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Front Page » Opinion » Miami’s new skyline due to tower over the great unknown

Miami’s new skyline due to tower over the great unknown

Written by on October 6, 2015
Miami’s new skyline due to tower over the great unknown

In 32-plus years of detailing development in Miami we’ve had far too much to report on. For decades we’ve said that our state bird ought to be the construction crane. But this is ridiculous.

In the past month we covered nine major high-rise projects either under way or announced – and that doesn’t count dozens of tall or bulky residential towers rising or planned around town. Nor does it include low-rises like the Miami Wilds amusement area near the zoo and the Miami Ocean Studios film complex.

Even the title “major project” has escalated. Twenty or 30 stories doesn’t make the big-time cut today. What we used to call office towers on Brickell now are being sold as teardowns for really big buildings.

Take 444 Brickell, where this paper first had its home more than three decades ago. It’s a teardown, along with a far smaller building, to be home for One Brickell’s three towers, the tallest about 80 stories.

A more recent site where Miami Today spent 20 years at 710 Brickell is already razed, opening land for a 1,000-foot-plus tower of about 83 stories.

These days nobody bats an eye at announcements of 800-plus-foot or 80-plus-story towers. That’s the new normal – though the tallest of our county’s 300-plus high-rises today is still the 13-year-old, 64-story Four Seasons, at 789 feet Florida’s highest.

So either we’re going to suddenly get a whole outcropping of buildings as tall as anything we have today or some of what’s being announced in bunches is going to shrink or sit on the sidelines awhile. Probably some of each.

One of the nine mega-projects we covered last month, for example, is Flagstone’s Island Gardens, a mixed-use Watson Island project centered on a mega-yacht marina on city land. The lease was signed more than 14 years ago and work is still scratching the surface.

The other eight, not all towering but all major projects, include All Aboard Florida’s multi-tower rail complex on downtown’s west side; Brickell City Centre, with occupancy in parts of the first phase due this year; 25-block Miami Worldcenter by a host of separate developers just north of downtown; a so-far-unapproved hotel, convention site and more on PortMiami land; Related’s One Miami at 444 Brickell; Related’s Auberge Residences & Spa, towers of 59, 59 and 48 stories across from the Arsht Center; the Skyrise recreation tower at Bayside; residential project Miami River, four towers rising 58 to 60 stories each; and two 60-story residential towers rising beside three already on the river.

These projects will add thousands of residences, and we’re not even listing 30- to 40-story residential sites planned everywhere. They used to seem major. Now there are just too many to even watch carefully.

Nobody questions the viability of most of these projects. But as a group, is there enough need? The last near collapse left 20,000 unsold condos, though all sold in a few years. Why would another downturn differ?

New circumstances today include altered economic positions in lands like China and Brazil, from which buyers were relied on in planning this new flood of construction. Other new variables might be meager local job growth, lack of investment in transportation and the now-strong US dollar.

But each announced major project is unique, relying on different needs and opportunities. Some are clearly solid, others iffier. Timing will be vital.

A long-time reader brought that point home. He just dropped off a scrapbook of Miami newspaper clippings from the late 1950s of big announced developments. For many, the depth of the newspaper page trumpeting the plan was as tall as the tower ever got.

There was the Miami city hall planned across the street from the Dade County Courthouse. The raft of buildings proposed in Bal Harbour that never rose. The tallest apartment tower in Miami Beach and more that were never built.

But the scrapbook also shows an aerial photo of Brickell Avenue with a single low-rise office building and a thought that the business world downtown could actually cross the river into Brickell.

In other words, vast overstatement mixed with vast understatement.

The 1950s unbuilt developments don’t necessarily translate to today. Everything changes. Nor does the vast open area of Miami Worldcenter necessarily translate into a new Brickell. In all cases, time will tell.

But one thing is certain: developers are eternal optimists. They see opportunity again and again.

The question is, how much of that is real right now? We asked that a decade ago and, as more and more really, really big projects are planned, we have to ask it again.

Unfortunately, nobody has the answer until long after the fact. Look at those plans 60 years ago that imploded. On the other hand, compare the Brickell skyline then with what actually happened. Who would have predicted that magnitude of growth?

Despite all the heady announcements, tomorrow’s growth is still the great unknown.

3 Responses to Miami’s new skyline due to tower over the great unknown

  1. DC Copeland

    October 7, 2015 at 8:22 am

    Thank God for visionary builders. Without them Miami would still be a sleepy fishing village. I wouldn’t worry so much of whether or not these developers will be successful. They’re rolling the dice for all of us but only they will suffer if their gamble goes wrong. Like that great line from the movie “Field of Dreams,”–build it and they will come– this skyscraper facade will attract international attention and in time those empty spaces within those grand towers will fill up. Hopefully there will be enough visionaries in local government to handle these new residents, i.e., creating effective mass transit to get them around, upgrading infrastructure to handle their sewage and water needs, and building schools capable of offering their children a great education. Otherwise the grander vision will be long in coming.

  2. Rosy Palomino

    October 7, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Mr. Lewis,

    Regardless of how many plans exist, development always follows financing. While condos projects have best return on investment compared to any other type of development than they will continue to be planned, financed and built. However, in this economic environment, keep an eye out for developers to take an immediate profit by flipping their project than taking the risk of building into a changing building cycle.

    Developers emerged a lot more risk averse from the last economic recession. Unfortunately, these lessons on survival were not learn by our politicians who have tied budget revenues to the rise and fall of the construction industry. For instance, over the past 10 years, the city of Miami has increased the revenue from “Licenses and Permits” by over 600% while other revenue streams have remained relatively flat or decreased.

    The next economic downturn will hurt public institutions far harder than private industry that has learned to be resilient. Our politicians should be made to realize that promoting a monoculture economy relying on one industry even construction for revenue is as foolhardy as any petrol state trusting in crude prices to remain at $100 a barrel.


    Rosy Palomino

  3. Max Menius

    November 8, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    For over a century, New York City has been the quintessential center of business and finance for the United States. Miami is now challenging NYC in key areas: art, skyline, destination appeal, communities & culture, world finance, and an iconic business climate.

    “But one thing is certain: developers are eternal optimists. They see opportunity again and again.” – And the importance of this fact could never be overstated. Optimism coupled with ambition & ability will bring enduring change to Miami.