North Miami moves closer to Chinatown architectural plan
Written by Katherine Lewin on August 14, 2018
The proposed Chinatown in North Miami is moving closer to solidifying some design plans. The city could be requesting proposals for architecture firms in the next few weeks, according to City Manager Larry Spring Jr., who said the city also plans a surprise public announcement in the next three to four weeks.
“Currently, our in-house engineers are looking at storm water plans so that we can to have the details for the RFP [request for proposals]. That RFP will be to start the street redesign work,” Mr. Spring said. “Our engineers are supposed to be getting back to me in the next week or so. For the storm water collection system we are looking to unify it, create a water feature and build it into the new look of the street.”
As for the surprise announcement, he said it will be a city-initiated project working with both the public and private sectors that “may already be built or started. But it will be a physical space.”
North Miami city officials are continuing to meet with potential Chinatown investors while the in-house engineers work on the storm water plans, Mr. Spring said. They are hosting delegations as well as individual investors, and Mr. Spring said he had a meeting scheduled the next day with an investor who flew in from China earlier in the week.
So far, most investors are interested in mixed-use development.
The Chinatown Cultural Arts & Innovation District, which was championed by Vice Mayor Alix Desulme and designated by the North Miami City Council in 2016, is to be comprised of 16 blocks of commercially zoned land along Northwest Seventh Avenue between 119th and 135th streets.
The area is to be complete with parks, green space, bike lanes and rooftop gardens, along with pagodas, canals and an entrance inspired by the Ming Dynasty,
The city completed a conceptual design master plan for the district in September 2017. The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency approved the city’s master plan on Nov. 14, 2017, according to Mr. Spring.
“Obviously, we want to attract authentic restaurants so we have cultural elements for it to become a tourist destination. We might have an innovation incubator where we’re inviting entrepreneurs and researchers and different industries to come in and take a space,” Mr. Spring said. “We’re looking at rezoning the area to include residential buildings on the east side of Seventh Avenue that will attract residential investors, as well as interest with the hotel.”
Mr. Spring declined to name any developers or investors.
The CRA paid about $175,000 to Keith & Schnars for development of the master plan and the city planned a minimum of $3 million for street construction, Mr. Spring told Miami Today in December 2017. The total contract with Keith & Schnars is $200,000 to $250,000, he said.
The project is still estimated to cost about $60 million, with $2 million for maintenance and beautification and $300 million in total potential development. The “high-level estimate” was $60 million and the city has not drilled down on that number any more since, but it is probably going to be cheaper based on how the city is looking at it, Mr. Spring said.
The city would like some physical development in the designated Chinatown area in the next fiscal year but faces procedural hurdles, Mr. Spring said. He listed Florida Department of Transportation permitting along with permitting from the county that could turn a year into a year and a half to two years.
But the public will see “elements” of Chinatown by 2024, Mr. Spring said. One of the first pieces that may be up is the gateways on either side of the area. Mr. Spring previously said in December 2017 that at the beginning of 2018, the city would request proposals from architectural firms to begin the gateway design.
“We went back to Keith & Schnars, the company that designed the master plan, and asked them to provide us with design concepts for the gateways. They’re still working on that,” Mr. Spring said. “We met with them about four weeks ago.”
The city is also talking internally regarding the current US administration’s stance on trade with China, Mr. Spring said, and has to “watch what’s happening on a federal level.” However, there has not been any reduction in interest in the project from Chinese investors, he said.
Some benefit for North Miami’s Chinatown has come from the recent tax code that President Trump pushed through, according to Mr. Spring. The city was able to designate a part of Chinatown as an underserved development area.
“We’re able to take advantage of the President’s opportunity zone in the new tax code. It created a tax incentive on capital gains,” Mr. Spring said. “If you go into one of these areas and put a mixed-use building or infrastructure and you hold onto that property for 10 years, you get a full tax credit on your capital gains when you sell the asset.”