With More Than $1.5 Billion in new Mid-Rise Development, Coral Gables is Making its Core More Dense. But it’s Doing so in a Controlled Fashion Envisioned by City Fathers, Creating More of a Live-Work-Play City
By Doreen Hemlock
In all his years living and working in Coral Gables, William Holly of Patton Real Estate Group can’t remember a time when he’s seen so much multi-story development in the city. Holly recalls years when there was one or maybe two major projects, but now there are more than half a dozen. They include what may be the city’s largest yet: The Plaza Coral Gables, set to cost almost $550 million and feature apartments, offices, retail, a hotel, townhouses and garages, all just a stroll from Miracle Mile.
“This wave of development is transformative,” says Holly, because it expands the city’s existing core of live-work-play neighborhoods, creates new ones, and knits more of those vibrant communities together. “Twenty years ago, that existed really just in downtown Coral Gables.”
Many of the projects tear down smaller, single-use structures and replace them with taller, mixed-use complexes on the same lot. New buildings typically offer ground-floor retail, with residences or offices above, plus multi-story parking. Planners hope the mixed-use hubs will lure more people to live in the neighborhood, and encourage workers and other visitors to forgo their cars when in the area. More people walking – or using local transit – to shop and eat should also keep local traffic in check.
Over the next five years, at least $1.5 billion in mixed-use projects are planned across Coral Gables, interviews with developers reveal. And that does not count some just finished residential projects, such as the Biltmore Parc condo on Valencia Ave, with 32 luxury units starting at $1.2 million more than half sold, according to Alirio Torrealba, who leads Coral Gables-based MG Developer.
But the City Beautiful is pursuing urban development in its own unique way – not like Miami’s Brickell Avenue and Downtown neighborhoods, where skyscrapers stand shoulder to shoulder and often top 70 floors. Coral Gables maintains strict codes that limit heights to 190 feet, or roughly 16 floors, and then only in buildings in its elegant Mediterranean style.
“The average building in Brickell is twice as tall as the tallest building in Coral Gables. The scale is completely different,” says Coral Gables’ director of planning Ramon Trias. What’s more, the 190-foot buildings in Coral Gables are set for commercial areas that offer varied transit options, including the central business district and on major thoroughfares such as South Dixie Highway, near Metrorail stations.
The rising live-work-play neighborhoods are attracting multinationals and other major firms who want walkability from Class-A office space without the traffic headaches of Brickell or Downtown Miami. They’re also luring empty-nesters and Millennials, who are willing to pay a premium to live in apartments or condos that allow them to stroll to shop, dine, exercise or see cultural events nearby. Retailers stand to gain, as more people nearby bring more customers night and day – without driving.
Jennifer and Kenneth Garcia embrace the live-work-play lifestyle. The couple moved to downtown Coral Gables from Michigan straight out of college a decade ago. As the area has become more urban and transit options have multiplied, they’ve given up their car. They now usually walk or bike to work, ride city trolleys or take ride-sharing services like Lyft for shorter trips, and occasionally, rent cars for longer excursions. The couple enjoys being car free and developing relationships with shopkeepers and restauranteurs in their neighborhood.
“Being small town-ish people – I’m from Kansas City and Kenneth is from Costa Rica – Coral Gables has that mid-size city character we like,” says Jennifer Garcia, on why the pair of urban planners opted against a more vertical, denser community.
While the projects don’t represent an explosion in development, they are significant for a city of some 51,000 residents. In new condos, for example, Coral Gables is “is punching above its population size,” says Peter Zalewski, founder of CraneSpotters, which focuses on pre-construction condos. In the 2011-2017 period, Cranespotters tallied 1,166 new condos proposed for the city. Still, that was just 2.5 percent of the total proposed in coastal South Florida and ranked the city No. 9 among 34 markets studied.
“It’s very balanced,” says Ron Shuffield, CEO of brokerage EWM International Realty, of the city’s development. Unlike parts of Miami-Dade County that have been overbuilt, Coral Gables has a manageable inventory of luxury condos and luxury homes, and its offices and retail space command premiums. One indicator of the city’s allure: The median price for a condo sold in the last quarter of 2017 was about $379,000, about 65 percent more than the $230,000 paid countywide, said Shuffield.
