Development means change. Changes in traffic, density, noise, loss of green space, and it also brings more economic opportunities to the local area. However, local residents don't like change, developers promote it, and economic growth demands it.
Smart Growth and Miami 21
Miami is a city that depends on tourism and real estate. Yet, even with our "smart growth" inspired Miami 21 zoning code, we feel overwhelmed with the number of large scale developments in our urban core. To many of us, it seems blatantly obvious that there is a revolving door between our city officials and developers. Few developers embrace the principles of smart growth, and unless there is an organized outcry from local residents, our city officials seem all to cozy and lenient towards developers with deep pockets.
During late 2015 and early 2016, Asia Capital Real Estate Group (ACRE) and local developer, Global City Development (GCD), closed on several vacant parcels and small apartment buildings located in Miami's Upper East Side. In eight separate transactions, the developers quickly assembled approximately 3 acres of developable land (129,325 SF) just east of Biscayne Boulevard on NE 64th Street and NE 64th Terrace at a total purchase price of $15,175,000 ($117/SF).
To the developers credit, developing land next to the 48-acres of green space covering Legion Park, the center of the local community, offers them considerable added value.
At the same time, the development group struck a deal with the local American Legion Post and inked a 75-year land lease for their 3.6 acres facing Biscayne Bay. As soon as the developers demolished the Legion Post 29 building in the fall of 2016, local residents started to pay attention.
MiMo Apartments and Legions West
According to recent press reports, the project will be completed in two phases. The first phase that broke ground in February this year, consists of the construction of 236 "market rate" rental apartments, 435 parking spaces and a 15,000 SF facility to be owned and utilized by Legion Post 29.
While there seems to be little opposition to the MiMo Apartments, there has been plenty of controversy surrounding the proposed phase two of the project dubbed "Legions West". This phase would consist of 3 mid-rise condo towers (up to 15 stories) with 457 condominiums and a 931 parking space garage and requires the city to designate the project as a Special Area Plan (SAP).
As a SAP, the developer would be exempt from the requirements under the Miami 21 zoning code. In Miami, this carve out has been successfully used with other major mixed-use developments such as Brickell City Centre, the Design District and Mana Wynwood. Given the existing height restriction of 35 feet in the MiMo district, this would be a major win for the developer.
Special Treatment for Special Areas
To qualify for this exemption and receive favorable up-zoning from the city, a developer and city planners must have at least 9 acres of continuous holdings to move outside of the code. To meet the SAP criteria, ACRE GCD proposed to utilize a piece of Legion Park and in return they would make improvements to the public park. After receiving wind of the SAP plan, local residents and the MiMo Biscayne Association quickly came together to object to the project.
We need to recognize that zoning and land use regulations influence public transit, traffic congestion and home prices. Allowing ACRE GCD to utilize Legion Park to realize increased density and height allowances makes no sense given the location of the project. Our city needs to focus more on public private partnerships through which they can provide incentives for developers to build more affordable housing and increase the density near major transit centers and not in our residential neighborhoods.
Let this be a wake up call for local residents. We should all pay close attention to what is going on in our neighborhood long before any new project comes out of the ground. Read, follow and learn about new developments, and then speak up at public meetings. We need to use our collective voices to support smart growth initiatives and preserve our quality of life.
Just a few short years ago, getting around downtown Miami amounted to taking your chances in an overworked yellow cab, the dodgy Metrobus, or if you had time to burn, the antiquated Metromover. Then along came commuter bicycle lanes, bike sharing, Uber, Lyft, the free Miami Trolley, and our own high speed rail system, the Brightline (now Virgin Trains USA).
In addition to these transformative transportation changes that the city of Miami has experienced in just a few years, the $5 billion public and private project Miami Worldcenter will soon open in our backyard. Who would never have imagined that this seedy nightclub and rehab center district to transform into the shopping, transit, hospitality, arts and entertainment center of our city.
We do have our own share of development and growth pains to deal with, but nothing close to the scale and density of the urban core of our surrounding neighbors in Midtown, Edgewater and Little Haiti.
In February 2018, the city approved a mixed-use project located at the vacant site of 5700 Biscayne Boulevard to consist of a 294-unit apartment building, 27,000 square feet of commercial / retail space, and 517 parking spaces. The project remains in planning stages due to the Morningside Civic Association and their Biscayne Boulevard Development Committee weighing in on the scale, design and scope of the project.
While the $1 billion Magic City Innovation District has been met with much local resistance and activism, the City of Miami recently took up the discussion over the Special Area Plan again. Following hours of discussion and many objections of local residents, the City Commission will pick up on the discussion at their next meeting on March 14th. Residents are not satisfied with the $31 million benefits package to be paid over the length of the construction, which could be as long as 15 years.
As investors have snapped up and developed the once undesirable city blocks immediately north of Miami's CBD as the Arts and Entertainment District, together with several new condo developments and apartment buildings in Midtown and Edgewater, plus the explosive growth of Wynwood and the Design District, the Upper East Side neighborhoods remain hidden and muted to these bustling metro areas.
