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Written by Erik Bojnansky   
August 2011

Savvy developers with deep pockets are investing billions in the Biscayne Corridor

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No doubt about it, there is a lot of bad economic news out there: high gas prices, Congressional debt-ceiling doubts, high unemployment, a nationwide foreclosure crisis that only seems to get worse. Closer to home, Miami-Dade County’s unemployment rate, as of June, hovered just under 14 percent.

In spite of the gloom and uncertainty, Jamal Rahma is investing his time, energy, and money in the Biscayne Corridor. A few months ago, Rahma, who already owns two Miami-Dade grocery stores, bought the gas station at 5400 Biscayne Blvd., just a hop, skip, and a jump from 55th Street Station, the upscale, courtyard-style restaurant, retail, and office complex created by entrepreneur Mark Soyka. (Disclosure: Soyka is now the BT’s landlord.)

The gas station’s dingy appearance and reputation as a hangout for drug users and hookers didn’t dissuade Rahma from buying it. “I’ve been after this gas station since I learned it was for sale about a year ago,” he says. “It’s a unique location in a very nice area.”

 

Rahma is not alone in his upbeat outlook on the Biscayne Corridor. Developers, corporations, independent entrepreneurs, and government agencies are collectively investing billions of dollars from downtown Miami to Aventura in a surge of activity that promises to employ thousands.

“I think we are in for a nice long boom here,” says Jeff Morr, president of Majestic Properties. Investors from South America, Europe, and Asia see South Florida’s up-and-coming areas, like the Biscayne Corridor, as a place to deposit their money. “Property in Miami has become another commodity, like gold and silver,” he says.

Timing and the optimistic belief in a global recovery have created much more activity than a year ago along the Biscayne Corridor, says Tibor Hollo, a Miami developer for the past 55 years who has two new projects of his own planned in the corridor. “If you start something, it takes you two and a half years to finish,” he explains. “It’s perceived that in two and a half years, there will be an economic upswing.”

But Biscayne Corridor residents and commuters won’t have to wait that long to see results. Some projects have already broken ground, while retailers and restaurateurs have spent millions on recently opened ventures. Below are brief descriptions for 25 of them.

 

1. Brickell CitiCentre

BiscayneCorridor_1aSwire Properties, subsidiary of a Hong Kong-based company that developed much of Brickell Key, will invest $700 million to build Brickell CitiCentre, a 4.8-million-square-foot mixed-use project designed by Miami’s own Arquitectonica. Construction employing 1700 workers could begin as early as this year on nine acres of land at SW 8th Street and S. Miami Avenue, just south of the Miami River and west of U.S. 1, according to consulting firm Miami Economic Associates. Once completed, Brickell CitiCentre will employ an estimated 3800 people and will include condominiums, rental apartments, offices, restaurants, retail, nightclubs, an exclusive business hotel, a movie theater, and a bowling alley.



2. Big Fish

The iconic hidden restaurant, founded by the late Thomas Orren Sykes in the 1980s on the bank of the Miami River at 55 SW Miami Avenue Rd., will soon reincarnate in the form of a two-story building with dining terraces on the roof and a VIP lounge-café, says architect Dean B. Lewis, founder of Miami-based DB Lewis Architecture+Design.

Spanish developer Ignacio Vega and an unnamed “high-profile entertainer” are investing $3 million to develop the restaurant, and spending another $250,000 to repair the seawall, move FP&L lines underground, and make other infrastructure improvements. Lewis says the two structures that once housed Big Fish have been demolished to make way for the development. The seawall’s renovation will begin in the fall.

 

3. One Bayfront Plaza

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In 2007 the Miami City Commission approved Tibor Hollo’s dream of developing the tallest building in Miami: the 1049-foot-tall One Bayfront Plaza, 100 S. Biscayne Blvd., designed by Coral Gables architect Ignacio Permuy of TERRA Architecture.

Hollo has since scaled back the design somewhat, settling on a height of 1010 feet, still tall enough to dwarf the 789-foot Four Seasons Hotel on Brickell Avenue. To help Permuy revise his original design, Hollo hired Kohn Pederson Fox Associates, a New York architectural firm that designs skyscrapers such as the 1614-foot-high Shanghai World Financial Center and Hong Kong’s 1588-foot-tall International Commerce Centre.