Perhaps the biggest change afoot is mixed-use development planned South Dixie Highway, aka U.S.1. Long-time Coral Gables architect Victor Dover, of Dover, Kohl & Partners Town Planning, is working on designs for the thoroughfare, where many parking lots and fences now face the street. He foresees new complexes that “are street-oriented and will bring an architectural positivity on that corridor.” That density is in line with the design of the city’s original planner George Merrick, says Dover.
“The city is allowing growth to take place in the areas where Merrick [and subsequent city planners] always envisioned denser growth, not allowing it to invade the single-family homes, to protect them from any dramatic impact, but allowing for growth where the transportation options are most plentiful,” explains Dover. “U.S.1 is congested at peak hours …Therefore, we should get on with the business of creating better spaces that can use walking, bicycles and mass transit.”
This survey of 10 major projects in Coral Gables, including the $500 million-plus Link at Douglas over the city’s edge by the Douglas Road Metrorail station. The largest project: The Plaza Coral Gables, rising on the same property where Gables planner Merrick kept his office nearly a century ago.
THE PLAZA CORAL GABLES
With an investment likely near $550 million, Mexico-linked developer Agave Ponce plans a mixed-use project spanning several blocks on Ponce de Leon Boulevard on the same property where Coral Gables planner George Merrick kept his office nearly a century ago. Merrick’s original building will be a centerpiece.
The Mediterranean-style project features a semi-circular design anchored by two Class-A office towers, each at least 12-floors high. Set further back around a central, leafy plaza will be a 14-story luxury hotel with 240 rooms, a residential tower with 136 rental units, and multi-level parking for some 2,250 vehicles. The plaza will offer mostly ground-floor retail, including food, beverage and entertainment venues. It will integrate with the public park across the street, a two-acre green space that could add cultural events to draw more families to the plaza area, said Carlos Beckmann, Agave Ponce’s director of operations.
Agave spent more than $50 million to buy the nearly seven-acre site that had been idle for years. It aims to start construction in May and finish mid-2021. The project will seek eco-friendly LEED certification.
The Agave group includes members of the family behind the Jose Cuervo spirits business in Mexico. Its real-estate portfolio includes the Class A-office building at 396 Alhambra that hosts such top multinationals as Tiffany and HBO.
CORAL GABLES CITY CENTER
Real estate heavyweights The Allen Morris Company and The Related Group are finalizing details on an estimated $250 million project behind Miracle Mile that they aim to make an icon, complete with an arch the size of France’s Arc de Triomphe. “I believe it will be the most photographed location in all of Miami. It will be so dramatic,” said Allen Morris, who calls himself “obsessive” about design and detail.
The project entails demolishing two city garages at 245 and 345 Andalusia Ave. and replacing them with ground-floor retail and more modern parking topped with an office tower and an apartment tower, each in a different Mediterranean style and, hopefully, with public “sky parks” on upper floors.
Plans call for at least 300 upscale apartments for rent, 140,000 square feet of Class A-office space, 20,000 square feet of retail (mainly in a covered arcade), and pedestrian alleyways that link to Miracle Mile. New garages will offer more than 1,300 parking spaces as well as “smart parking” system that will show available spots and allow reservations through an app.
Developers hope to break ground by early 2019. Construction should take about 30 months. The architect is John Cunningham of Zyscovich, who worked with Morris on his signature Alhambra Towers as well as other projects.
Developer NP International expects to break ground this quarter on its nearly $300 million Gables Station venture along South Dixie Highway, across from the Shops at Merrick Park and a short walk from Metrorail’s Douglas Road Station.
The residential-retail project features three 155-foot towers with roughly 440 rental apartments, 60 extended-stay hotel units, 125,000 square feet of retail space, and a central plaza. NPI tries to nurture communities It builds by creating gathering spaces through a concept it calls “Urban Living Room.” The project has received top certification from the Transit Oriented Development Institute.
Apartments at Gables Station are aimed at Millennials and others who want to live near shops and public transit, said Brent Reynolds, CEO of NP International, and is expected to include a full-service grocery store and large health-wellness center.
NP International bought the narrow, 4.3-acre site for $60.25 million from a group that considered a big-box shopping center there. The property had hosted a car dealership. Bank of the Ozarks provided a $158.4 million construction loan. Completion is expected in late 2020.
