The Biscayne Times

Jul 08th
Intracoastal on the Rise? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
June 2020

DMall_1ezer Development’s latest plan to replace a low-rise mall with high-rise condos doesn’t please the neighbors

The same father-and-son development team that built several high-rise condos in Sunny Isles Beach is moving forward with plans to redevelop the Intracoastal Mall into a high-rise community on a brand-new canal.

On June 8, unless the meeting is rescheduled again, the North Miami Beach Planning & Zoning Board will hear the latest plans of Dezer Intracoastal Mall LLC, a subsidiary of Dezer Development, to replace a sprawling one-story shopping center and a three-story office building, both built in the 1980s, with a 2.8-million-square-foot project that will include 380,000 square feet of retail, 200,000 square feet of office, 2000 residential units, and 250 hotel rooms in seven complexes up to 48 stories tall.

The redevelopment plan, designed by architect Bernard Zyscovich, also envisions cutting a waterway through what is now a surface parking lot. The proposed canal would include a water taxi stop and a semi-public bridge, and is depicted as being surrounded by public parks and promenades. Tracy Slavens, a Holland & Knight attorney representing Dezer Development, described the canal as “the focal point of the proposed development” in a February 6 letter to the city.

“Not only will this new landmark contribute to the sense of place and identity of the project, it will also serve as a natural and attractive component that will dramatically enhance the experience of visitors and residents alike,” Slavens wrote.

Assuming the P&Z Board makes a recommendation, the Intracoastal plan could come before the North Miami Beach City Commission as early as June 16.

Mall_2In an April 15 report to the city, Integra Realty Resources (IRR), a real estate analysis firm hired by Dezer Development, estimates it will cost $1.5 billion to fully build out the project. A separate Dezer-financed report, prepared by engineering firm Kimley Horn, anticipates that the project will be completed by 2031.

That’s if it is approved. Diane Frazer-Hayhurst, president of the Eastern Shores Property Owners Association, says NMB residents need more time to analyze the project’s impact on the city. The urban plan submitted to the city surpasses 550 pages. She also questions why Dezer Development, headed by Michael Dezer and his son Gil, is trying to get this approved while the region is still in the midst of an economy-crushing pandemic.

“I don’t understand. Why push it through?” says Frazer-Hayhurst, who lobbied the city to postpone the P&Z Board hearing that was originally scheduled for May 26.

In response to written questions, Dezer Development states that they’ve been working toward the redevelopment of Intracoastal Mall for four years, and “while the current pandemic is horrible in the short run, we remain bullish on development in Florida in the long run.”

“The actual execution and timing of each building within the project will depend on market conditions and, in particular, the market for new condos and more retail. Pre-sale/lease velocity will dictate that,” states Dezer Development, which has six registered lobbyists at the City of North Miami Beach, including Ron Book and Gil Dezer. “We are moving forward on more than six development projects in our current pipeline, including the Intracoastal Mall.”

The other five projects planned by Dezer Development are slated to be constructed in Sunny Isles Beach, a municipality east of NMB where the Dezers have already constructed ten high-rises. Six of those towers carry the Trump name, thanks to a branding agreement Dezer Development made with then reality star/developer and now U.S. President Donald Trump back in 2001.

Intracoastal Mall’s redevelopment has been anticipated ever since Michael Dezer and his wife, Neomi, paid $63.5 million for the 26.3-acre property. Originally, the city’s zoning would have allowed a developer to build 717 residences in buildings up to 15 stories tall. But less than two years after the Dezers bought the mall, the North Miami Beach City Commission agreed to rezone the property to allow 2000 residential units in buildings up to 40 stories tall, thanks in no small part to Mayor George Vallejo, a real estate professional who supported high-rise development as a means of increasing the city’s tax base.