“The plans should be finished 14 months from now,” says Hollo, who plans to demolish the current 19-story, 1950s-era office complex on the site and replace it with a $1.8 billion twisting tower that will contain Class-A office space, a hotel, and retail.

 

4. FEC Railway Project

July 15 marked the groundbreaking of a $46.9 million Florida East Coast Railway reconnection project that will link the Port of Miami to a rail yard near Miami International Airport. The project will also repair the rail bridge to the Port of Miami’s Dodge Island that was knocked out by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Scheduled for completion in 2014, the project will provide 833 jobs, the Port of Miami claims. It is funded by a $22.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, a $10.9 million contribution from the Florida East Coast Railroad, $10.9 million from the Florida Department of Transportation, and $4.8 million from the Port of Miami.

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5. Port of Miami Tunnel

Costing taxpayers $1 billion, the underwater dual vehicular tunnel system will connect the western end of the MacArthur Causeway to the Port of Miami’s road network. The tunnel project, which commenced last year, is scheduled for completion in 2014 and is expected to provide 400 jobs for local workers. Funding comes from the state ($650 million), the county ($402 million), and the City of Miami ($50 million).

 

6. Resorts World Miami

Tan Sri Lim, CEO of the $45 billion Malaysian-based Genting Malaysia Berhad, loves Miami so much that he’s been visiting the city for 40 years. “I believe Miami is destined to be one of the most prominent cities in the world,” he announced during a June 16 reception at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

This past May, Lim’s resort company shelled out $236 million to buy 14 acres fronting Biscayne Bay from the McClatchy Company, owner of the Miami Herald, including One Herald Plaza, which has housed the newspaper since 1963. Lim plans to build Resorts World Miami, a $3 billion, Arquitectonica-designed project that will include residential units, hotel rooms, retail, restaurants, and casino gambling (pending state approval). Aside from being close to the Arsht Center and the future Museum Park, Resorts World Miami will be within rowing distance of the terminal for Norwegian Cruise Lines, in which Genting owns a 50-percent stake.

 

7. 1700 Biscayne

At 1700 Biscayne Blvd., where a Burger King now operates, investors affiliated with Midgard Management plan to build three towers, ranging between 443 and 603 feet in height, designed by architect Bernard Zyscovich. Called 1700 Biscayne, the $726 million project will include 672 residences, 505 hotel rooms, and nearly 182,000 square feet of retail, and will create 536 full-time jobs, according to a report from consultants Lambert Advisory.

 

8. Sonesta Mikado Hotel

Just 480 feet from the future 1700 Biscayne project, and less than a half-mile from the Resorts World Miami project is Tibor Hollo’s second Biscayne Corridor project. Architect Zyscovich is designing the $62 million, 250-room Sonesta Mikado Hotel. Under a deal approved by the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency this past April, Hollo’s Florida East Coast Realty will receive a property tax rebate of up to $9 million, paid over several years, if the hotel hires 268 Miami residents on a full-time basis. Hollo says he will break ground on the project “as soon as they issue the permit.” Completion is scheduled for 2014.

 

9. 18Biscayne

BiscayneCorridor_4On track to provide groceries, dietary supplements, banking services, and haircuts in an area of intensive development is 18Biscayne, a 57,200-square-foot, three-story, Publix-anchored retail project now being built at 1777 Biscayne Blvd. by the Fort Lauderdale-based Stiles Company. Set for completion in early 2012, 18Biscayne is already 98 percent leased, according to a July 27 Stiles news release. Besides the 49,200-square-foot Publix with bakery, pharmacy, and café, tenants include a Wells Fargo branch, a GNC health store, and a Hair Cuttery.

 

10. City Hall the Restaurant

Restaurateur Steve Haas (who helped open eateries such as Tuscan Steak and Monty’s) and executive chef Tom Azar (formerly of Emeril’s South Beach) opened City Hall the Restaurant to much media attention in June. Located at 2004 Biscayne Blvd., the two-story, 201-seat American bistro took $2 million and more than a year of planning to build.

 

11. Midtown Miami Entertainment Complex

Jack Cayre, principal of Midtown Equities Group, is intent on partnering with another developer within a year to build a $60 million, 220,000-square-foot entertainment complex within Midtown Miami, a 56-acre community of condos, restaurants, retail, and offices at NW 36th Street and N. Miami Avenue. In an interview last month, Cayre told the South Florida Business Journal that the future complex will include a 200-room boutique hotel and a 12-screen movie theater that will serve alcoholic beverages to adult patrons, as well as meals.

