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CAPUT: Opus

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South Florida Business Journal

EXCLUSIVE REPORTS

From the March 19, 2004 print edition

New Yorkers hope to begin Opus in Miami

Paola Iuspa-Abbott

A New York investment group said it plans to build a 57-story tower on a parcel that could be key to depressing the elevated I-395 expressway and to plans to enhance Biscayne Boulevard.

Avra Jain represents a group of New York investors who own several parcels around the performing arts center now under construction in downtown Miami. Jain's group hired Miami architecture firm Arquitectonica to mastermind Opus, a 408-unit residential tower with about 17,000 square feet of retail and office space and a 534-space parking garage.

The site is between Northeast 12th and 13th streets on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard, immediately north of I-395.

The group bought the 35,582-square-foot parcel in April 2002 for about $4.4 million, Miami-Dade property records show. The developer is Hyperion Development Group, developer of Blue, under construction, and Mist, in planning, both on Biscayne Boulevard.

Jain was one of the first investors to invest in the area as soon as plans to build the two-hall arts complex began shaping up, after more than a decade of planning.

Miami city planners are reviewing Jain's architectural renderings for a slim, cylinder-shaped high-rise to climb over the nearly two-story-high causeway and the arts center on Biscayne and 14th Street. Jain's group is in the process of applying for a major use special permit, the first step to develop the site. That permit is required for a project with more than 200 units and can take six months.

Some area property owners said they were glad to hear the dirt, now used as parking for people working on the arts center construction site, is in the process of being developed.

"She called me the other day to tell me about her plans," said Eleanor Kluger, a property owner and community activist. "Not many people know about it. But I guess she wanted to let me know that she is serious about doing something with her property."

A tower in the ointment

If the project moves forward, it could jeopardize a proposal to bring I-395 underground. The parcel Jain owns is land the government would need to bury the highway.

The overpass redesign would eliminate a perceived barrier between the performing arts center - north of the causeway - and the AmericanAirlines Arena and Bicentennial Park - south of the overpass. People in favor of the underground design say it would promote pedestrian traffic, inviting patrons to walk from the arts center to Bayside Marketplace for dinning or shopping.

But Jain's site is critical in to a recessed I-395. Without it, years of planning would go down the drain, said Jorge Espinel, who teaches architecture and urban design at Florida Atlantic University and Broward Community College. For the last couple of years, he has led a grassroots group pushing to bring down the causeway to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

"If the building is built," Espinel said, "it will be the end of all we have worked for."

Jain did not return several phone calls to her Miami home.

Earlier this year, the county and the city asked the Florida Department of Transportation to resume a 1994 study to improve the traffic flow on the expressway linking the mainland to Miami Beach. The state is also expected to consider different alternatives to re-design the causeway.

Some elected officials call recessing "open-cut." If approved, it could take 20 years for the project to materialize.

The Department of Transportation is responsible for securing land needed to move I-395 north. But until a feasibility study is complete, the state won't know what parcels it must buy, said Gary Donn, the department's director of planning.

"We could go ahead with an advance right-of-way acquisition," he said. "But we don't want to do that unless we are absolutely sure what parcels we need."

If it had to, the state would use the eminent domain process to obtain the land, Donn said.

If Jain's group gets the major use special permit, the parcel's value will immediately increase, said J. Mark Quinlivan, a real estate appraiser with Quinlivan Appraisal. Land on the boulevard recently sold for about $200 a square foot, he said. Jain paid $123 a square foot, two years ago.

"The longer the state waits to acquire the land," Espinel said, "the more expensive it will get. After a while, it may not be financially feasible anymore."

Land is getting more expensive because developers and investors who are fueling redevelopment are also driving up prices. At least three luxury projects have been nnounced along on Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami: the 516-unit Mist, at 824 Biscayne Blvd.; the 200-unit Ten Museum Park, at 10th Street; and the 500-unit 900 Biscayne by developer Pedro Martin, at Ninth Street.

E-mail Miami-Dade real estate/international business writer Paola Iuspa-Abbott at [email protected]

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What a tough decision! Both projects would greatly help in the redevelopment of that area. But I think that the 395 project would be better. Maybe they can bury it elsewhere?

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Well it wouldn't quite be the big dig. Maybe the mini-dig. What the interstates did to Overtown is quite sad. They completed destroyed a once vibrant black neighborhood.

That being said, it is a tough deciscion. The roadway will likely be rebuilt no matter what happens. The DOT wants to rebuild it at twice the height. That idea has grown on me recently.

