The Biscayne Times

May 25th
A City in Three Parts PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
November 2016

SoLēMia enters next phase, downtown moves along, and North Miami has Haiti’s back

HPix_MarkSell_11-16erewith, updates and thoughts on SoLēMia, downtown North Miami, and Hurricane Matthew relief:

SoLēMia: If you’re among the many thousands who drive, cycle, walk, or run east along 151st Street toward David Lawrence K-8, ATM High, FIU, or those two fine nature trails at the end of the line, you probably haven’t stopped to take a hard look behind those construction curtains just to your south.

The accompanying picture tells the story. For one thing, six lakes have disappeared in the past few months from the 183-acre former Superfund landfill that will eventually constitute the $4 billion SoLēMia project, with 4000-plus housing units, a million square feet of retail, and perhaps 10,000 additional souls.

And poof! Presto! Gone is that vaguely bucolic but greenish lake of unknown chemical composition between Biscayne Commons and the road to the One Fifty One condo. The Muscovy ducks have long since fled, along with the white egrets, and we imagine that the hearty fish who once called it home are now swimming about somewhere in piscine heaven.

SoLēMia held a local-preference hiring meeting as it gets ready to build upward. Just south of 151st, as you come up to the towers, all is on target to build a Warren Henry auto dealership (at press time no rendering is available; nor has the planning commission seen any rendering yet), starting in the first quarter.

From above, as the photo illustrates, the landscape looks dry, flat, and graded -- infrastructure-ready for development, to all appearances. The Caterpillars, tractors, and cranes have evidently finished their work. This is a far different picture from just six months ago.

SoLēMia -- the megaproject developed by the joint real estate dynasties of Aventura’s Soffer family and the LeFraks of New York -- says work is expected to start on “vertical development” in the first quarter of 2017 for the first 194-unit, 18-story residential tower, as well as the auto dealership.

That would indicate a likely completion date in the second half of 2018, with tax revenues for North Miami making a difference in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, if not before. The idea of retail is well along, with a dine-in cinema, bowling alley, and much else already on the website, though there haven’t been tenant announcements yet.

Downtown: Two miles or so to the southwest, downtown North Miami chugs along, with the full opening in October of the 210-seat Café Crème at MOCA Plaza. It has its beer and wine license now, and co-owner Cory Finot expects a full liquor license within the next month or so.

Those vintage furniture galleries along the north side of 125th Street continue to present high-end offerings to the public, especially during the evening art walks that take place the last Friday of the month, when we get to see works from local artists and sample food and drink. These Friday nights have become true gallery events, with both the outdoor concerts at Jazz at MOCA and live music at the Luna Star Café across the street.

It seems one can only be bullish long term, thanks to raw numbers. Rents in the Design District easily run $150 a square foot. In North Miami, those rents are a sixth as much. With limited land in such easy proximity to the beaches and I-95, where else can money go?

In the last month, restaurateurs and craft beer establishments have come calling on the city, but don’t hold your breath for an expanded restaurant row right away. There’s the little matter of permitting.

Opening a restaurant in downtown North Miami from scratch requires permitting through the Department of Environmental Resource Management. And that’s with sewers. Café Crème was lucky because its site used to be a Starbuck’s, thus sparing it some environmental permitting hurdles. For now, Café Crème, MOCA Café (are you guys serving coffee yet? Come on, just do it!), Billy’s Pub Too, and Luna Star Café have the downtown North Miami evening market to themselves.

Compare that with downtown Miami Shores, where the prospect of long-awaited restaurants faces an even tougher slog. Downtown sewers have been on the agenda there for nearly 30 years, and now, at last, it is all coming to an end, later than expected, with a final hookup expected sometime around the holidays. Even without sewers, Jesse Walters of the Greater Miami Shores Chamber of Commerce says the properties there are 92 percent rented out. That leaves little room for restaurants for now, and that was the main reason sewers were on offer.

“We now have a downtown almost fully leased with professional offices,” says Walters. “But without the restaurants, it’s bittersweet.” But in Miami-Dade, no Pyrrhic victory lasts forever.

In the meantime, for BT readers seeking low-key, organic neighborhood nightlife, that leaves North Miami.

Hurricanes and Haiti: Hurricane Matthew was a near miss as it blew by on October 6, but the City of North Miami was ready with sandbags for pickup. Mayor Smith Joseph, city manager Larry Spring, and assistant police chiefs Robert Bage and Neal Cuevas went door to door with sandbags and checking in on the elderly, while Mayor Joseph went on Creole radio.

That’s public service at its best, even if the storm missed us -- but not Haiti.

Speaking of Haiti: Mayor Joseph, Vice Mayor Alix Desulme, and Police Chief Gary Eugene visited Haiti the following week. North Miami set up three locations for relief supplies (rice, beans, and first-aid kits are welcome -- but no liquids, please) at Celestin Community Center, Griffing Park, and the North Miami Police Department.

Question: How do you help Haiti without flushing your money down the toilet?

One can’t forget the 2010 Haitian earthquake, with 220,000 Haitians dead, 300,000 injured, a third of the nation of 10 million affected, and hundreds of millions of aid dollars wasted. North Miami’s hands were hardly clean. Thanks to its mayor, it sat on $100,000 for a year before the Red Cross finally got most of it as promised.

For Hurricane Matthew, the death toll is well over 1000, with cholera and smashed hospitals on the southwest coast only deepening the misery.

“This is survival,” says Desulme. “Short term, it’s a question of getting food and aid to people in need. Then shelter.”

What to do? Short of your house of worship, consider the South Florida Haiti Relief Group, led by county commission chairman Jean Monestime and supported by a host of other officials, including North Miami Councilwoman Carol Keys. The contribution goes through Sant La, a Haitian neighborhood center that serves as fiscal agent. Website: Cross your fingers that your aid moves fast.


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