Should the City of Miami Halt Approvals?

Leadership void shown in fall of condo market

BY ANA MENENDEZ
amenendez@MiamiHerald.com

Luxury high-rise developers who last year flooded the market with irrational exuberance have a quieter pitch these days: “Never mind.”

Westside Lofts? Never mind. Miami Flatiron? Sorry. ICE2 — with its two-level double height flow-through lofts and European kitchen cabinetry? Oops.

And those families who were in the way of the phantom behemoths? That’s really too bad.

Several were pushed out last year from Bayfront Manor on Northeast 31st Street to make way for ICE2. They were working people paying $700 to $1,400 a month for their apartments. Now they’re gone and so, apparently, is ICE2.

The number for the sales center listed on the website has been disconnected.

”My understanding is that the projects are canceled,” said broker Nate Cohen, who once was involved with the original project.

UNGLAMOROUS TRUTH

The fantasy of high living has given way to the unglamorous truth of life in a subtropical, hurricane-lashed coastal republic. Now, as project after project fades away, the real costs of so many lofts in the air is emerging, and in few places are they more poignantly illustrated than at the Cameo Apartments on Northeast Fourth Avenue.

Sunday, The Miami Herald published a stunning series of photographs and a report that sadly detailed what happens when bad real estate happens to good people. It should be required reading for every city planner.

In June, people living in the Cameo were pushed out by plans for a glitzy new development called Portico. As Amy Driscoll and Lisa Arthur reported Sunday, the people are gone, but the Cameo still stands.

The original plans apparently went bust, and the building has new tenants: vagrants and addicts shown shooting up and dozing in photographs by Nuri Vallbona and Carl Juste.

”It’s a very difficult market right now,” one of the Cameo’s partners told The Miami Herald.

”Difficult market” is an understatement to the hundreds who have been displaced by the frenzied greed that has turned downtown Miami into a construction crane graveyard.

When the boom began, the few skeptics were young, idealistic activists who predicted that working families would be devastated by runaway development in Edgewater, Wynwood and other downtown neighborhoods.

Today, while developers shrug about a ”normal downturn,” addicts shoot it up in their failed projects. And those young activists sound more and more like prophets.

MORE FORECLOSURES

The Cameo Apartments are a stark and heartbreaking reminder of the boom’s effect on the poor. But the middle class also is ending up on the wrong side of the speculative market.

Foreclosures, by almost any measure, are up in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Some estimates suggest that more than 16,000 properties in Florida are in danger of foreclosure. While some dispute the higher figures, the numbers make it clear that years of rising property values combined with high insurance rates are beginning to hit average buyers hard.

Through it all, the city of Miami has sat perched like the Cheshire cat on the bay. The ultimate municipal dream-makers, led by Mayor Manny Diaz, helped orchestrate and direct much of the boom.

What do they have to show for it? On the way to being a world-class city, Miami finds itself once again having to dip into reserves to balance the budget.

The poor are on the street, developers are in retreat, but the City Commission seems to be operating on a weird auto-pilot.

Prudence would suggest holding off on new building approvals at least until Miami 21, the city’s new development plan, is unveiled. But commissioners just can’t help themselves. Last week, over neighbors’ objections, they voted 4 to 1 to approve plans for yet another paper giant on the bay — this one on land being sold by The Miami Herald’s parent company.

Leadership? Never mind.

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