The complex would rise just east of Developers Diversified Realty’s 645,000-square-foot Shops at Midtown Miami, on a four-acre plot now occupied by a jungle of trees and bushes that were supposed to be part of World Gardens at Midtown. Suzanne Schmidt, spokeswoman for Midtown Miami, says some of the landscaping will remain on site.

 

12. Design District

Just north of Midtown Miami is the Design District, a quarter-square-mile area that serves as home to 145 clothing boutiques, high-end furniture stores, restaurants, bars, art galleries, and other businesses. The district’s largest landowner and developer, Dacra CEO Craig Robins, told the Miami Herald in May that he’s investing $40 million to increase his real estate holdings there, so he can build more commercial space, loft apartments, and a boutique hotel.BiscayneCorridor_5

 

13. Educating Hands School of Massage

Once based in Brickell, this 30-year-old, accredited teaching institution took over a 10,000-square-foot office building at 3883 Biscayne Blvd. last fall. “The new place offered a fresh start in a fresh, up-and-coming neighborhood,” says Iris Burman, director of Educating Hands. “The landlord [Odarp Inc.] put in a very substantial investment to renovate the building from its basic shell to the full build-out. In addition to their part, we’ve put in over $150,000 to create a space that will serve us and our customers well for years to come.”

 

14. Bay Point Center

Just across the street from Educating Hands, renovation work by G & L Real Estate is nearly complete at the 43,000-square-foot Bay Point Center at 3915 Biscayne Blvd. “A lot of medical professionals are looking to move their practice there,” says Mauricio Zapata, a broker associate of Chariff Realty Group. The $5 million project is expected to receive a temporary certificate of occupancy within three months.

 

15. Kubik at Palm Grove

It isn’t all positive news on the development front. Since 2004, LAB Developers has sought to build Kubik, twin 130-foot-tall, loft-style residential buildings on 2.5 acres at 5582 NE Fourth Ct., right across the road from Mark Soyka’s 55th Street Station. Earlier this year, after LAB spent years in litigation with a small band of Morningside homeowners, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that Kubik will have to head back to the Miami City Commission. Otherwise the developers will have to settle for a project below the 35-foot height limit that now covers Biscayne Boulevard between 50th and 77th streets.

Paul Murphy, one of Kubik’s developers, says he and his partners believe that heading into “the appeal circus all over again” is a “total waste of time and money.” He adds that the height limit kills “any rational development” in the Upper Eastside. “In the meantime,” Murphy says, “you have to admit, it’s a pleasant-looking piece of nonproductive land.”

The land became pleasant-looking last month, when a giant crane, an abandoned sales trailer, and assorted construction debris was removed from the site, prompting rumors that the Kubik project had been revived. Murphy explains that the material was removed at the request of the city’s code enforcement department.

Neighbors are hoping that the fence surrounding the property will come down and a new lawn will come up. “We will sod the property,” Murphy reports. “The fence is an insurance issue. The city wants it down. The insurance company wants it up. At the moment, no resolution.”

 

16. Milebella

The 35-foot height limit hasn’t stopped developer and restaurateur Steve Perricone and his partner Jay Solowsky. The pair will soon break ground on a brand-new, $1 million, 10,000-square-foot commercial retail building at 6101 Biscayne Blvd. Named Milebella, the 35-foot-tall structure’s MiMo-inspired design will include a double-height glass façade, a V-shape chevron roof canopy, covered terraces and entrances, rear gated parking, and landscaping, according to project architect Dean Lewis. “It’ll make a difference in the MiMo/Boulevard landscape,” he says. “We’re not looking at a typical cinder block.” Once work begins, Lewis expects the project will take six months to complete.

 

17. 6405 Biscayne Blvd.

Four blocks away from Milebella, an Argentine developer purchased a 15,000-square-foot lot at 6405 Biscayne Blvd. from Midtown developers Joe Cayre and Michael Samuel. Chariff Realty Group’s Zapata, who closed the deal in May, declines to name the investor or sale price, but says the new owner intends to build retail.

