|By Elaine Walker, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 15, 2013--By the end of this year, the bayfront site where The Miami Herald now stands will be reduced to vacant land ready for redevelopment.
The demolition of the Herald headquarters is the first step in the Genting Group's plans to turn the site into a luxury hotel with up to 500 rooms and several hundred luxury condos edged by a pedestrian bay walk, said Bill Thompson, senior vice president of development for Resorts World Miami.
With casino gambling on the back burner, Genting is ready to make a commitment to Miami and move ahead with a scaled-down development plan that will start to take shape immediately after the Herald moves out in May.
"We've decided to go with a phased approach," said Thompson, whose career included more than a decade as an executive with the Related Group. "That seems to be more conducive with what's acceptable in Miami. You start out with the waterfront property and that improves the value across everything else. Then you stay fluid based on what's happening in the marketplace."
By the end of this year, Genting expects to sign an operating agreement with a luxury hotelier of at least four-star caliber, Thompson said. In 2014, marketing is likely to begin on the sale of two buildings of luxury condominiums, each with several hundred units.
The preliminary plans are far more modest than the grandiose $3.8 billion project the Malaysian conglomerate originally unveiled in 2011. The original design would have included a curvilinear design, 5,200 hotel rooms and the world's largest casino.But efforts to change Florida law to allow resort casinos have been unsuccessful, and for now, Genting only plans to utilize less than half of the 13.9-acre site it purchased nearly two years ago for $236 million from Herald parent McClatchy Co.
Current development will be limited to the bayfront site where the Herald building now stands and the redevelopment of the historic Boulevard Shops on Biscayne Boulevard. Preliminary designs for the 5-acre Herald site call for a pedestal with three towers on top. Each condo tower will have several hundred units and a hotel will include up to 500 rooms. All elements will follow the Miami 21 zoning code, Thompson said.
"We're not asking for anything that is not allowed," he said. "We're not asking for any variances or waivers. We're not closing streets."
Critics of the original proposal complained it was too big for the neighborhood and blocked views of Biscayne Bay. To avoid similar issues, the new plan call for two view corridors cut through the base of the structure that will allow waterfront visibility and view corridors on either side.
To help activate the waterfront, Genting is pledging to build a 50-foot wide promenade in a tiered design with three or four restaurants overlooking Biscayne Bay. Pedestrians will be able to connect from the Genting project under the Interstate-395 overpass to the new Museum Park via a boardwalk that Genting plans to build out into the bay.
To link the project with Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the surrounding neighborhood, Genting plans a heavily landscaped park on the south side of the project along Interstate-395. Along the northern edge will be another landscaped walkway with small retail shops.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said Genting has not presented any official plans to the city. But the developer has met with city planning and zoning staff to discuss the vision, which also includes a marina to accommodate large-size boats as part of the project, Regalado said. The marina would require state approval.
"This is a step in the right direction and it will help them gain credibility by showing they are committed to downtown," Regalado said. "We're very happy they have come up with a plan that's more appropriate with what's happening downtown. I think they now understand that they need to work with the stakeholders downtown. Now they understand Miami and Florida and the way it works."
Genting has met multiple times in recent months to discuss its plans with the leaders of the Arsht Center and the Town Square Neighborhood Development Corp, the nonprofit created to protect the interests of the Arsht Center and the surrounding area
"Genting has come around tremendously in the last year," said Mike Eidson, Arsht Center chairman and treasurer of Town Square. "We were favorable impressed with what we saw. This is much more complementary than anything we have seen before for this site and we've seen it all in the last six years. This is more in line with our long range plan for the area as a place to live, work and play."
The Arsht Center is also pleased about Genting's plans to spend a couple million dollars to rehabilitate the historic Boulevard Shops along Biscayne Boulevard. That process that will begin this summer and is expected to take about a year, Thompson said.
Genting is in discussions with potential restaurant and nightclub tenants interested in the two-level shops, which feature dramatic high ceiling and intricate architectural details. The space could open in late 2014 or 2015 with one or two restaurants, Thompson said.
"We want to create something that's cool and going to draw people here," he said.
Local experts speculate the bayfront condos could go for $700 per square foot or more.
"The site dictates a certain amount of luxury," said Alicia Cervera Lamadrid, managing partner of Cervera Real Estate. "You don't want to much density out there."
Genting is not expected to have any difficulty attracting a luxury hotel interested in the site, industry experts said. Likely candidates could include Fairmont Hotels, Waldorf Astoria, W Hotels, Sofitel, Virgin Hotels, Westin and many of the luxury Asian brands.
"The Miami hotel market has never been hotter," said Max Comess, a director with Miami office of HFF, who specializes in the hotel market. "There's not a single brand who is not knocking on our door trying to find opportunities to get into this market."
Genting won't name hotels candidates for the Herald site. For now, the company is spending close to $15 million to renovate the ballrooms, lobby, pool and the nearly 600-rooms at the Hilton Hotel at the Omni, which it also purchased. The project will be completed by next year.
Genting has no current plans for the Omni's vacant former retail space. But the company this month signed the Continental Real Estate Companies to help lease 250,000 square feet of vacant office space at the Omni.
After the Herald moves out in May, Genting will hire contractors to begin removing asbestos from the building, a process that will take a few months, Thompson said.
Genting hasn't decided yet whether it will implode the Herald building or bulldoze it, Thompson said. Either way, the process will take several months. By the end of 2013, Genting plans to begin rebuilding the seawall along the bay.
While some have questioned whether Genting would sell the property after it lost its bid for casino gambling in the state Legislature last year, Genting remains committed to the area. The company has had its share of offers for the Herald site over the last year, but turned them down, Thompson said.
"They're still very committed to Miami," he said. "They love Miami and they think it's a great, long-term play. It falls right into their broader plan."
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