Miami Beach City Center Way Ahead Of Schedule Will Open With Nearby Walmart
By Leslie Kraft
North Miami Beach officials expect to complete construction of their planned city center several years early, Mayor Jeff Mishcon said. The completion of the center likely will coincide with the opening of a nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter, which recently received approval from Miami-Dade County to open in spring 2005 at the Mall at 163rd Street.
Miami Beach’s $7 million effort to create a pedestrian-friendly urban district of cafes, shops, offices and apartments along Northeast 164th Street from 15th to 22nd avenues originally was expected to be completed in 2008, Mr. Mishcon said.
"Last year, when we completed the first of the seven blocks of the project, we thought it would take another six years to finish, as we were prepared to spend $1 million per year," he said. "But we expect to be able to finish it in 2005 because we now can take a bond out in conjunction with the money we are to receive from the county’s transit tax."
Announcement of the city’s revised plans coincides with the end of a two-year zoning battle over plans for a 225,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter on 21 acres of the 45-acre Mall at 163rd Street.
The mall and the proposed Wal-Mart are just outside city limits, but because the store would front the new city center, city officials and residents lobbied the county to demand that Wal-Mart make its new store more aesthetically pleasing than a typical Wal-Mart store. Some county planners had opposed plans for the store – which is to include a grocery store, a restaurant and a garden center – saying the plans did not comply with the county’s urban-design requirements.
Wal-Mart is expected to close its property deal with the mall within the next two months, with the demolition of the parking garage on the east side of the mall starting shortly thereafter, said attorney Jeff Bartel of Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, who represents the mall’s owner, New Plan Excel Realty Trust.
"Wal-Mart wanted to drop its typical big white box in there," said the mayor, "but at the end of the day, (Wal-Mart) came through with a pedestrian-friendly project with landing docks that are not a disturbance to residents.
"The end result will be a win-win for both Wal-Mart and the city, as the store will be inviting, with a well-landscaped exterior that is an attractive color. This experience shows that with community input, you can persuade big companies to modify their plans."
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Daphne Moore said the company gets an increasing number of requests to modify its typical design for new locations. "We are recognizing that each community is different and each will have its own requirements," she said. "Building the store at 163rd Street will give us the opportunity to reach customers we have not been reaching and will be more convenient for customers that have been driving longer distances to reach us."
Mr. Bartel said the new Wal-Mart will create 400 jobs and will be the first step toward redevelopment of the 47-year-old mall, which has lost 30% of its tenants in the past decade because of competition from other shopping centers such as Aventura Mall. Anchor stores such as Burdines, Woolworth, Service Merchandise and Mervyn’s – formerly Jordan Marsh – have left the mall, which is now anchored by Home Depot and Marshall’s.
"The Wal-Mart team did a magnificent job on the final design of the project," said Mr. Bartel, who said he worked to overcome strong opposition to the project from county planners, the City of North Miami Beach and neighboring residents. "This will be a destination Supercenter that is very neighbor-friendly in aesthetics and functionality."
Plans for the Wal-Mart were approved unanimously last week by the county’s Community Appeals Zoning Board for Area 2 and include the preservation of existing trees plus the addition of a landscape buffer and wall along the store’s north and east sides to control noise. Wal-Mart’s standard gray and blue colors will replaced on the exterior of the building by "more muted earth tones," officials said.