An investigation by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office later revealed that Vallejo set up two political committees that solicited contributions from developers and business owners, including Dezer Development. Vallejo then used those funds to pay for family trips, groceries, and other personal expenses. Investigators also found out Vallejo failed to disclose that his wife worked at Michael Dezer’s car museum in North Miami. Following a plea agreement, Vallejo resigned from office in April 2018. Tony DeFilippo, a friend and ally of Vallejo, is now mayor of North Miami Beach. (See “City in Chaos,” August 2018.)

Last year the Dezers submitted new plans that called for towers up to 48 stories in height, a new canal, rooftop parks, and micro-units 450 square feet in size. After receiving 26 pages’ worth of criticism from city staffers, the Dezers placed the parks on the ground, threw in a dog park and play area, and removed micro-units from the plans. Plus the Dezers announced that their territory grew to 29.03 acres following their $15 million purchase of ASA College, located just east of the mall.

Nevertheless, the Dezers are still asking for a maximum height of 48 floors, or 495 feet, near the Intracoastal Waterway, and although NMB staffers pointed out that the dredging of a canal must be approved by the county, state, and federal government, Dezer Development has yet to submit canal plans to the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management, according to spokeswoman Tere Florin.

“The creation of new canals in tidal waters is not a common practice in coastal developments,” Florin states in an e-mail to the BT. “However, canals are occasionally created in freshwater wetlands in association with drainage or flood protection features.”

Frazer-Hayhurst says Eastern Shores residents are primarily fearful of the traffic a verticalized Intracoastal will bring. That’s because there’s only one road (NE 35th Avenue) leading in and out of Eastern Shores, and it is shared by the Intracoastal Mall. The volume of traffic, Frazer-Hayhurst predicts, would only increase once the project was completed. “We want to make sure development has as little impact on us as possible,” she says.

The Kimley Horn report argues that although the Intracoastal Mall property is located within northeast Miami-Dade, where most residents prefer to drive, traffic volume from the project won’t actually be especially high. “It is expected that some residents, employees, and patrons will chose to walk/bike or use public transportation to and from the development,” the report states. “Furthermore, a water taxi, shuttle, or other transient water borne transportation is proposed to operate along the Intracoastal Waterway. Miami-Dade Transit and the City of North Miami Beach provide bus service to and from the project via three routes.”

Kimley Horn proposes adding additional traffic signals and traffic lanes leading in and out of Intracoastal Mall and Eastern Shores, but Frazer-Hayhurst is skeptical that such modifications will be sufficient, pointing out that the plans include both a hotel and a big-box store. “This will back traffic up even further, possibly on the bridge,” Frazer-Hayhurst says, referring to the drawbridge connecting Sunny Isles Beach to North Miami Beach.

Claudia Gallegos, a board member of the Reef Club Condominium in Western Eastern Shores, says she actually likes most of the proposed Zyscovich plan, except for the height: “They can do something more human-size, like 15 floors or less.”

Gallegos says she’s also wary of the construction of “another ghost town” in North Miami Beach, noting that the oceanfront towers in Sunny Isles Beach are empty most of the year.

The IRR report predicts that the condo units and apartments will attract professionals looking for a cheaper alternative to living in downtown Miami. Out of the 2000 residences, 1864 will be “for-sale residential condominium and townhome units.” The rest of the 136 units will be apartments that, in the current market, could be rented for $3060 per month, the IRR report states.

As for the commercial units, the IRR report predicts that office space can be rented out for $50 a square foot, and the retail at an average of $42 a square foot. As for the hotel, it will be able to charge an average daily rate of $140, the IRR report adds.

Regardless of the city’s decision, don’t expect the Intracoastal Mall, which now includes an iPic movie theater and lounge, a Duffy’s Sports Bar, a Winn-Dixie, and various other shops and restaurants, to be ripped apart anytime soon.

“The timing of approvals and commencement of the project will depend in part on the city and in part on market conditions,” states Dezer Development. “In the interim, we have years of work until we can place the first shovel in the ground.”


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