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11/14/02: Daily Business Review
Developers snatch up property fronting Miami River but will the
area's historic neighborhoods be hurt?
By: Tasha C. Joseph
Proponents of development along the Miami River envision a mix of residential, retail
and industrial uses.
long the Miami River, which flows from bustling downtown Miami to the seedy neglect
of Allapattah, sit 5.5 miles of shoreline that developers are scrambling to buy.
From its source near Miami International Airport to its mouth at Biscayne Bay, the
Miami River is on tap to be the next big thing for office buildings, high-rise condos
and upscale lofts.
"The Miami River has been an underappreciated jewel in Miami and developers
have begun to take notice," said Jackie Gonzalez, vice president of Arquitectonica,
the architectural firm that designed One Miami, twin 45-story residential towers
the Related Group is developing next to the Hotel Inter-Continental at the river's
"The river offers affordability, easy access to downtown Miami, the highway,
etc.," Gonzalez says. "It is going to be a great area to live in."
Some envision the river as a subtropical version of San Antonio's Riverwalk
in Texas, a vibrant, eclectic mix of residential, retail and industrial development
with picturesque tramp freighters forming an ever-changing backdrop. Others want
to preserve the river's history as the city's working watery artery
and worry about old riverside neighborhoods and their residents. Sections of the
river flow through the neighborhoods of Spring Garden, East Little Havana, Allapattah
Adding spice to the mix are concerns about dangerous chemicals in the sediment at
its bottom. The official version of the river's future, however, is nothing
"The plans are modeled after what the city of San Antonio has done,"
says David Miller, the one-time U.S. Coast Guard captain who leads the Miami River
Commission, created by the state Legislature in 1998 to monitor riverside development.
"They've created a vibrant riverwalk with retail, residential and office
buildings. They've also created hundreds of jobs, which is something that
will happen here as well. There will be hundreds of jobs created as a result of
development along the river."
But at least one of Miller's commission colleagues is more cautious. "The
problem is the way the zoning is done now, developers can come in and acquire those
parcels without regard to the historic character of those neighborhoods," says
commission member Ernie Martin, a former director of Miami-Dade County's Office
of Community and Economic Development. He urges a more measured infill plan that
would keep much of what's already there intact.
"The river commission has just adopted the urban infill plan we've proposed,"
Martin says. "So although we feel threatened, we are hopeful that by the end
of the year, the city and county will adopt the plan and we can have those protections
in place to prevent mass development in these historic areas of Miami."
Miller has become adept at mediating such concerns. The river commission's
goal, is "to make sure those concerns are properly addressed and to try to
make sure developers and residents get along," he says.
"There have been many efforts over the years to develop the Miami River,"
Miller continues. "It's a historic area, so there are conflicts over
preservation. There are also environmental concerns because heavy metals and petroleum
sediment have polluted the river over the years, so the environmentalists are up
in arms. But we can and will successfully develop the river and turn it into a thriving
The infill plan Martin supports will ease some of the neighborhood concerns. Plans
to dredge the river's channel would address environmental issues, Miller says.
Development will proceed simultaneously.
"The residents and activists also have a voice in the development as well,"
he says. "We hold public hearings for residents to have a forum for their
concerns over a particular development. So far, everything has gone pretty well
in that regard."
Tony Cabrera of Epoch Corp. noticed the potential of the river several years ago.
"I began to look around and see that there was no available property on Brickell
Avenue and to me, the Miami River is a natural extension of Brickell," says
Cabrera, who purchased a vacant downtown parcel that was to be part of the failed
Marlins baseball stadium proposal.
Cabrera is keeping the plans for the parcel's development secret, but a source
familiar with the deal, who asked not to be identified, said a residential property
comparable to the One Miami project could break ground in the next few months.
Developers like Lissette Calderon are also cashing in on the river's new-found
allure. A Miami native who worked on Wall Street for many years as a broker, Calderon
has begun construction on NeoLofts, a 21-story residential building off South River
Drive and east of the Flagler Street bridge.
"I have wanted to own property along the river for years because I knew that
it would be one of the last bastions of available land in Miami and I was right,"
"They've run out of land and the river is now in vogue."
Apartments at NeoLofts range from $100,000 to $500,000 and Calderon says the building
is 95 percent sold.
"I, myself, own a unit, so I put my money where my mouth is," she says.
"This area is going to be hot in a few years when all of the development is
completed and it's truly exciting."
Office towers are also in the river's future.
Panther Real Estate Partners Inc. has begun construction on the first privately
built office building in downtown Miami in more than a decade. Known as One Riverview
Square, the building at 333 S. Miami Ave. will be 166,000 square feet over eight
stories. Scheduled for completion early next year, the building will house Immigration
and Naturalization Service offices, including several courtrooms; it will also have
retail space and several restaurants.
"It's exciting because there hasn't been an office building built
in downtown Miami in years," says Ines Marrero-Priegues, an attorney with Akerman
Senterfitt who worked with Panther on the deal.
Virginia and Tony Kay, who once owned the Clevelander Hotel in Miami Beach and have
two other hotels there, decided to focus on riverside entertainment. They have set
about creating Finnegan's River, the first nightclub in the area, which is
scheduled to open in late 2004 or early 2005.
"The big developers have the residential and office market along the river
down pat," said Tony Kay, who has blueprints but has not as yet submitted them
to the city. "We wanted to focus on having a place for all of those people
to go for entertainment. We're in the planning stages right now, but we're
excited about the project."
As the development of office buildings, lofts and nightclubs continues, Martin and
other longtime residents want to remind the community to keep a watchful eye over
the historic neighborhoods that border the river.
"It's great to have all of this development," said Martin of the
River Commission. "It will create jobs and put this part of the city of the
map, but over-development is a real issue and I'm hoping that city officials
and developers keep that in mind and protect the neighborhoods as more and more
high-rises go up."
Javier Fernandez, a policy coordinator and advisor to Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, is
confident that the commission, the city and the developers will find a balance.
"Development is going to continue, but one of our primary goals at the city
is to keep the neighborhoods intact as we move forward," Fernandez says. "We've
got a lot of history in those neighborhoods and we intend to protect it."