Urbin, a co-living, co-work concept, will soon have a location in Miami Beach. This week, the City’s Historic Preservation Board gave the final approval needed for the construction of the brand's proposed six-story co-living and hotel project in the 1200 block of Washington Avenue. The new building will contain 49 co-living units, 56 hotel rooms, and retail and restaurant space. An adjacent 1960s office building will be renovated and restored as a co-work space. It will also contain a wellness center for residents and hotel guests on the first floor, rounding out the brand's live, work, wellness theme.
Rishi Kapoor, founder and CEO of Location Ventures, the developer of Urbin said, “The Urbin thesis is all about bringing inclusion in the urban core and that’s why we spell our brand name U-R-B-I-N."
The goal of the Urbin brand is “to provide affordability, sustainability and mobility to tenants in core urban neighborhoods across the world” starting in South Florida. In a hearing before the Planning Board in February, Kapoor said Urbin will provide a “progressive housing solution” at an “accessible price point.” His vision is to not only provide options for living and working but also wellness. By giving locals an opportunity to live in a neighborhood they couldn’t normally afford, commute times and pollution are reduced, making for a better quality of life, he said.
The new mixed-use building which will replace a one-story retail structure at 1260 Washington Avenue, has street frontage on three sides: Washington Avenue, 13th Street and Drexel Avenue. It sits across 13th Street from the old Post Office.
According to the Historic Preservation Board application, the new building will contain a lobby, two micro-retail units, two restaurants and one outdoor bar counter on the ground floor. The second and third floors of the new structure will contain the co-living and micro-units. Co-living units will vary in size from two bedrooms up to six bedrooms with attached private baths and shared kitchen, living, and laundry areas contained within a suite. Micro-units will have their own private bath, kitchen, and laundry. Outdoor living areas for the residential tenants will be located on the second and fourth levels. The fifth and sixth floors are reserved for the hotel rooms. The roof will contain a pool deck and outdoor bar counter.
The four-story office building located at 1234 Washington Avenue, which will be renovated and restored as co-work space, was constructed in 1961. It was designed by Maurice Weintraub in the Post War Modern style of architecture with distinctive metal brise-soleil screens and a kidney-shaped water feature in front.
The co-working component includes a micro retail market “catering to boutique retailers that are priced out of desirable areas,” Kapoor told the Planning Board in February. As part of new legislation allowing for the micro-units, Urbin agreed not to take any national brands as a part of its tenant mix. Instead, they will be independent local retailers.
Each Urbin location also has “dedicated space for artists and creatives because you’re seeing people very much priced out of those areas in all of these pockets of South Florida,” Kapoor told the Planning Board. There’s also a small business incubator and a technology incubator. “The goal is we’re not a space that’s just real estate over the head,” Kapoor explained. “We also provide onsite administration, accounting, marketing, and a business coach, that’s all there to sit with the entrepreneur and help them with their business.”
The Miami Beach location will join two others under development, one in Coconut Grove and the other in Coral Gables, though the Washington Avenue project will be the first “Urbin Retreat” with a key differentiator – an extended stay hotel where guests can live and work for months at a time.
Residents and hotel guests will have access to a 5,000 sq. ft. wellness center on the ground floor of the office building. Everyone gets “the whole live, work, wellness package,” according to Kapoor. The bigger vision, he said in February, is to encourage the "freedom to travel" by staying in different Urbin Retreats around the world through membership.
This week Kapoor spoke about the impact of COVID on the economy and the Urbin business model. In economic upswings, he said, “We are the least expensive price of admission to a desirable neighborhood and where [residential] rents are high or office building rents are high.”
“In an upswing, you’re in an environment where it’s expensive for many people we’re catering to – entrepreneurs, teachers, municipal workers, service workers” – to live in desirable neighborhoods so they end up commuting back and forth. “We’re trying to bring them in… to live, work, feel a part of the fabric of the community," Kapoor said.
In a recession, Urbin’s “topline price is still lower than other comparable living or working arrangements. If we’re already lower in the boom type of environment and now we’re in a recessionary environment, we’ve got room," he added.
His family has experience operating co-work and flex spaces throughout the southeast, he said, and during the 2008-09 recession, “We never dipped below 80% occupancies and that’s because on the work side, people look at flex space as a place to regroup. Maybe they’re contracting their office footprint, or a startup, potentially laid off, potentially working at home.” The flexible workspaces are “a place to go to do your own thing, a place where many businesses start and expand at a manageable expense.”
“We feel like we’re very well positioned for different types of economic cycles and different types of the market and ways they need to respond.”
“As we expand [our] mission, to have 100 locations internationally over the next decade, the objective is to bring inclusionary housing and places to work inside the most desirable submarkets where people are either priced out or they are spending too much of their income on rent,” no matter where the economic cycle is, Kapoor said.
The emphasis on community within the Urbin concept was also important to the approval process. Kapoor and his team worked with the residential neighbors on Drexel Avenue to the west of the project as well as the land use boards to ensure the project was sensitive to noise and design concerns. Ultimately, he said, through the legislative process and Planning Board and Historic Preservation Board hearings, “I’m proud to say… there was not a single 'no' vote and I think that’s a testament to our team trying to be very sensitive to doing a great project but also working with the stakeholders.”
Architect Jacqueline Gonzalez Touzet of Touzet Studio told the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) members this week that based on feedback, the team reconfigured the Drexel Avenue ground level portion of the project to include buffers such as bicycle parking and outdoor conference rooms along with community benefits such as a solar powered charging station where neighbors can recharge their phones in the event of a power outage and a community water filling station that joggers and dog walkers will be able to use.
Earlier, to gain Planning Board approval, the team added taller sound attenuating walls on the roof, walls to screen parking, a gate to control access from the building to Drexel Avenue, and configured a drop off area within the site itself to minimize the impact of traffic queuing on neighborhood streets. All “active uses” on the property are facing Washington Avenue, Touzet told the HPB. “Everything that happens on the Drexel side is quiet and passive.”
Additionally, the height of the corner tower element on the residential/hotel building was reduced by ten feet and the façade “lightened up” to be “less heavy,” she said.
The new building which is set back 30 feet from Washington Avenue contains a “shady plaza that opens up and frames the view of the Post Office” across the street, she added. The pre-patinated copper façade plays off the roof of the historic Post Office. A cistern will be built under the porch and along with the abundant landscaping contributes to the site’s resiliency.
“A faithful restoration” of the office building includes returning the flagpole in front, restoring the “kidney-shaped pool in front” and recreating the “palm oasis” around the pool that is shown in historic photos, Touzet said.
When the project was initially conceived, the team took into account climate change and warmer temperatures, asking “how do you provide livable walkable streets that people want to spend time on, that people want to sit under,” she said. Now, looking at the new normal “post-COVID,” people will seek out outdoor spaces to eat and work. She said this project could become a model for future development.
“What we were looking for is an urban condition that responds to the architecture, the climate, the historical context but is of its time,” she said of the project.
Satisfied with the revisions since the Board initially saw it, the HPB gave a unanimous approval. Earlier, the Planning Board approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for an Open Air/Outdoor Entertainment Establishment on the ground floor along Washington Avenue and a Neighborhood Impact Establishment with an aggregate occupant content in excess of 200 people.
Kapoor said the team will move immediately into the permitting process which he expects to take 6 to 8 months. “We are hopeful to be able to start construction in the second or third quarter of next year.” He expects to do the renovation of the office building and demolition and ground up construction concurrently.
Renderings: Touzet Studio
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