to announce as of yet," said Bruce Lazar, partner with Dupont owner Lionstone Hotels & Resorts.
The company expects to enter a joint venture with another developer within several weeks, possibly unveiling further design details for the 40-story towers, to be anchored by ground-floor retail and public access to the waterfront, Mr. Lazar said. The half-vacant Dupont Plaza is an 11-story hotel and apartment building on the northern bank at the mouth of the Miami River.
In June, owners halted an $80 million renovation of the 40-year-old building in order to consider proposals to knock it down and replace it.
Lionstone has already approached at least one architectural firm to help with a development concept, despite having neither a co-developer nor zoning and design approval.
"I convinced them it would be better to just build new towers and open up views of the Bay rather than renovate the building," said John Nichols, president of Nichols Brosch Sandoval & Associates, a Coral Gables architecture firm.
"It gets that giant, long, ugly building off the waterfront and allows us to build new towers that open up space for a river walk and integrate the waterfront back into greater development of the area," he said.
Mr. Nichols, who sketched a few early ideas for Lionstone, said most of the building space would be residential, except for about 30,000 square feet, That space - about three-quarters of a football field - would be "all fun stuff, not banks or anything like that," he said.
Just across the street to the north, MDM Development Group is close to striking a deal of its own to co-develop three residential towers, plus an entertainment complex on 6 acres of paved lots.
While MDM has kept quiet about progress, others have said the firm has met with several potential development partners including Terra, Charles E. Smith Companies, CMC Group - the same parties Lionstone is courting, Mr. Nichols said.
"Right now there are a lot of interested co-developers. It's all going to get built," Mr. Nichols said, referring to both the Dupont and MDM sites.
"We hope when we do announce plans for redevelopment that they will be something that works not just for us, but for the entire redevelopment of the downtown core," Mr. Lazar said.
Assuming co-developers are found, the next step for both projects would be pre-selling enough units - about 50% - to get financing for construction. The Dupont site, if demolished and redeveloped, would still need design and zoning approval.
"You either you have very deep pockets and build it yourself or coax a financier by showing you have about 50% pre-sold," said one executive familiar with both projects.
Both projects could break ground in 2003, Mr. Nichols said.