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Miami, Florida Commissioners Approve $700 Million
Mega-project in City Core to Include Hotel

By Andres Viglucci, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 24, 2011--With no discussion, Miami commissioners voted Thursday to add millions of square feet in residential, commercial and hotel space to the city's core, giving the go-ahead to a mega-project that seeks to transform a mostly vacant stretch of west Brickell into a dense, pedestrian-friendly urban district, and approving a proposed new mixed-use tower in the Omni District.

A third proposal scheduled for a vote, a pair of 27-story residential towers on the border between Overtown and the Park West warehouse district, was deferred at the developers' request until next month.

The cash-strapped city's wholehearted embrace of big development marked a milestone for elected officials swept into office amid a popular backlash against the building boom and subsequent real-estate collapse of the late 2000s.

Mayor Tomas Regalado, who once suggested the city was "not a metropolis" in criticizing the pro-development posture of the administration of his predecessor, Manny Diaz, was co-applicant for the 9-acre Brickell CitiCentre project with developer Swire Properties.

The $700-million project would spread 4.68 million square feet of mixed-use development over 3 1/2 mostly vacant blocks spanning South Miami Avenue just south of the Miami River and north of the successful Mary Brickell Village redevelopment.

Regalado said he saw no contradiction in his support of the mammoth Brickell project. In an interview, he called himself a "cheerleader" for the development, which he said will boost the city's image and economy.

"This is a smart development," he told commissioners. "It does not intrude into the neighborhoods."

No one spoke against the proposal during a brief public hearing following a lengthy presentation by Swire and its consulting and design team.

Commissioners quickly voted 4-0 for the CitiCentre project, as well as the addition of a third tower to a previously approved but unbuilt mixed-use project at 1700 Biscayne Blvd. Commissioner Francis Suarez was attending a Metropolitan Planning Organization hearing.

The new Biscayne Boulevard tower, on a block facing the Omni complex that is now occupied in part by a Burger King restaurant, would contain hotel, residential and office space. The requested change would also reduce the height of a companion, already-approved residential tower by 100 feet. The project's attorney, Vicky Garcia Toledo, said the addition of the third tower was made possible by resolution of litigation over control of a portion of the block.

Both the Brickell and 1700 Biscayne proposals need a second commission vote, but that now seems a formality. City planners and the planning and zoning board have endorsed both with some conditions.

Regalado said the Brickell project in particular represents a significant boost to the city's fortunes. Swire and its attorney, Neisen Kasdin, stressed its potential for job creation -- comprising several thousand temporary construction jobs as well as permanent ones -- and the millions of dollars in annual property taxes it would generate for the city, which is struggling with sharply declining revenue.

Regalado and other city leaders have also hailed two other announced mega-projects -- the redevelopment of the Design District by developer Craig Robins and the acquisition of The Miami Herald's Omni-area property by an Asian casino-resort developer -- as a sign of the apparent resumption of the transformation of Miami's urban core that was underway before the real-estate crash.

Swire's architect, Arquitectonica principal Bernardo Fort-Brescia, picked up on the theme when he said Brickell CitiCentre would transform a mostly "desolate" space in the heart of Miami's financial district into "a real city."

The project would comprise a residential tower, hotel and two mid-rise office buildings set amid a series of interconnected retail spaces open to the street. The environmentally-friendly plan would place a series of open-air plazas and gardens, which Fort-Brescia described as an "internal street," at the center of each block, shaded by a translucent "climate ribbon" canopy that would snake through the entire complex.

Pedestrian bridges containing shops or restaurants would span South Miami Avenue and Southeast Seventh Street, though Swire says a principal goal is to bring bustle to now-lifeless streets. Swire's U.S. president, Stephen Owens, said the project would convert South Miami Avenue into "a true main street" for west Brickell.

The project would also boost transit use by incorporating and rebuilding the Eighth Street People Mover station into a "monumental" gateway to the district, Fort-Brescia said. A greenway path running under the mover guideway could potentially connect the district to the planned Miami River greenway.

Swire says it is ready to begin construction in less than a year, with completion four years after that.

"This project is certainly not without risk or challenge," Owens said, but added he is "confident" that Swire, which developed Brickell Key over 30 years, has the patience and smarts to succeed.


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Copyright (c) 2011, The Miami Herald

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