 

18. Wonderland at the Boulevard

After six months and $1.5 million in remodeling, Wonderland at the Boulevard should be open for business “within three to four weeks,” says adult entertainment entrepreneur Leroy Griffith.

During the 41 years Griffith has owned the Boulevard Theater, the 14,000-square-foot building has operated under various names as an adult movie house, a female strip joint, a gay club featuring male strippers, and a female topless sports bar. But for the next 15 years, Griffith will be leasing his theater to Sofa Entertainment Group, which will reportedly feature a gourmet restaurant and nude female entertainment. “They put in new marble floors, new stages, and new bathrooms,” Griffith says.

 

19. Biscayne Plaza

Designed by architect Robert Fitch Smith and opened in 1954, the Biscayne Plaza shopping center, at 561 NE 79th St., will soon undergo a several-million-dollar renovation, according to Terranova Corporation, the property’s manager. Sabor Tropical Supermarket also will pour $1 million into upgrades on the 24,000-square-foot space the company will be leasing for the next decade.

 

20. Antiques Plaza

On the border between Miami’s Upper Eastside and the Village of El Portal, the collection of furniture stores known as Antiques Plaza (8650 Biscayne Blvd.) is going through a $500,000 expansion that will add 6000 square feet of retail space. Danceny Reyes, representative of Regalands Properties, Inc., says, “the project is supposed to be finished in approximately four and half months.”

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21. Chase Bank

Two months ago, North Miami Beach city officials approved Chase Bank’s application to build a new branch where a BP gas station now operates at 14590 Biscayne Blvd. Chris Heid, North Miami Beach’s chief planner, says it will take six months to a year for Chase Bank to obtain the necessary permits to build on the site. Some 20 blocks to the south, at 1865 NE 123rd St., TotalBank recently moved into a new branch office that is part of the new Causeway Square development.

 

22. Biscayne Landing

In September the North Miami City Council will choose between two development teams interested in completing Biscayne Landing, a 183-acre, city-owned tract at 150th Street and Biscayne Boulevard that was to contain thousands of condos until the real estate crash derailed the project in 2009.

Ian Bruce Eicher, developer of the 40-story Continuum condominium in South Beach and Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, wants to build up to one million square feet of big-box retail in less than four years, followed by a medical pavilion, an assisted-living facility, luxury rentals, student dorms, and a 150-room hotel.


Eicher’s rival is Oleta Partners LLC, which consists of Biscayne Landing’s original developer, Michael Swerdlow, plus Haitian-American broadcasting executives Manny and Jenn Cherebun and the LeFrak Organization, a century-old New York-based real estate company. Oleta Partners proposes to build one million square feet of retail, 3000 residential units, a 200,000-square-foot film and production studio, 300 hotel rooms, and a 7000-square-foot community center.

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23. Duffy’s Sports Grill

The Florida-based sports bar chain picked the Intracoastal Mall at 3929 NE 163rd St. to open its first restaurant in Miami-Dade County and its 24th in South Florida. Open since June in the 24,000-square-foot space occupied by the Water Club just five months prior, Duffy’s Sports Bar has 700 seats, extensive covered patio seating, 200 plasma televisions, and an outdoor swimming pool with its own bar, says Tricia Thomas, the restaurant’s public relations representative. Sitting along the Intracoastal Waterway, Duffy’s also has 500 feet of dockage for boats.


24. hhgregg

The $2 billion nationwide electronics store spent $1 million transforming the 30,000-square-foot former Borders bookstore at 19925 Biscayne Blvd. into its Aventura outpost. According to Jeff Pearson, hhgregg’s vice president of marketing, the Biscayne Corridor location was ideal. “Our Aventura location is in a high-traffic retail area that is visible to consumers and convenient to access,” he says in an e-mail to the BT. Since opening in July, the hhgregg Aventura store has employed 50 people, says company spokeswoman Kim Paone.

 

25. Winn-Dixie

In response to Aventura’s growing Jewish Orthodox population, mega grocer Winn-Dixie completed a $3.5 million facelift in May. The refurbished Winn-Dixie at 20417 Biscayne Blvd. offers an expanded kosher department supervised by the Orthodox Rabbinical Board, a South Florida-based nonprofit organization.

 

Biscayne Times will continue tracking development along the Biscayne Corridor. Please send relevant information to senior writer Erik Bojnansky at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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