I vote for the road if no other work-around can be found. There's plenty of condos going up as it is. But it does sound exciting.

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I wonder if it's the same parcel as one mentioned a year or so ago...

I know she owns a few in that area. From what I've read she's a good person at heart and not your normal money hungry developer, so let's hope a solution that works for everybody can be found.

WHITNEY EYEING MIAMI BRANCH?

The Whitney Museum of American Art is exploring the possibility of a Miami branch, according to a report by Lydia Martin in the Miami Herald. Whitney chief Max Anderson and architect Richard Gluckman visited the Big Orange two weeks ago to check out a 15,000-square-foot warehouse in the city's projected new downtown arts district. The space is owned by Miami real estate developer Avra Jain, whose partners include Whitney Chairman's Council member Dina Reis. A Whitney Miami would need $3 million for renovation and perhaps another $500,000-$700,000 annually from the city. The museum said that it was too early to comment.

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The art museum sounds interesting and would be a great asset for Miami. As far as I-395 goes, I think its improvements are important to the revitalization of Overtown and the city as a whole. Hopefully some funding can be found for its improvements soon.

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A proposed 58-story condominium planned next to the Performing Arts Center could cause problems for the facility, as well as get in the way of highway improvements.

BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ AND CHARLES RABIN

[email protected]

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz looks at the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and Interstate 395 and envisions an entirely different highway, one that better lets in the sun and unites, not divides, downtown.

Miami's arts community gazes hopefully at the same intersection, waiting for the long-delayed opening of the Performing Arts Center, replete with world-class events and bay vistas for its attendees.

Sandwiched between these two visions -- and now threatening to complicate both of them -- is the proposed site for a 58-story condo.

Dubbed Opus Towers, the 408-unit complex would sit on a small, triangle-shaped piece of property adjacent to Interstate 395. State transportation engineers say its presence would derail any effort to create the kind of highway Diaz wants.

The building would also block part of the view from the Performing Arts Center.

The project could receive final approval from the Miami City Commission today.

Opus developer Paul Murphy has future plans to build three other high-rise towers in the same vicinity, creating what Performing Arts Center leaders fear will be a virtual fence of concrete that replaces views of Biscayne Bay and the downtown skyline with condominium parking garages.

Murphy said he would like to preserve some of the current view for arts center patrons, but to do so would require some sort of land swap with Miami-Dade County, which also owns property in the area that is slated to become a park.

''It's a simple solution,'' Murphy said. ``If everybody would stop crying.''

A disappointed Parker Thomson, chairman of the Performing Arts Center Trust, cited Opus as just one more example of what he believes is the city's widespread overdevelopment. ''Typical Miami,'' Thomson said.

If the city approves Opus, FDOT says it could still use its governmental power of eminent domain to force the developer to sell, thereby preserving the Interstate 395 overhaul. But getting land that way isn't cheap, meaning taxpayers would foot the bill for eminent domain court proceedings and other expenses.

''We may end up having to pay a lot more for that property, and demolishing whatever's been built so far,'' said Javier Rodriguez, project director for FDOT. ``That's what we're trying to avoid.''

FDOT is expected to ask the Miami City Commission today to delay a final decision so the state can try to negotiate a purchase of the all-important piece of land.

Last year, local architect and activist Jorge Espinel urged FDOT to begin buying this property and others necessary for a new, improved 395 as soon as possible. Rodriguez acknowledged that prices in the area are ''skyrocketing'' but said his agency didn't want to start snatching up land until there was consensus on how exactly Interstate 395 will be rebuilt.

An agreement on how to design the highway should be reached within six months, Rodriguez said, enabling FDOT to now look more seriously at the land it will need.

Diaz said the current version of Interstate 395 has discouraged redevelopment in parts of downtown, and needs to be replaced. ''If you've driven under 395 in the Overtown area, you can see the tremendous adverse impact,'' Diaz said. ``It makes a huge difference if we can come up with something we're happy with and the neighbors are happy with.''

The mayor said he understands the Opus developer has property rights, but is also aware of FDOT's concerns, and hopes any conflicts can be resolved.

The two main options for Interstate 395 are raising its height to allow more sunlight or replacing it with a below-ground, open-air expressway.

Several Miami leaders predicted the city commission today will postpone final approval of Opus in hopes that FDOT can convince the developer to sell.

''It's very far from a done deal,'' Miami City Manager Joe Arriola said of the proposed condo. ``Contrary to what some people think, we're not all about development, we're also about quality of life.''

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