We are all very fortunate to enjoy our quality of life in the Upper East Side while the rest of the city surrounding us is bursting at the seams.
In Miami, construction and cranes are nothing new. In Miami's Upper East Side, the massive construction project that set out to overhaul what is now Miami’s Design District is finally coming to a stage of completion. The majority of cranes, barricades and dust clouds have finally settled around the ultra luxury shops, restaurants and galleries. Years in the making, developer Craig Robbins’ vision is finally a safe and sought-after place to visit.
Following the footsteps of the Design District, new developments on Miami’s Upper East Side in areas such as Upper Buena Vista has enjoyed significant facelifts and has welcomed an influx of new businesses.
UPPER EAST SIDE: AN ALTERNATIVE TO COCONUT GROVE
For many who have been concentrating on residing in Coral Gables or Coconut Grove, it just might be time to head north. Road construction is also nothing new in Miami. That said, a highway construction project as enormous as the one got underway last month has not been seen for many years. A double-decker behemoth will revamp Interstate 395 and tower over I-95 leading to the MacArthur Causeway. Motorists should prepare themselves for ongoing lane closures, street closures and exit closures – until at least 2023.
The spider like suspension bridge will undoubtedly be a sight to see and should be another architectural masterpiece that will accent the Adrienne Arsht Center, PAMM Art Museum and Frost Science Museum below, but it will certainly cause some headaches.
This construction might be just enough reason to revisit the neighborhoods to the north like the Design District and Upper Buena Vista. Even if the years of building kept some visitors at bay, the super luxury stores like Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin have been there since the beginning and are now welcoming more visitors. Staple restaurants like Michael’s Genuine and Ghee survived the growing pains and are still excellent places to visit.
Lesser known new establishments include critically acclaimed Chef Brad Kilgore’s latest venture: a hidden speakeasy dubbed AMA. Located inside Kaido, AMA is a Japanese-inspired cocktail lounge with high-end libations and Kilgore’s version of sushi, which will be “Ama-kase,” his interpretation of the Japanese style of eating.
The dark and intimate space, designed by Mark Diaz, features blue and gold shimmering floors and vintage Japanese Pachinko gaming machines. According to Kilgore, the Japanese word ama translates to mermaid but it is also “the term for the women that free dive for sea urchin off of areas like Hokkaido in northern Japan.” Kilgore will also open Ember this year in the Design District.
Also new in the District is the uber-fashionable Dior pop-up café on the garden terrace of its Design District women’s boutique. Located on the third-floor outdoor terrace, the Dior café continues a longstanding tradition first established by Monsieur Christian Dior and seeks to ‘spread his love for the art of entertaining and his taste in art de vivre.’ The new café offers seated table service featuring a concise menu of coffee, teas, juices and assorted fruits and pastries.
UPPER BUENA VISTA GETS INFLUX OF NEW BUSINESSES
In Upper Buena Vista, the namesake “Vista” restaurant recently opened under a canopy of trees. Roberto Bearzi and Fiorella Blanco, the husband-and-wife team behind downtown Miami’s Italian restaurant Fratelli Milano, have opened up in more 4,000 square feet of space, including a indoor dining room, an outdoor patio and a rooftop terrace. The restaurant is surrounded by other small shops, eateries, boutique offices and galleries.
Second Avenue, which spans the two neighborhoods, now features new modern buildings and new places of interest intermingled with the historic Buena Vista neighborhood. Palat Miami, located at 4702 2nd Avenue, is the newest addition to the Aldo Lamberti Family of Restaurants. Cuisine at Palat includes the famed homemade pasta dishes, like Beet Ravioli, Sea Urchin and Braised Rabbit as well as features that include Tagliolini Cacio e Peppe, Pollo Marinato and Wagyu Ribeye.
Now that the Upper East Side has become one of the most desirable neighborhoods for investing and living in Miami, there are even more housing options to accompany the beautiful single-family homes. Many developers have also followed the trend of heading north and thinking outside of Brickell and Wynwood.
LIVING ON MIAMI'S UPPER EAST SIDE
David Lahmy, co-owner of BVM Development, LLC recently acquired a city block at the crossroads of Northeast Second Avenue between 50th Street and 50th Terrace.
They have plans to bring 60,000 square feet of commercial and residential space to Miami's Upper East Side. The first phase will include the restoration of a 1936 building to feature 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. The building will house a neighborhood eatery, rooftop terrace with an old-fashioned feel and an outdoor cafe due to open summer 2019.
A few blocks south at 4510 NE Second Ave., developer Harry Benitah has launched Buena Vista Villas, a mixed-use project with 12 condo units, 10,000 square feet of retail and underground parking. Benitah heads SLH investment Group, the U.S. subsidiary of France’s Groupe Terrot. The same group is also behind another project at Northeast Second Avenue and 47th Street. Buena Vista Lofts is comprised of eight residential units and 5,000 square feet of retail.
