Miami-Dade will transform ‘lost space’ into a vibrant neighborhood

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A view of the Miami-Dade County Main Library, far left, and the back of the Miami-Dade County Downtown Motorpool gas station, center, in downtown Miami. The city is looking to transform the area into a vibrant neighborhood with a $10 billion plan. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald via AP)

MIAMI (AP) — In what is billed as one of the nation’s largest and most ambitious urban redevelopment projects, Miami-Dade County has packed some 17 acres of downtown public real estate and competed. The county hopes to attract developers who can deliver an ambitious plan for a transformed, connected and vital downtown neighborhood with thousands of residents and new civic spaces.

It is however not certain.

The road to developing what the county has called the MetroCenter will be long — officials say it could take 15 years — and fraught with steep hurdles. The cost of building everything, including 6,000 to 8,500 new apartments and condominiums, could be around $10 billion, officials said. They called the estimate an “initial baseline” that will be refined as project planning progresses.

The funding strategy sounds simple, but for developers it’s a very big ask: to have the ability to build large-scale projects on prime land, they would pay Miami-Dade market rent and a small percentage of profits, set aside at least a few thousand apartments as affordable housing and for the workforce, and provide needed new public buildings like a new main library to the county. The county would reap a windfall of substantial new revenue, including millions in property taxes each year, and get better facilities without exploiting taxpayers.

The 17 acres up for grabs are mostly a hodgepodge of: parking lots and garages; a county service station and fleet repair shop; cracked and stained sidewalks; shabby and underutilized green spaces; a few obsolete county buildings, including one so deteriorated it is already on the verge of demolition; and the little-visited fortress-like Cultural Center complex, home to the HistoryMiami Museum and Main County Library.

With the exception of Clark Tower, which would remain in place, the county says everything else can go. This includes the octagonal, UFO-like annex that houses the Miami-Dade Commission’s chambers as well as the cultural center, just 40 years old and designed by famed architect Philip Johnson. Developers would be required to provide new housing for the commission, HistoryMiami and the main library, among other institutions and agencies.

For Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who spearheaded the MetroCenter plan, the county’s sprawling downtown properties represent a huge lost opportunity at a time when local real estate is increasingly valuable, supply of urban land available for development is shrinking and there is a desperate shortage of affordable, centrally located housing for Miami residents.

“A lot of it is wasted space,” Higgins, whose neighborhood includes properties for redevelopment, said in an interview. “It’s the land of the people. We should use it to meet people’s needs.

Adding apartments, condos and local public schools, another piece of the county plan that developers must provide, would give Miami what it has always lacked, Higgins said — a true urban neighborhood with options. public transportation and an array of services and amenities where a car is not necessary for everyday life, but it is also ideal for families. In planning jargon, this is called transit-oriented development, or TOD.

“In other cities, you can live in a high-rise neighborhood and raise a family. You can’t raise a family in downtown Miami,” Higgins said. “It defeats the purpose of a TOD, if your kids can’t walk to school.”

The financial return for participating developers is potentially huge, which the county is banking on. But so will the unusual and demanding public responsibilities developers must accept to participate.

Higgins worked on the plan with Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and county officials for about two years, consulting with developers and land-use attorneys to ensure the idea is feasible.

“There is absolutely interest,” Higgins said, referring to developers. “This can be a defining project for a development team. How often do you have the opportunity to create a neighborhood that is also the seat of government and the center of transit? »

Over the past month, the county has released a concept memo draft outlining its plan and some 600 pages of specifications, also in draft form, for developers to follow. The guidelines cover everything from housing needs to infrastructure improvements and a detailed list of library needs.

He is now embarking on a two-year effort to identify a master developer who would be responsible for developing the master plan for the MetoCenter, figuring out how to fund it, and overseeing its development under an agreement that would be negotiated with officials. from Miami Dade.

The county is gathering public comment on the draft plans and will issue a request for proposals from developers by mid-September, said Rita Silva, procurement manager on the Miami-Dade project.

By the middle of next year, the county hopes to name up to five finalists who would be asked to develop more specific proposals. The county would then issue a final request for proposals and the mayor’s office would recommend a winner in 2024, Silva said.

After signing a detailed agreement, this master developer would then recruit partners to design and build individual projects.

County officials stress that nothing is set in stone yet and details are subject to change as plans evolve to ensure their feasibility.

“It’s just a very early stage,” Silva said. “There are a lot of moving parts.”

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