Preliminary Discussions Underway to Add Office Building to 500-700 Alton Road Development

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Preliminary Discussions Underway to Add Office Building to 500-700 Alton Road Development:

New community health center and expanded park would be part of city, county, state deal

Developer Russell Galbut is having preliminary discussions with the City of Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County on a proposal that would allow construction of a new Class A office building at the 500-700 Alton Road development, a joint effort between Galbut’s Crescent Heights and David Martin’s Terra Group. The City would get a new community health center to replace a deteriorating one and nearly an acre added to the 3-acre park now under construction on the site. The County would get a new library. 

The discussions regarding the clinic are “still in the early stages,” Galbut said, but he has commissioned renderings by Robert Bistry of Built Form showing how the plan might be accomplished and he’s begun floating the idea with neighboring property associations. “We’re in preliminary talks but they’re progressing well,” he said. “I think it’s a huge, huge, exciting opportunity.” [Rendering above: Proposed office building on left, Baptist Health Center in middle, new Community Health Center with library to the right of Baptist Health.]

Galbut and Martin are building a 519-ft residential tower on the 500 block of Alton Road at the MacArthur Causeway entrance to Miami Beach and a pedestrian bridge over 5th Street connecting the baywalk on each side. In addition to the park, they had planned a retail pavilion on the 600 block.

If this proposal moves forward, the developers will forgo the retail pavilion and donate that land to the City, increasing the park by 30% to just under four acres. The hard and soft costs of the additional park space improvements would be paid by the developer. Instead, they will construct a Class A office building with 120,000 sq. ft. of leasable space plus a parking garage on the site of the current Miami Beach Community Health Center at 710 Alton Road in the northeast corner of the development site and build a new health center across the street.

During a presentation to the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Real Estate Council, Galbut outlined preliminary terms he's proposing, including the County swapping with the developer the site of the current clinic with a site on the corner of 7th and Alton across from Baptist Health, a facility developed by Crescent Heights and leased to Baptist. The County would reallocate $600,000 dedicated to the repair of the facility toward the new construction. The balance of the soft and hard costs would be paid by the developer. All costs of a new library space – proposed for the second floor of the community health center overlooking the park – would be borne by the County. 

Rendering: Closeup of proposed Community Health Center with library above

A proposed zoning change of the area between the park and 8th Street would allow for additional height with the City and FDOT entering into a covenant to use the FAR from the full width of 5th Street and Alton Road to add allowable density to the office building. FAR or Floor Area Ratio is used to measure density. In this case, the developer would take the density that would be allowed to be built on the area occupied by the roadway. The road continues to be used for its intended purpose but the FAR is transferred to the adjacent site. The developers would also transfer the FAR from the retail pavilion to the office building. The changes would require a 6/7 vote of the City Commission.

Construction is underway on the already agreed upon portion of the park including the installation of underground wells to collect the water runoff from the area and clean it before it is discharged into area waterways. Galbut said he expects the park to be completed “within months.” The resilient park – which also includes native plantings, bioswales and rain gardens – “is a true test to see what we can do in an ecological environment to help communities deal with rising sea levels," he said.

Galbut hopes to begin construction on the foundation of the luxury residential tower within 45 days. With views of Biscayne Bay and the new park, the tower will provide the type of housing sought by the “many people who are coming every day from the north to the south,” he said, adding, “We are out of waterfront homes.”

According to Galbut, the idea for the new health center came from the City after “significant problems” were identified with the foundation of the current community health center structure. A City spokeswoman confirmed issues with the building at 720 Alton Road but emphasized it is “structurally independent” from the health center operating out of 710 Alton Road. The 720 building “has serious issues and is not occupiable.” The idea for the library came from County Commissioner Eileen Higgins, he said.

According to Galbut, Mayor Dan Gelber saw an opportunity to expand the park.

Gelber emphasized the preliminary nature of the proposal in an interview with RE:MiamiBeach. “Both the developer and the City are exploring whether there is a viable route to increase the park space even more so and delivering the community a sorely needed new community health center and library.”

“It is clearly preliminary and there has to be a viable route but, obviously, a substantially enlarged park would be great and our seniors really need a new health center… the current one is literally falling apart.”

Gelber has not yet discussed the idea with the neighboring community. “I’m first trying to figure out if there’s a viable path and what that would mean. It’s hard to go to the neighborhood [when] we don’t know what we’re telling them it would be.”

“When we did the park deal initially, we obviously had enormous neighborhood outreach and I would expect nothing less if we find a path that seems viable,” he added. “I really haven’t done any major outreach because I don’t know if there’s something there. It’s just really a preliminary idea.”

According to Galbut, the current Community Health Center serves more than 3,000 people from the Flamingo Park area.  The new facility would serve the “same population with a more convenient location” which would not require patients to cross a very busy section of Alton Road.

A new facility would meet all federal health standards which the current building does not, he said. Aesthetically, relocating the clinic would remove a “blank wall” facing the park, Galbut said. He sees this as “an opportunity to do good for the community.” 

“At the same time there has to be the economics here” which would work with “the opportunity to build a first-class office building directly on the northern side of the park.”

Despite needing a 6/7 vote of the City Commission for the health center, Galbut said, “This particular transaction is one that it would be hard to see or hard to understand anybody who would not support it.”

“This is a real opportunity for West Avenue and it’s a win-win for the community,” Galbut said.

County Commissioner Eileen Higgins’s office did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

Galbut also provided a timeline on the highly anticipated pedestrian bridge over 5th Street. He said construction will start “in the next eight or nine months” after the residential tower cranes come down. Once started, it will take approximately 14 months to build.

For his part, Gelber said he’s proud of the agreement to get the current park underway. “From the beginning of this, I wanted to get rid of that horrible tower and convert this desolate space into something special,” he said, referring to the old shell of the South Shore Hospital that sat on the site for more than a decade.

“I didn’t think the development they had was going to be at all good for the neighborhood… a 600-unit wall of rentals that would have really had an opposite effect on the area, just bringing an enormous amount of people into the most congested street corner in our city,” Gelber said of the previously approved project for the site. “Instead, we’re going to get something much different, really, a beautiful park. I’m really proud of what we’re doing right now… By the summer, we’re going to have a pretty nice park, which is a huge priority of mine. I think our outdoor spaces, parks, and green spaces are one of the most vital aspects of our community life.”

As to the move toward Class A office space and this new proposal, Gelber said, “I think it’s an interesting idea… if there’s a route to do it.”

“If people are unhappy with the South Beach business model then they’ve got to be prepared to change it and, certainly, diversifying the building stock is really important to that goal," Gelber said.  

Plans for another Class A office building on Terminal Island, also at the MacArthur Causeway gateway to the City, were recently approved by the City Commission, Planning Board, and Design Review Board. That building is being developed by Related Group.

Renderings as presented by Russell Galbut from Built Form

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