Immigration building’s passport to development
Written by John Charles Robbins on December 3, 2014
A developer plans to transform a former immigration center in Miami’s upper east side into a top-notch hotel, hugged by retail shops.
For years the site was known for a snaking line of immigrants on the sidewalk. For more than a quarter century the building at Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 79th Street was federal immigration headquarters in the city.
Previous plans to redevelop the site fell through, and a new company has entered the picture.
Florida Fullview Immigration Building LLC now owns the site and submitted the ambitious redevelopment plan to the city in summer. Beyond the hotel, new condo buildings are planned for the property to round out the block.
To be called Triton Center, the project won conditional approval at a recent meeting of the city’s Urban Development Review Board.
The developer was seeking to have parking above the second level; a waiver of up to 10% of required parking, reducing spaces from 640 to 576; and permission to match the current setback of the old INS building.
The review board recommended approval with a few conditions, including that the developer work with an artist on a screen wall for the parking structure, work with architects to have more textural changes in the design beyond color changes, and study traffic and report to staff.
Iris Escarra, an attorney for the developer, noted that the development board saw a different developer for this site about a year ago, when the plan called for preserving the former immigration building and an existing two-story garage.
Florida Fullview Immigration Building, the new owner, also plans to preserve the old building and with rigorous rehabilitation turn it into a 135-room hotel, but the old garage is coming down, said Ms. Escarra.
“That is our hotel,” she said, referring to new renderings of the spruced-up facility.
The project is also to include more than 24,000 square feet for retail stretching around the block in a continuous storefront design. In later phases three other residential buildings are to rise, offering 317 dwelling units.
Plans also call for a shared amenity deck with swimming pools centrally located on the property and a landscaped sidewalk area to activate the street level.
The developer considers Triton Center “a gateway project to spur development in the area,” Ms. Escarra said. Other than a CVS drugstore, the area hasn’t had a lot of new development, she said.
Review board member Dean Lewis asked about the status of the traffic study.
Ms. Escarra said the developer is now working with the city’s traffic engineer on the study. She said no new curb cuts will be needed for the development.
“This is a significant opportunity to capture this gateway site… and use the existing building,” said Arturo Vazquez, an architect from ADD Inc.
“The building is quite dominant on the street,” he said of the former immigration headquarters. Renovation both inside and out will, he said, “set the tone for the rest of the street.”
Renderings the board saw showed a new planned parking structure with artistic panels screening the cars.
Mr. Vazquez said the plan calls for sophisticated exterior lighting and generous landscaping, with an emphasis on the individuals staying at the hotel and frequenting the retail shops.
“The pedestrian takes precedence over the car,” Mr. Vazquez said. The development is to include a pocket park on a small terrace and a fitness club for the hotel.
Board member Fidel Perez complimented the plan, saying designers had done a great job repurposing the old building. He did, however, express concern about offering less parking than the code requires.
“I do have a problem reducing the parking on mega-type projects,” said Mr. Perez, noting that it could pose problems down the road.
Ms. Escarra said the site is near five bus stops. She added that a market study for the developer showed the proposed 576 parking spots were more than enough for the entire project.
Another representative of the developer said the condos are planned for young urban professionals who might not even own a car.
Ms. Escarra said the architects also designed parking by “trying to keep the podium low.”
Other board members were also concerned. “We need more parking,” said Jesus Permuy.
Mr. Lewis asked if the developer would commit to work with a local artist on the screening and façade. Ms. Escarra replied yes.