The Biscayne Times

Aug 23rd
The Leviathan Emerges PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
September 2018

SoLeMia comes to life with a new Costco and apartment towers

APix_MarkSell_9-18ugust 21 was a day of revelation on NE 151st Street, on the first day of school.

The chaos of utility crew lane closures (of all the days) and choked traffic forced drivers to behold the emerging SoLeMia Leviathan.

The eight-story upcoming Warren Henry car dealership has risen on the south side. New 18-story apartment megaliths have topped out three blocks southeast. Just one block down, almost overnight, the walls, roof, and frame are coming in for the new Costco.

As the City of North Miami faces a season of skirmishes over budgets, other city business, and May elections, SoLeMia is now impossible to overlook.

Here’s a summary of the current phase of the $4 billion project, a joint venture between the Soffer family’s Turnberry Associates and the LeFrak Organization of New York:

New Costco: If all goes to plan, the new, bigger Costco could open as soon as November 18, just in time for Thanksgiving. If Costco cannot make that deadline, it will likely open in January, after the holidays. The new Costco will come in at nearly 166,000 square feet versus just under 144,000 for the current Costco building. Expect more parking spaces, too -- roughly 900 versus 750. This Costco is already one of the Southeast’s busiest, racking up better than $230 million in sales a year. Costco is the second-largest retailer in the world, behind Walmart, with $129 billion last year in sales in its 759 warehouses. Costco will be occupying its 13.6 acres in a 200-year land lease with SoLeMia. Estimated project cost: $85 million.

Old Costco: In April, SoLeMia bought the current Costco property for $17 million, adding more than 11 acres to its 183-acre site and expanding into the City of North Miami Beach, also home to Biscayne Commons just to the north. The developers also gained prominent frontage on Biscayne Boulevard. SoLeMia is not disclosing any plans -- it will almost surely tear down the existing 1992 structure -- but the deed prohibits the developer from certain uses: no warehouse clubs; no grocery stores, such as Aldi, Wegmans, or Lidl; no fuel stations, tire services, or sales places.

Apartment buildings: SoLeMia’s twin 18-story towers, with 400 luxury units and a parking garage, are getting filled in and appear to be headed toward winter or spring occupancy, less than a year after the developer secured a $102 million loan from Wells Fargo & Company. This is just the first wave of nearly 4300 units, a hotel, and a ten-acre lagoon with beaches, shops, and restaurants.

Warren Henry dealership: This is now the gateway to One Fifty One at Biscayne twin condo towers, Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High School, David Lawrence Elementary, and FIU. Here, too, we can expect occupancy this coming winter.

While SoLeMia is saying nothing, the Turnberry website is touting “The Shops of SoLeMia,” with 500,000 square feet of “lifestyle shopping, emerald green community parks, chef-driven restaurants, entertainment venues, and office spaces.” Not that long ago, this was known mostly as a former municipal landfill adjacent to protected wetlands and mangroves. Yet today, land is such a scarce commodity in South Florida that brownfields are less a factor for developers than they used to be. It is more prudent to sit atop a berm in the bonnie highlands 15 feet above sea level -- even in a hurricane evacuation zone -- than in a waterfront property at the mercy of the invading sea.

This will be a fair boost to the city’s tax rolls and could start showing up in the next budget workshops and hearings in July and September 2019.

North Miami’s budget hearings are on for 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, September 4, and Monday, September 17. Expect questions on bloat in city staff, pension shortfalls, and allocations for infrastructure, water, and sea level rise. The tax rate will likely hold steady at the present rate of 7.5 mills and may even go down a bit.

Added traffic from SoLeMia and Costco will arguably add heat to the argument over access to and from Florida International University -- there was plenty of online grumbling the first day of school. When the Arch Creek East Nature Preserve was created in 2007, SoLeMia was not yet a vision. A burgeoning community of 10,000 souls will surely have an effect on the surrounding area. The spine road connecting at 151st Street could ease some, if not all, of the chokepoints.

Also coming up: the fate of Cagni Park on the north side of 135th Street just west of NE 9th Avenue. It is a source of community need and dysfunction between the City of North Miami and Miami-Dade County.

This is a signature issue for Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime, who represents the district and is also running for mayor.

“The three most important things are the Olympic-size pool, the baseball field, and a new Police Athletic League building,” says Bien-Aime. “This is a needed benefit for everyone in the community.” For more than a decade, North Miami has had just one public pool, the modest Thomas Sasso Pool in the Sunkist Grove neighborhood west of I-95.

Why the dysfunction? Back in 2006, a county bond issue dedicated $5 million to develop a recreational facility in nearby Rucks Park at NE 5th Avenue between 137th and 139th streets, the site of a former sewage treatment plant that was contaminated with arsenic, pesticides, and ammonia. In 2014 that money was shifted to Cagni Park, on the north side of 135th Street just west of NE 9th Avenue, and a lingering, unused eyesore for years.

Around that time, the City of North Miami allocated $2 million for the park, in addition to $3.5 million from the school board, which around that time built a new North Miami Senior High just to the south and North Miami Middle School to the west.

The grand total: $10.5 million. So what’s to keep city manager Larry Spring from meeting with county Commissioner (and former North Miami councilman) Jean Monestime to break the logjam, put the money in an escrow account, and get the thing moving?

Word is that Monestime and North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph are not fans of each other. Residents are sniping that Monestime does not like North Miami.

Just stop! Cool it! Let’s just have everyone jump out of their own way, deputize Larry Spring to free up the $5 million for the city, and play nice. We’re in this together, right?

Why not take a pledge, starting now, for no council member or mayor to name anything after themselves?

In the end, who cares, really? Just get ’er done.


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