Whether its an escape from the construction, a desire to be part of the next big thing, or just the hopes of living in an area that feels more small town than metropolis, Miami’s Upper East Side is proving to be an attractive option for many to live work and play.
Miami’s Upper East Side is quickly becoming one of the most sought after neighborhoods in which to live in Miami. Located between Little Havana and Little Haiti, the area is not only surrounded by culture, but also has the added bonus of being one of the closest neighborhoods to the water outside of South Beach. In addition to multi-million dollar mansions nestled among smaller cottage style homes is a collection of historic buildings and low-rise motels, seldom still found in other cities, or even other parts of Miami.
PRESERVATION OF MIAMI MODERN ARCHITECTURE
Just like the art-deco neighborhood of South Beach, the reason these areas along Biscayne Boulevard have gone relatively unchanged is because preservationists want it this way. In addition to the unique “MiMo” (Miami Modern) architecture, the reason there had been such a fight to preserve these buildings and motels is because of the huge impact on our society that they represent. The buildings constructed along this wide corridor illustrate Miami’s changing fortunes; its changing demographics and the how they helped shape the character of this now famous thoroughfare.
BISCAYNE BOULEVARD IN THE 1950's
The construction of Biscayne Boulevard from Downtown Miami northward did not begin until 1925. Built mainly to connect new residents of what is now Miami Shores to the Downtown district, Biscayne Boulevard quickly became a vital transportation artery, especially because it met up with US 1, the main North-south route leading from Key West to Maine.
Though the Boulevard was completed in the early late 1930’s, there are very few buildings that date from that time due to the focus on residential as opposed to commercial construction. It wasn’t until the end of World War II and the 1950’s resurgence that America was able to escape the depression of war and started heading out on the roads.
To accommodate the droves of passenger cars coming into South Florida from the north, boutique lodging facilities began popping up. In 1956, there were 24 million passenger cars; by 1958, there were 57 million car registrations. Motel operators across the country promoted themselves as exotic associations that promised to fulfill the fantasies of travelers.
MIAMI'S UPPER EAST SIDE HISTORIC MOTELS AND BUILDINGS
The word “motel” is first thought to be associated with the Milestone Mo-tel in San Luis Obispo, California that opened in 1926. The word “motor” combined with “hotel” inferred that these accommodations were designed for the highway traveler. During the early development of the industry, there were also a number of other names given to these highway adjacent lodges, including: motor court, tourist court, motel court, hotel court and cottage court.
Motel designs, which can still be found on Miami’s Upper East Side, show how pivotal the highway travelers were to their business. Designs had to account for parking spaces for each automobile, and often were organized so that the rooms were together in a linear arrangement under one roof. Buying a car was a big deal – to suggest that someone park their new asset in some lot down the street would have seemed foreign. Guests expected to have their vehicle outside their door to keep it in sight, and so they could still access the necessities they were traveling with. Additionally, rooms were often arranged around a central motor court where the swimming pool was also located.
Just as is the case today, with numerous choices popping up, hotel owners sought to have their business stand out amongst the competition. Around the same time as Biscayne Boulevard was being built, French inventor Georges Claude brought his invention of the neon sign to the United States. By the 1950’s neon became affordable enough for motels to strap the glowing glass tubes to huge signs on vertical poles to attract travelers. This collection of bright rainbows created collections of businesses, known as “the strip,” which was a section of road that people went to not just went through.
Today, many of the iconic motels of the Upper East Side have been declared historic by the City of Miami – meaning they are likely to maintain the same exterior and architectural features as they have today. However, in some cases, developers who convince the city they have something more valuable to offer than a dilapidated motel have been able to successfully replace the motels with new modern buildings – such is the case with the gleaming Starbucks that now stands where Stevens International Motel once was on 63rd Street & Biscayne.
In addition to the motels, there are also several residential homes and commercial businesses that are being preserved. The General Tire Building at 5600 Biscayne Boulevard was design by prominent Architect Robert Law Weed, who also designed much of the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables. The building is now home to Andiamo Pizza, but the architecture remains largely unchanged. Across the street, the residence at 5601 Biscayne Boulevard (445 NE 56th Street) built in 1929, was originally a textbook example of an elaborate Mediterranean Revival design. Today, its conversion to an office use has led to the elimination of windows and loss of details.
While new construction can be attractive and add to the appeal of a neighborhood, there is something to be said about history and cultural contributions to a community. Thankfully, a percentage of Miami’s Upper East Side is protected and will remain for years to come. It’s this nostalgia and charm, when allowed to co-exist with new construction, that makes Miami’s Upper East Side one of the best places to live in Miami. Click here for more information about properties available on Miami’s Upper East Side.
Ross Milroy is a long time Miami resident, real estate broker and property rights expert. Ross was educated in South Africa, Switzerland and the United States. Ross holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Hotel Management and a Master of Science Degree in International Real Estate from Florida International University. Ross and his wife Julie, and son Keane, reside in the Morningside area. They love to spend their leisure time boating around Miami and the Florida Keys.