A Miami River development site with an asking price reminiscent of the housing-boom era is under contract.
The Mahi Shrine Auditorium, which occupies a 9.96-acre parcel, has a buyer despite its hefty $32 million price tag. The seller, Mahi Shrine Holding Corp., was asking $3.2 million per acre
The buyer is an investment group led by Coral Gables-based Hellinger & Penabad, headed by Andrew Hellinger and Coralee Penabad.
Hellinger confirmed the deal but declined to disclose the contract price. Penabad said the price “is based upon the development rights and potential on that parcel.”
The site is suitable for commercial and residential use.
Miami developer Michael Swerdlow said he is talking to Hellinger about “possibly” becoming a partner in the transaction.
“I am still thinking it over,” Swerdlow said.
If it goes through, the pricey land deal could signal the beginning of a revival of riverfront properties in Miami.
During the hot residential construction market of the mid 2000s, some parcels sold for up to $3 million an acre, said real estate broker Adiba Michelle Ash, who is not involved in the deal. When the economy and real estate markets collapsed, many sites ended up in foreclosure after buyers couldn’t develop the properties and defaulted on acquisition loans.
Some distressed properties are back on the market and selling for about $1 million per acre, according to Ash, president of Ash Property Group. The most recent sale of a distressed Miami River property was the $6.6 million purchase of the former Merrill Stevens Dry Dock property in July, she said. The 6.8-acre site is zoned for marine use and will be repositioned as a dry storage and boat yard for luxury yachts.
Although Ash knew the Mahi property was on the market, she said she “didn’t focus on it because the asking price was too high.”
In 2005, the site received city approval for one 35-story tower and two 34-story condo towers totaling 986 units. The project, to be called Miami RiverTown, was to include office and retail space. But the project was never built.
The deal was contingent on the out-of-state buyer receiving various local and federal approvals. The Federal Aviation Administration rejected the high-rise plans, said Horacio Stuart Aguirre, chairman of the Miami River Commission.
“The FAA killed the project,” said Aguirre, president of H.S. Aguirre & Associates, a commercial real estate firm in Miami.
The Miami city permit expired and the buyer will need to obtain new approvals based on the city’s new zoning code, Miami 21, said John Borsa, Mahi Shrine Holding business manager. He declined further comment.
“This is a 10-acre site that is a blank canvas in a district that needs a lot of development,” said Hellinger, who during the real estate boom ran the Miami operation of Leviev Boymelgreen, a New York development firm that was eventually dismantled. New York real estate developer Shaya Boymelgreen had the North River Drive property under contract for $37 million in 2007 but the deal never closed.
The Health District boasts one of the country’s largest concentrations of medical and research facilities. It is one of South Florida’s largest employment hubs, with nearly 15,000 workers.
The area is home to Jackson Memorial Hospital, the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, the UM Life Science and Technology Park, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
The site is also within walking distance of the new Miami Marlins baseball stadium, which is scheduled to open in March.
The new sports venue could help boost the value of development sites along the river, Ash said.
Aguirre said things may be changing for the river, which became highly distressed during the recession due to “gross overbuilding.”
A company called 27 Riverfront, led by Coral Gables developer Jose Milton, is seeking approval to build 250 rental units on a 1.6-acre site on the south bank.
“The market for rental units on the river is ready,” Aguirre said.
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