Combined with NP International’s $172 million Paseo de la Riviera project underway about two miles farther south, developer Reynolds said, “We look at these projects as the architectural landmarks that will bookend the city on the South Dixie Highway corridor.”
Across Las Olas Boulevard from the pedestrian-only Giralda Plaza, developers are putting the finishing touches on the Giralda Place office-residential-retail project. The roughly $70 million venture spans a city block and includes the addition of a nine-story complex of street-level retail, Class A office space and 33 luxury residences.
Prices for the new condo units start in the low $900,000s. Each unit features 11-foot ceilings, custom Italian cabinetry and some of the largest private terraces downtown. Condo residents also have access to a full floor for leisure facilities that include a pool, day beds and a wet bar. B+G Design of Fort Lauderdale is handling interiors for common areas. Some units have been sold to relocating New Yorkers.
Giralda Place Developers, led by Heidi Eckes-Chantre, Kim Tabet and Christopher Brown, also finished renovation on an existing seven-story office-retail complex on the east side of the property. Office-sharing chain We Work has rented multiple floors in that section, its first foray into Coral Gables. In all, the development offers 101,300 square feet of office space, plus 420 parking spaces.
Construction on Giralda Place began in April 2016. John Fullerton of the Fullerton Group Architects of Coral Gables handled design. Completion is expected mid-year on what co-developer Brown calls “one coveted address that can be enjoyed by buyers, tenants and the community.”
THE LINK AT DOUGLAS
Only its traffic circle will sit inside Coral Gables, but the transit-oriented Link at Douglas will bring some of the tallest buildings yet to the greater Gables area. Five new towers will rise at least 19 stories each – one may be 35 floors – just beyond the city’s edge in unincorporated Miami-Dade County.
A public-private partnership, The Link is slated for 7.5 acres of county-owned land at the Metrorail’s Douglas Road station. The site is now a parking lot for Metrorail riders. Development partners Adler Group and 13th Floor Investments have a lease on the land for 90 years. They’ll add multi-level parking and upgrade the station.
The $500 million-plus project also features 1,375 rental units, including small apartments for workforce housing; 280,000 square feet of office space; and 60,000 square feet of retail. Plans call for big screens to show public transit schedules, plus areas for bike rentals, ride-sharing and autonomous vehicle drop-offs. “We want to be a transit-oriented development of the future,” said Aaron Stolear, an executive with 13th Floor Investments.
Developers aim to break ground this year and finish by 2025, working with Corwil Architects of Coral Gables. “What makes a project of this scale viable is the structure of the public-private partnership,” said Stolear. The county gets a Metrorail ridership boost and a percentage of rents. Developers get to build without buying the land.
The office-condo building in downtown Coral Gables called Ofizzina is set for completion in mid-2018, and it’s already more than 80 percent sold, according to Miami-based developer TSG Group.
The 16-story project offers 54 Class-A offices spanning some 97,000 square feet, plus three retail spaces on the ground floor and more than 300 parking spots. Investors have purchased offices ranging from about 700 square feet to entire floors of some 9,000 square feet. Prices have topped $750 per square foot. Among those buying: banks and wealth-management firms, including some from Europe and South America.
“Buyers can either purchase a space for end use or opt to lease that office,” said Camilo Lopez, CEO and managing partner of TSG Group.
TSG and partner BF Group co-developed the office-condo with amenities often found in residential condos, including a rooftop lounge, fitness room, espresso bar and charging stations for electric cars. They worked with Corwil Architects of Coral Gables, contractors Beauchamp-Ocean, plus New York-based interior designer MKDA, which has a Miami office.
An affiliate of TSG Group paid nearly $7 million for the roughly 32,000 square foot property in 2014. Developers later secured a $10.5 million construction loan from an offshore entity. They broke ground in September 2016. Selling out the development should bring in some $80 million, TSG said.
Miami-based Roger Development Group plans to break ground this year on its 10-story boutique condo Laguna House at 4220 Laguna Street, directly across from the Shops at Merrick Park. The mixed-use project features 13 upscale condos and three street-level retail spaces. Each floor is set to include two residences averaging 3,000 square feet each, while the penthouse spans a full floor. Units are priced from about $1.5 million to $2.2 million and the penthouse at $3.2 million, said Oscar Roger Jr., who runs the family business alongside his father.
The roughly $15 million project, designed by architect PGAL, is slated to take 18 months to build.
