North Miami Gears Up for Change

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November 18, 2022

North Miami Gears Up for Change Aging city invites developers to revitalize downtown By: SAMANTHA MORELL

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The city is looking to revitalize its nine-acre downtown area

According to those who work for the city, it shows. Councilman Scott Galvin says he looks around today and sees the same one-story, 1950s-era storefronts that existed when he was born there 53 years ago.

“Almost nothing in that area looks different than it did when I was a kid,” said Galvin, the longest-standing member of the council with 23 years under his belt. “So when you talk about areas that are ripe for being rebuilt – it’s just so much wasted potential in that area.”

But if all goes according to plan, that won’t be the case for much longer. The city recently announced a public-private partnership, or P3, that will work to revitalize its nine-acre downtown complex and spur development in surrounding areas, essentially giving the sixth-largest city in Miami-Dade County a makeover that has been long overdue.

Looking for Partners

The plan will be completed through a phased-out approach covering improvements of three key institutions located at the intersection of NE Seventh Avenue and NE 125th Street, beginning with the construction of a brand-new four-story City Hall of approximately 110,000 square feet.

Next, the city is planning for the expansion of its police station with an annex of about 45,000 square feet, followed by the vertical addition of approximately 25,000 square feet to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

The partnership will also create a structured parking garage for both public and private use with upwards of 400 parking spaces, as well as opportunities for workforce housing, spaces for public and commercial use, and a new hotel.

What the end result should look like or how much it will cost remains up in the air until the city and P3 consultants choose partners from within the private sector to execute the plans. Each phase is expected to be completed by a separate developer, according to North Miami’s P3 legal consultant, Lee A. Weintraub of Becker & Poliakoff.

“Because we are dealing with a private partner, we are allowing them to provide us with how they believe they can fulfill what we’re looking for,” said City Manager Theresa Therilus.

As far as what that is, it should come as no surprise that much of it has to do with the city’s cash flow. After turning a six-year deficit into a surplus last year, this new plan seems to be ensuring that North Miami won’t be as quick to slip back into the red.

Drumming Up Business

Hungry developers are used to glossing over North Miami when it comes to seeking out new business ventures. With the P3, local officials are making it clear that this 6,400-acre municipality has what it takes to feed their appetites.

“Development has happened everywhere around us, whether that’s Midtown, Wynwood, Overtown,” Galvin said. “Everybody’s got all this new stuff, and North Miami is untouched. It’s time for some of the development that you see in other parts of the county and the state to come to North Miami.”

Between Galvin, Councilwoman Kassandra Timothe and other staff members, the expected benefits of a revitalized downtown are manifold. The idea is that the city’s 60,000 residents can look forward to a community where they can live, work and play – and affordably so.

Galvin expects tax rates to decrease once new business revenue brought on by increased development provides an alternative source of income for the city. At the same time, Timothe says residents and business owners should begin to see an uptick in property values as the appeal of their land skyrockets with surrounding improvements.

Meanwhile, all of the changes will begin to attract new restaurants and entertainment hubs for residents and visitors to enjoy, simultaneously creating a buzz that will spark an influx of customers for small businesses already in the area.

The best part: The plan is designed to pay for itself.

In exchange for reconstructing public institutions on the city’s behalf, developers will have access to four empty parking lots – one directly in front of the police station and west of MOCA, another east of City Hall, and two additional ones across the street on either side of NE Eighth Avenue – on which they can build with profit in mind.

“Every developer-deal structure is going to be different,” said Timothe. “It all depends on what we want and what that costs and how they’re going to be able to recruit that (cost) through the other investments on that land,” essentially lessening the amount owed directly by the city.

After originally expecting to release an initial request for proposals in August, John Lorfils, North Miami’s director of Economic Development and Strategic Initiatives, now says a final draft won’t be ready until October.

From there, the team will decide on a bidder to take the lead on City Hall – the prioritization of which is intentional.

Aging Infrastructure

The City Hall building was originally constructed in 1951, according to North Miami’s zoning map, predating even the municipality’s incorporation from town to city that occurred two years later.

Expectedly, the city has largely outgrown that facility. Therilus says some offices have been forced into smaller buildings or trailers nearby.

But if staff and stakeholders are going to address capacity issues unraveling right in front of them, they also have to consider what’s happening beneath them – that is, below ground.

North Miami is no stranger to pipe blockages after a series of sewage leaks continuously burdened the community for months beginning in September last year.

At the same time that those incidents began, the Biscayne Times was warning of aging pipes and saltwater intrusion affecting the city’s drinking water. Our September 2021 cover story, “Water Customers Owe for the Past and Future,” reported that anywhere from 11-37% of water going through North Miami’s pipes is lost through leakage.

The city’s 10-year water supply facilities work plan has been well underway since 2015, says Timothe, despite progress being temporarily stalled by needed dollars that have yet to trickledown from the state.

“That’s a priority as well, and we’re going to be looking at ways to make sure that we can get that (water plan) moving to ensure that we can address all of our infrastructure needs with all of these new developments,” she said.

Partnering contractors will have to analyze underground pipes and make needed updates depending on the expected water demands of the facilities they propose to build with the P3, and according to what the city has already achieved by the time construction begins.

While there’s no telling when residents will begin to see changes brought on by the public-private partnership, North Miami is all but silent for the time being. A select group of forward-thinking developers has already begun to make waves in the city, having wasted no time once they caught wind of the locality’s newfound marketability.

An Accelerating Trend

Perhaps the most notable development coming to the city is The Gardens, a mixed-use community whose construction began July 11 when developers broke ground on a nine-story apartment building less than four blocks away from the downtown complex.

The entire seven-acre district will eventually be completed to include an office building, creative center, gourmet grocery store and several restaurants, including one with a Michelin-rated chef, according to Omega Real Estate Management CEO Sebastien Scemla.

The Gardens is North Miami’s first major development project happening on the west side of Biscayne Boulevard says Rasha Cameau, a former executive director of the CRA now working at the county who helped score the deal prior to her departure last December. She notes how Turnberry Development and LeFrak have already begun to transform the east side with SoLé Mia, a 184-acre community that includes a Costco and multiple apartment towers.

In total, there’s a pipeline of more than 2,500 housing units that comprise several developments planned for North Miami over the next few years, ranging from workforce to luxury.

“I think this city is one that’s on the greatest trajectory,” Scemla said. “It’s going to go through such incredible change, and it makes sense because it really is the path of least resistance. It’s like the 50-yard line of Miami-Dade County,” located well at the epicenter between downtown Miami and Aventura, as well as I-95 and Biscayne Bay.

That’s when Scemla began to purchase property throughout the region, leading others to quickly follow suit. It’s the reason Timothe coined a new nickname for Scemla: “the Monopoly man of North Miami.”

“North Miami will be completely transformed in the next three to five years,” Scemla said. “It’ll be, I would say, almost unrecognizable.”

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