Renovation Nearly Complete At Historic Miami Office Building
Written by Marilyn Bowden on July 29, 2004
By Marilyn Bowden
Nearing the end of a 15-month, $1 million renovation, one of Miami’s oldest office buildings is ready for the market.
Titan Developers paid $1.3 million for the 43,265-square-foot Dade Commonwealth Building at 139 NE First St. last year. Built in 1925 by Jerry Galatis and Locke Highleyman, it’s one of the oldest buildings in the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that assures its historical character will not be compromised.
"We have preserved as closely as possible the integrity of the building," said Titan principal Jay V. Suarez said. "It has old-fashioned, 40-inch-wide wooden doors with glass paneling whereas now, 36 inches is the standard. So we had to have them custom-made with today’s materials."
The renovation process, he said, involved "bringing it back from 60 years of total neglect. City building official Joe Merris and his staff were of great help to us in this. It’s a gem of a building. There are Italian marble walls in all the hallways, and at the front are four golden eagles, the hallmark of the building.
"They had rebars busting out of them. We applied several layers of gold-leaf paint to bring them back to their original, gilded look."
While the exterior may have a 1920s look, said Donald W. Shackelford, a structural civil engineer who is a partner on the project, infrastructure is state-of-the-art.
There’s a new high-speed elevator system, high-speed Internet capability and hurricane-resistant glass in all the windows. The building is fully air-conditioned and fireproof, he said.
"Structurally," he said, "this is a very solid building. It was built to support 17 stories."
Six months after it was built, he said, the 1926 hurricane ripped through its upper floors.
Developer Galati, one of the few Miamians with wind insurance, picked up a check for $675,000, believed to be the biggest insurance settlement to that time in the US, and rebuilt the structure in 1928 as a seven-story building.
The interior, Mr. Suarez said, was a warren of self-contained 100-square-foot offices. He has preserved the layout on the seventh floor. The monthly rent of $300 includes electricity and 24-hour security.
"What we’re getting," he said, "is young professionals or people who want a second office downtown – such as attorneys and CPAs. The building is at the center of downtown, half a block from the people mover and two blocks from the courthouse."
Mr. Suarez said he is offering the remaining floors as conventional office space of 300 to 6,100 square feet.
"We’re starting marketing," he said. "The building was 40% occupied when we bought it. Some of the tenants have been here up to 40 years. They’ve weathered the storm while we were repairing the building. We’re in the process of working out lease deals to retain them."
He said Titan Development has renovated more than 60 buildings, a total of more than 1 million square feet, from Florida City to Broward County – including several former hotels in downtown Miami.
"This is first time I’ve done offices," Mr. Suarez said. "I chose it because it was a gorgeous building. When you visualize something like this, it’s very gratifying to see it come to fruition."