The company also is working in Coral Gables on the residential Villa Biltmore project at 1228 Anastasia Ave. on the Biltmore golf course, which Roger calls the “the only multi-family project allowed on the golf course in that area.” The venture includes 11 luxury condos in two 3-story buildings, with one or two units per floor. Each unit averages about 2,800 square feet and has private elevator access. Each also comes with three parking spaces, “a huge plus and very rare” amenity among luxury condos, said Roger Jr.
Also designed by PGAL architects, the $15 million Villa Biltmore project likely will break ground by mid-year and be completed by late 2019, according to Roger Jr.
Coral Gables-based developer The Astor Companies expects completion late this year on Merrick Manor, a 10-story Mediterranean-style building with 227 upscale condominiums and 19,000 square feet of ground-floor retail at 301 Altara Avenue by the Shops at Merrick Park.
More than 55 percent of the project’s one- to five-bedroom units already are under contract, with the remaining residences priced from the $500,000s to $2.5 million, the company announced.
Led by founder, president and CEO Henry Torres, Astor broke ground on Merrick Manor in January 2017 and topped off construction ahead of schedule in October despite Hurricane Irma. Jaxi Builders is general contractor. Florida Community Bank provided a $59 million construction loan.
Among amenities, Merrick Manor will offer 24-hour valet parking, 24-hour front-desk service, a business center, fourth-floor club lounge, fitness center, and a pool with barbecue facilities. Building architects are Behar Font & Partners, with landscape design from Witkin Hults Design Group.
Astor has opened a sales gallery at 4200 Laguna Street showcasing a one-bedroom unit with designs from Interiors by Steven G. The pitch to buyers: Live near shops, cafes, restaurants, wine bars, art galleries, and theaters for a lifestyle reminiscent of European villages.
Said Torres: “We are seeing a lot of interest from the Northeast, and the brutal winter up there will only intensify demand.”
PASEO DE LA RIVIERA
On the site of a former Holiday Inn hotel on South Dixie Highway across from the University of Miami, developer NP International broke ground this January on its $172 million Paseo de la Riviera project, designed to feature two towers around a public plaza with restaurants, shops and art.
The much-discussed venture highlights a 10-story hotel with 241 rooms, a 12-story residential building with 204 apartments above retail and parking, some 34,000 square feet of commercial space and 636 parking spaces. Apartments are expected to rent for about $3 per square foot, according to Brent Reynolds, NP International’s chief executive officer.
Offering greater density than previously allowed in the area, Paseo de la Riviera apartments aim to appeal to urban professionals, who seek the convenience of shopping, entertainment and other amenities within walking distance. The project also will link to a pedestrian bridge across South Dixie Highway to access to the nearby Metrorail station as well as city and university trolley systems.
Developers bought the 2.66-acre property for $44 million in 2016. Completion is expected in early 2020.
With offices in Minnesota, Miami, New York and Costa Rica, NP International is a fourth-generation family business. Its mixed-use projects also include a 64-acre venture at the University of Florida that features a transit hub, parks, plus biking and walking paths.
Coral Gables-based developer Codina Partners and its affiliate CC Residential are close to finishing a luxury apartment-office project at 2020 Salzedo in downtown Coral Gables, a block from Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The venture features a 16-story residential tower with 213 luxury rentals, a seven-floor parking garage with 566 spaces, plus offices and retail in a six-floor building.
The Class-A office space – nearly 50,000 square feet – is almost fully leased. Tenants include architectural design firm HKS, tech-enabled learning firm Ilumno Management, law firm Stearns Weaver, plus the headquarters for Codina Partners and its affiliates. Blanca Commercial Real Estate is the exclusive leasing agent for the offices.
BC Architects of Coral Gables designed the Mediterranean-style tower. Facchina Construction is general contractor. Regions Bank provided a $53.5 million loan. Codina paid more than $6 million for parcels to assemble the roughly 1.6-acre property in the city core, executives confirmed.
Developers broke ground on the project in April 2015 and expect completion by mid-2018. One retail tenant drawing buzz: pastry chef Antonio Bachour. He plans a bakery, restaurant and pastry academy in 5,200 square feet of street-level space, which includes a courtyard. The locale will be the first in Florida for the noted Puerto Rican chef who has been working at the St. Regis Bal Harbour resort.