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Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
March 2017

SoLēMia work proceeds as adjoining towers get a new road and clubhouse

IPix_MarkSell_3-17t’s easy to miss as you whiz past all the SoLēMia construction down NE 151st Street before you have to slow down for the school zone on the way to ATM High, David Lawrence Elementary, or FIU.

But the entrance road to the south just moved east two blocks on Valentine’s Day. That’s a gift of sorts to the 1000 or so people living at One Fifty One at Biscayne from the developers of SoLēMia, the burgeoning $4 billion project underway on the 183 acres just to the south.

Those 25-story twin towers, built in 2007, started the whole business that wound up as SoLēMia, where $150 million in infrastructure work is well along, the Warren Henry dealership is about to rise, and an April groundbreaking is in the wings for the first SoLēMia residential tower.

The new road should eventually also stand as a functioning entrance to SoLēMia, the partnership between the real estate dynasties of Turnberry Associates (Aventura since 1967, founded by Donald Soffer, age 84, and now run by children Jeffrey and Jacqueline) and the LeFrak Organization (New York since 1905 and now Miami run by Richard LeFrak, age 71, and sons Harrison and Jeffrey).

Work has accelerated on the infrastructure since the SoLēMia developers, known as Oleta Partners, closed on a $66.5 million refinancing loan from HSBC in October to move along SoLēMia’s foundation work for its planned 1 million square feet of commercial space, 37 acres of parks, two swimmable lagoons, and 4171 parking spaces.

Infrastructure work is a challenge on top of a former landfill and toxic SuperFund site, but the LeFrak Organization has established a specialty in difficult projects, such as their 600-acre development built on an old rail yard in Jersey City’s waterfront.

That New Jersey project no doubt attracted the attention of fellow New York real estate scion Donald Trump (Forbes estimated net worth: $4.5 billion), a friend, contemporary, and golfing partner of Richard LeFrak (Bloomberg estimated net worth: $7.1 billion). Their family ties go back at least two generations, to the days when the businesses were run by Fred Trump and Sam LeFrak.

If you missed the news amid President Trump’s Wild Ride, shortly before his inauguration the president-elect named LeFrak and Steven Roth, chairman of Vornado Realty Trust of New York (one of the city’s largest landlords) and another of Trump’s longtime friends, to head his advisory council on the nation’s infrastructure repair.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given U.S. infrastructure a D+ grade and reported that the country needs $3.6 trillion in infrastructure investment by 2020. That’s more than 20 percent of our $19 trillion GDP. Trump has called for a $1 billion plan.

LeFrak appeared on CNBC in January and said that he anticipated pushback from fiscal hawks in the Republican Congress, and that $550 million would be more reasonable. No committee has been formed as of this writing, and LeFrak has stopped commenting.

(Note to President Trump: There’s a shortage of civil engineers. Immigrants, anyone?)

Back at SoLēMia, that aforementioned new entrance road is begging for a traffic light. The county has to approve it. A light wasn’t possible on the previous road because it was less than 600 feet east of Biscayne Boulevard, and therefore too close.

While the new location is a big help at rush hour, the school-time line can get so bad the only option is to turn right, hang a U-turn, and meditate while joining the four-block line to cross Biscayne Boulevard. Landscapers are busy at work, and the entrance should look prettier within 60 days.

As noted, roughly a thousand people already live in One Fifty One’s 373 units in the twin towers, yours truly among them. When SoLēMia starts filling in its residential units, it will need that traffic light even more. It’s still not clear exactly how the spine road will come out on the other end, as gnarly land issues have gummed up plans for the exit at the corner of NE 143rd Street, occupied by the post office and hemmed in by Target to the south and Costco to the north in the City of North Miami Beach.

SoLēMia plans 4390 residential units, which likely means more than 10,000 people, or a population equivalent to that of Miami Shores right now. Thanks to fill dirt, the grade for the project is roughly 20 feet above sea level, which puts it in North Miami’s bonnie highlands, a useful selling point as huge ice shelves threaten to break off from Antarctica. The residential part of SoLēMia is scheduled to go up on 55 acres the city sold to the developers in late 2015 for $22 million.

Closer to Biscayne Boulevard, the Warren Henry Land Rover-Jaguar-Infiniti dealership will go vertical this year on SoLēMia property on the south side of 151st Street. Building permits have been pulled, and an elevator shaft is in the works. Word has it that the dealership will be roughly five stories tall, about the same height as the garage for One Fifty One at Biscayne.

Ten years after its construction, One Fifty One at Biscayne is finally getting its clubhouse, complete with a pool (depth: five feet), expanded gym, single tennis court, common area, and a management office. That effort has taken a decade, as condo buyers bought up the units, permitting a viable condo association to pay for it after expectations were repeatedly thwarted through changing developers and the economic recession. The clubhouse is expected to open this month.

The 18-story, 196-unit luxury tower at SoLēMia will house units ranging from studios to three bedrooms, with rental rates estimated around $2 a square foot, which translates to $2000 a month for 1000 square feet. At One Fifty One, a 1700-square-foot, two-bedroom runs a bit less per square foot, or about $2100 to $2600, depending on the floor.

All this stands to bump up North Miami’s income profile over the next decade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, North Miami’s median family income is $36,537, compared to $43,129 for Miami-Dade and $47,507 for the state. More than 53 percent of its households rent rather than own, compared with 46 percent in Miami-Dade and 36 percent in the state.

At SoLēMia, nearly all the lakes -- or marl pits, if you like -- have been filled, and the grading is almost complete. The residential properties will be east of the spine road, and the commercial properties west of it, where the water used to be.

As of this writing, no commercial leases have been signed, although SoLēMia representatives say negotiations are ongoing over a number of fronts.

 

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