Underground connectivity a key to massive Swire project
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
When Swire Properties delivers the 4.6 million-square-foot project it promises for Brickell, the transformation is going to include never-before-seen underground connectivity along the 9.1-acre mixed-use development.
The almost four-block Brickell CitiCentre — Brickell's missing piece — is to comprise a Swire Hotels' EAST hotel, a lifestyle business hotel with suites and extended-stay units, two residential towers, an office building and plenty of retail.
The EAST hotel becomes the project's first tenant.
CitiCentre is to house a movie theater, bowling alley and nightclubs as well as restaurants and cafes.
The project is to also feature green, open spaces surrounded by retail, which is to range from department stores to smaller retailers, to offer Brickell the shopping paradise it has been asking for.
Hong Kong-based Swire presented the project plans to the Brickell Area Association at the group's monthly luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel on Tuesday.
This is the seventh mixed-use development the company has worked on, said Miami-based Swire Properties President Stephen Owens.
With two levels of below-ground parking planned, this significant component is new to Miami.
While it's only been done here once, Mr. Owens said, "it's done all over the world."
Building underground parking for three of the four blocks is to allow more traffic control, he noted.
"When you take a project like this and are going to invest this magnitude of money, you have to look and see where we are going to be 10 years from now," Mr. Owens said. "More and more, people will ultimately be focused on driving less because there will be more people in the urban area."
The Eighth Street Metromover station, with a connection to the Metrorail, sits within the development site, he noted, and Brickell's future trolleys are also expected to make stops in the complex.
The four blocks where the project spreads are to connect through covered pathways and bridges, which are to house cafes and retail kiosks.
"While it's ambitious, we are quite excited about it," he said, "and we think it's the right thing at the right time, as we look at the 10-year horizon."
With CitiCentre's above and underground connectivity, Miami Commissioner Mac Sarnoff, who represents the Brickell area, said "this [project] will transport traffic two blocks underground and will keep pedestrians under bridge-way to prevent them from being in the sun."
The mixed-use development, which Mr. Sarnoff and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado have publicly supported, could contribute millions to the city's coffers.
With an overall economic impact projected at $1 billion, the city is to collect $5.4 million annually in ad valorem taxes, $1 million annually in parking surcharge revenues and $6.1 million in permit and impact fees.
Touted as a city within the city, CitiCentre is the largest private development to break ground in the US this year, Mr. Sarnoff noted at the meeting.
He jokingly said that after the Swire project is completed, "Mary Brickell Village is going to need a facelift."
Swire has acquired the 9.1 acres over the past couple of years for a total of close to $70 million.
First, it bought two sites at 700 and 701 S Miami Ave. more than two years ago from iStar Financial for $41.3 million cash.
The two parcels are along Miami Avenue, bordered by Southeast Eighth and Seventh streets. The parcels are boxed in on the west by Southwest First Avenue and to the east by the Eighth Street Metromover Station.
This year, Swire acquired a third 2-acre site at 601 S Miami Ave., which houses the Brickell Tennis Club, for $14 million from an affiliate of Millennium Partners. Then, it bought Eastern National Bank's headquarters building at 799 Brickell Plaza for $13.1 million.
Brickell has burst with pedestrian activity after 5 p.m. following the addition of multiple condominiums in recent years. The growing condo community and office population are fueling more demand for retailers, eateries and entertainment venues within walking distance.
Although some question whether Swire's project will become a reality, Mr. Owens is used to the naysayers.
When his company set out to develop a small island next to the Brickell mainland, locals weren't sure it would happen.
"Some people said those crazy foreigners building that silly island," he said, but it became an $800 million investment erected over decades.
Today, Brickell Key is a vibrant enclave with condominiums, office buildings and the upscale Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
But Mr. Owens said he understands the frustration with some Miamians who, throughout the years, have seen developers make promises and not keep them.
"We try to stay true to our practices of being disciplined and being conservative," he told the audience, made up mostly of Brickell stakeholders. "Usually, you would have ice sculptures and dancing girls when a project like this was launched, but there's no sculptures or dancing. We are trying to stay focused."
Playing a key role in CitiCentre's design is Arquitectonica, the architectural firm hired for the job, which has been designing projects for Swire internationally since 1993.
But this is the first Swire-Arquitectonica collaboration in Miami.
Arquitectonica Founding Principal Bernardo Fort-Brescia added at the meeting that the four blocks are to be connected by pathways that provide shade and air flow.
This innovative concept, he said: "it's the piece that will identify the project from all the high rises around."
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