The Scales of Urban Development

Miami Just Doesn’t Compare

Let’s consider the composition of Miami’s construction boom. Since 2003 the level of construction activity has been staggering. As one might expect from an urban boom, many of the projects have been sleek high rises, but contrary to what is normal, they are, for the most part, residential. When I say “normal”, I’m thinking of the type of development that is to be expected within the framework of a typical urban core. Take, for example, Denver. Of the tallest fifty buildings in the Rocky Mountain metropolis’ urban core, only seven are residential–the tallest being the Brooks Tower at 420 ft. Let’s take it a bit farther west, the Pacific Northwest to be exact. In Seattle, there are also seven residential buildings among the tallest fifty towers. Could I be cherry picking my examples here? Let’s go east. In Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, one-fifth of the tallest fifty towers in and around the urban core are residential. For all three of the aforementioned cities, office is the dominant use among the tallest fifty. Now, let’s consider the anomalous Magic City. Of Miami’s tallest fifty towers, twenty-seven of them are residential–this includes only occupied buildings not the numerous residential developments still under construction.

How the Scales Have Shifted

If there was a norm in the high density urban development realm and office was its name, it’s been crashed in Miami. Could there be balance in this type of development? If balance is measured relative to building-use, then Denver, Seattle, and Philadelphia are clearly tilted in favor of office in the development-use scale. Miami’s urban core, long overlooked by the city’s inhabitants as a hub of hectic, yet transient, day time activity, is evolving into a livable and expansive urban core. Let’s consider how it has changed.

During the 1970’s Miami’s downtown was not impressive. The hallmark of the skyline was One Biscayne Tower with the Sun Trust building running a close second. The skyline had only seven office/hotel towers that were over 90m in height:

Office/Hotel Development (1970’s)

  1. One Biscayne Tower (150m) 1973
  2. Sun Trust Tower (114m) 1973
  3. Courthouse Tower 1974
  4. 1401 Brickell Office Tower 1973
  5. Biscayne Bay Marriot 101m 1979
  6. Radisson Hotel Miami 90m 1978
  7. Doubletree Biscayne Bay 111m 1978

During roughly the same period of time there were six major residential high rises constructed.

High Density Residential Development (1970’s)

  1. Doubletree Biscayne Bay 111m 1978
  2. Plaza Venetia 101m 1979
  3. Brickell Bay Club 87m 1974
  4. Palm Bay Club Towers 85m 1972
  5. Brickell Place A, B, D 1975
  6. Brickell Harbor 1974

The aforementioned thirteen buildings were, at the time, Miami’s tallest. You can see that there is a relative balance between high density residential and office development.

Miami would have to grapple with social ailments of epic proportions during the 1980’s; a wave of refugees, unprecedented levels of drug trafficking, and a violent crime wave. Yet, the skyline transformed. Impressive office buildings sprung out of the social dilemma–and Brickell made a name for itself:

Office/Hotel development (1980’s)

  1. Wachovia Financial Center (233 m) 1984
  2. Bank of America Tower (191 m) 1986
  3. Stephen P. Clark Center (155m) 1985
  4. Miami Center (148m)1983
  5. 701 Brickell Avenue (137m) 1986
  6. Courthouse Center (123m) 1986
  7. Museum Tower (115m) 1986
  8. 1221 Brickell (111m) 1986
  9. One Brickell Square (100m) 1985
  10. Brickell Bayview Center (100m) 1986
  11. Colonial Bank Center 1982
  12. Banco Industrial de Venezuela 1985
  13. 800 Brickell Ave 1981
  14. Baypoint Office Tower 1981
  15. Hotel Intercontinental 112m 1982
  16. Clarion Hotel and Suites 1983

Brickell’s business district formed during this time. The CBD saw the emergence of the Wachovia (formerly First Union) and Bank of America (formerly Centrust) towers. They would, for almost two decades, serve as the hallmarks of Miami’s skyline. On the residential side of the coin, Brickell saw pronounced growth and there wasn’t a large gap between office and residential construction. Still, office development predominated.

The 1990’s would shift little weight to the office side of the development scale. Instead it ushered in a new era of truly tall residential towers with the Bristol and Santa Maria (courtesy of Ugo Colombo). The construction activity tended to be Brickell-centric.

High Density Residential Development (1990’s)

Santa Maria 159m 1997
2 Tequesta Point 125m 1999
Oakwood 116m 1998
Bristol 113m 1993
Fortune House 93m 1998
1 Tequesta Point 1995
Corviosier Courts 1997

The 21st Century and a Miami’s Urban Laboratory

Incredibly, after the 1990’s rise in residential construction and a stagnant office sector, one might have thought that the next surge would be office. Few could possibly have expected that the nineties would set the stage for a construction surge that would drastically tip the scales of development in favor of residential and make 21st Century Miami an experiment in urbanism.

To be continued…

Post Script: The sources used to compare Denver, Philly, and Seattle to Miami are Emporis and Skyscraperpage.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Scales of Urban Development

  1. FrenchyMiami

    Its only the beginning for offices…

    If people want to live there companies will definitely go there and get good labour cheaper than in NY both in rents and salaries.

    It makes sense econonomically

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  2. it does make economic sense, but the the local workforce is perceived to be less attractive in the sense that higher education in NYC and many other major metropolitan areas of the country is superior to that of South FLA. Although the status quo is improving, it remains a draw back. Also, many of our city’s most qualified and educated young professionals are being lured out of Miami by tantalizing job offers and lower costs of living. There needs to be higher salaries to compensate. A boost in Class A office development would boost job creation and reduce the brain drain. I, too, anticipate a pick up in the office market. In fact, it’s already starting to happen.

  3. FrenchyMiami

    This is going to change once people who bought in miami….start living in miami .. .they have education and are betting on miami growth …

  4. Demographics have and will continue to increase in affluence. No doubt about that.

  5. Kevin

    Well what about the office development already underway in the CBD and Brickell- 1450 Brickell (with UBS full tenant), the Brickell Financial Center, and Met2? These have already begun the new office trend under construction amongst many others.

  6. You’re right Kev. But before we look at the pick up in the office market, it’s important to see the huge imbalance in favor of the residential side. That’s what I’m going to focus on in the 2nd installment of this post.

  7. Well the idea i think is that much luxury residential space has actually been sold to executives from other countries. So those ballers won’t need office space here. Unless they were planning to flip the properties to people that actually live here. Post2 should be interesting.

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