Finance Committee Recommends Formal Proposal Process for Class A Offices on Miami Beach Parking Lots

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Finance Committee Recommends Formal Proposal Process for Class A Offices on Miami Beach Parking Lots:

Outpouring of response from developers interested in building on three lots

The outpouring of interest from developers to build Class A offices on three municipal parking lots adjacent to Lincoln Road prompted the Miami Beach Commission’s Finance Committee to recommend the City proceed with a formal Request for Proposals (RFP). Eighteen developers including Design District developer Craig Robins’ Dacra, Michael Comras’ The Comras Company jointly with David Martin’s Terra, and Integra partnering with Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital, responded to the City’s Request for Letters of Interest (RFLI). It’s part of an effort to diversify a tourism-dependent economy hit hard in recent years by hurricanes, Zika, and, more recently, COVID.

In order to move forward, the full City Commission would need to approve an RFP and then determine to accept any proposals which would require voter approval. The City Charter requires a voter referendum for leases of more than ten years of certain City-owned properties, including the three parcels now being used for surface parking.

Finance Committee member Commissioner Mark Samuelian said, “I think the fact that 18 development entities are excited and looking at Miami Beach is a really positive statement” but he cautioned that “We have to do something that can be embraced in our community… I think it’s very important we keep in mind that ultimately we’re going to need our community’s backing if we move forward.”

In terms of which parcels might be favored by developers, Miami Beach Economic Development Director Rickelle Williams said her team will evaluate the letters and hold industry meetings before an RFP is finalized in order to narrow down the best approach. She noted, however, from what she’s seen so far, “The development community has embraced the concept of having the ability to develop on all three parcels.”

Three City-owned surface parking lots that could eventually contain Class A office buildings

Following industry outreach, Williams said, the Administration will seek authorization to develop an RFP at the March City Commission meeting.

The Finance Committee Chair, Commissioner Ricky Arriola, urged a flexible approach allowing developers to submit proposals for one or more parcels. “Let the market come back to us and see if they dazzle us with some great proposal or not,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to restrict us in this opportunity to let the market inform us of what’s possible, so I’d be very supportive of maximum flexibility.”

During public comment, Lincoln Road Business Improvement District (BID) Executive Director Tim Schmand, said, “This is a great opportunity to bring some business diversification to the Beach and this is the first step in that direction.”

Jerry Libbin, President of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, said, “This is truly a generational opportunity. The spinoff benefits of this for our residential community, for all of our retailers, hoteliers, all the businesses in our community is tremendous.”

Given the threshold of voter approval, resident Daniel Ciraldo asked if there would be any incentives for height. “Personally, I think, if it goes to referendum, I think it would be helpful if the height was within the established zoning especially since we’re right near our beautiful, historic Lincoln Road.” Prior to a vote, he said that should be determined.

Arriola responded that whatever the parameters are, they should be clear so bidders can determine if they can make their projects work.

Lyle Stern, who sent a “white paper” to Mayor Dan Gelber and Commissioner Ricky Arriola when the wealth migration to South Florida began pre-pandemic, agreed with Libbin that “this is a generational opportunity." Stern, President of Koniver Stern Group, a retail leasing and consulting company that owns and operates properties on Lincoln Road, serves on the Board of the Lincoln Road BID. He urged caution on setting too many limitations. 
“This is an opportunity for us to learn from the world what’s available for us in Miami Beach,” he said. “I think some of the world’s best architects may end up being part of these [development] teams and I’d encourage us to be open and opportunistic and look at what the world may bring us here versus putting everybody in a very small box and giving them a limited set of crayons because we’re going to live with these buildings for a really, really long time and we’re going to live with the public space for a really, really long time.”

“I’d like us to think big and bold here but in the context of what we want in Miami Beach,” Stern said. “We don’t want skyscrapers, but we want amazing public space. We want amazing spaces within the buildings. We want some of the world’s best companies to come here. We want those people to live in Miami Beach so that’s the tool kit we have and I think we should think broadly here… If we don’t like what we see, we don’t have to go with any of the proposals but I think we should be inviting.”

Arriola wrapped up the discussion after the unanimous vote saying, “We have to be very realistic and we have to inform the market of what’s palatable because this is going to go to voters. Anybody who proposes a skyscraper, that’s going to be dead on arrival, so we do need to manage expectations.”

“There is going to be resistance on height. There’s going to be, I think, potential resistance on loss of parking, so I think in the RFP and discussions with the development community we need to let them know that proposals should consider things that the public’s going to be sensitive about so that they work within those confines, you know, while trying to be imaginative,” Arriola said. “But we don’t want to waste anyone’s time if things are not going to be acceptable to the community, let alone the vetting evaluation boards that this will have to go through, so I think part of our RFP should have some language in there that discusses the historic district, the sensitivity to height, loss of parking and other things, as well as encourage them to bring forward some public benefits that we would like to see as part of any proposal.”

Aerial view of Lincoln Road:
Map: City of Miami Beach


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