There are signs of progress in downtown Miami’s historic core, but also some potentially troubling issues.
During a panel discussion held by the Commercial Industrial Association of South Florida, there was discussion about some cool new businesses and deals.
One is Jose Mallea’s Biscayne Bay Brewing Co. taking over the third floor of the historic Miami Post Office and Courthouse at 100 NE First Ave. The building is being repositioned by Stambull USA, the company behind the Langford Hotel on Flagler Street.
Another deal is Stambull’s purchase of the historic Walgreen’s building at 200 E. Flagler St., which was recently home to the La Epoca store. That was the venue for the panel discussion.
There also is new construction just north of Flagler Street. Yotel is bringing a residential and hotel concept to 227 NE Second St., which will be 31 stories of new construction. Paramount Miami Worldcenter has topped off at 900 NE First Ave. and is the start of the sprawling Miami Worldcenter project. There are plenty of banners for Okan Tower at 555 N. Miami Ave.
Brightline also opened its MiamiCentral station, with Central Fare expected to open by the end of the year. Brightline has also built two office buildings, a parking garage and is constructing two residential towers.
On Sept. 17, four days after the panel discussion, Colliers International announced it was open to offers on the two former Macy’s buildings at Flagler Street and Miami Avenue. The buildings could be demolished or redeveloped with additional vertical construction above the existing buildings up to 80 stories total. The development could have 720,000 square feet and 688 residential units. Colliers Executive Vice P Gerard Yetming and two other brokers were on the sales flier.
The more troubling issues were outlined by developer Moishe Mana, who has bought nearly $300 million in properties downtown. Trade disputes and immigration controversies are hindering his efforts to turn downtown Miami into a trade hub between Latin America and Asia. He says some international business people he meets are now afraid to come to the United States. Some Chinese investors don’t want to come to Miami and are looking at Panama as an alternative.
The panel discussion was moderated by Mika Mattingly, who previously appeared on the cover of SFBW. She leads Colliers International South Florida’s Urban Core division.
Panelist David Arditi of Aria Development Group convinced Yotel to bring its YotelPad concept to downtown as its first East Coast condo-hotel project. It will have small hotel rooms and residential units that are 50 percent smaller than usual.
While skeptics told him nobody wants to live in smaller spaces in a building without parking, he’s finding a lot of positive momentum for the concept.
He says downtown offers great urban catalysts, such as office workers, PortMiami and Miami Dade College. He called Brightline’s high-speed train services transformative. He says it is addressing transportation, one of the two key issues downtown. The college is addressing the other one, education.
The challenge for developers is understanding what the community really wants and needs, he says. “I don’t believe in transforming neighborhoods with a hammer.”
Craft breweries, coffee houses and juice bars are examples of the types of businesses residents often want. He wants to bring live music to YotelPad. Authenticity is vital, he says.
Mallea, whose Biscayne Brewing is already open in Doral, says he has a passion for downtown that stems from his previous governmental work, which includes chief of staff to the mayor. He called the Post Office building iconic and noted that it was once home to the National Weather Service. The brewery is poised to be the first one downtown, but Mallea is hoping for more of them to provide an economic catalyst and a destination for craft beer enthusiasts.
Mallea says developers are taking structures that meant something to people in past generations and using them to revive the heart of the city.
Mana is taking painstaking care to how he curates his holdings in downtown and says it will be a five-year process. He doesn’t like the model in some areas where rising rents force out cool tenants who are replaced by chain businesses. He likens his approach to building a shopping mall with the right mix of tenants. He expects to partner with some businesses to help get them off the ground.
Mana is willing to lose money on a building if the occupants help the overall ecosystem, he says.
One challenge for Mana is an ongoing project for new streetscapes on Flagler Street. The effort encountered lengthy delays near the Miami-Dade Courthouse. The question is who will want to sign leases amid the uncertainty of how the project will unfold further.
Mana said he will work closely with Miami authorities to get the construction permits for all the buildings he is renovating.
He’s hoping that there isn’t an economic downturn during the process and is looking for investors to help round out his plans.
Mana wants to help Miami build on its reputation as the Capital of the Americas. He has traveled extensively in Asia and Latin America to pitch the idea of Miami as a trade hub. Technology, fashion and the arts are some of the sectors he is focusing on.
However, talk about building walls on the border aren’t helpful to making that happen, he says.
Mana says he invested $1.5 million in 22 local tech companies, but they now re worth $22 million, which shows the potential.
Downtown offer the potential to make money as the value of property rises. The cue might be what has happened on Miami Beach.
Stephen H. Bittel, the chairman and founder of Terranova Corporation, says he originally paid $8 a square foot for property on Lincoln Road and friends told him he was out of his mind. With some prices now hitting $4,000 a square foot, he’s called a visionary.