Change on Commodore Plaza—But When?

Back in 1997, merchants on Coconut Grove’s Commodore Plaza got together to try to bring back the historic block between Grand Avenue and Main Highway that had once been the heart of the Grove. They lined the street with black wood planters filled with pink flowers and sponsored a contest to design a new Commodore Plaza logo. They put up banners and added new lighting and signs at both ends.

Today, half of the street is vacant buildings. A planned mixed-use structure that takes up much of the block is a pile of rubble and lumber.

“I’ve called it ‘The Big White Elephant’ for years,” says Coconut Grove attorney Tucker Gibbs. “It’s a great big thing that’s just there and doesn’t do anything.”

One Miami-based real estate development company, Location Ventures, wants to bring the street back to life with a mixed-use luxury apartment building known as URBIN Coconut Grove. Initiated by CEO Rishi Kapoor, who purchased the property for $7.2 million in 2018, the project aspires to become a hub for digital nomads. URBIN-branded developments are also in the works in Miami Beach and Coral Gables.

“As one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Miami and a place that our company has had a longstanding connection to, Coconut Grove was a natural fit for URBIN to offer living and working spaces that put residents at the heart of a vibrant community,” Kapoor wrote in an email.

URBIN Coconut Grove promises 54 residences, dedicated workspaces, wellness amenities, social activities, and a food and beverage outlet, with an emphasis on co-living, co-working, and wellness. It will include a rooftop with a lounging area and two pools and other amenities like a dining terrace and an indoor/outdoor atrium.

“The URBIN brand was conceptualized to address the need for providing accessible price points in core urban centers,” Kapoor wrote. “We are looking forward to bringing together these elements into a new offering where our owners and tenants can live-work well.”

Although URBIN claims to focus on providing housing at an affordable price point, the reality is different. According to Sotheby’s, the starting price for a studio at URBIN is $750,000.

Although the URBIN project broke ground in February of this year, there’s no evidence of progress. One of the buildings purchased for the development has been vandalized and stands in complete disrepair. Still, plans are for the project to be completed in 2025.

According to some Grove residents, characterless, modern, high-rise buildings are in the cards for Commodore Plaza and the surrounding streets. Edith Georgi, manager and volunteer at This ’N That Shop on Commodore Plaza, says the neighborhood will become the next Brickell, a place filled with skyscrapers. She has been a resident of the Grove for over 30 years. “It was funky, friendly, and artsy,” says Georgi. “We knew everybody that hung out. There were art booths everywhere. It’s gotten pretty pricey.”

Annetta Schaefer, a volunteer at This ’N That Shop, mourns the days of community in the Grove, a time when schoolteachers, plumbers, and other working-class members of the community could afford to live where they worked. “Now you have to make a million a year to afford any of the houses here,” says Schaefer.

For $80,000, Mayor Suarez Becomes Part of the Story

Developer Rishi Kapoor is a close ally of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. Today, the Miami Herald reported about a lawsuit questioning consulting fees Kapoor’s firm, Location Ventures, paid the mayor. According to the Herald, between October 2022 and March 2023, Suarez received $80,000 from Location Ventures for undisclosed services. Suarez’ office claimed that a side gig like this is entirely legal and that the mayor does not participate in any City decisions related to the Commodore Plaza project. In a Feb. 2023 promotional photo for the project, Mayor Suarez is shown at a ground-breaking ceremony with Location Ventures CEO Rishi Kapoor. In 2021, Kapoor donated $25,000 to the mayor’s Miami for Everyone political action committee.

Link to Miami Herald article about Mayor Suarez’ consulting fee and URBIN website.

This story was previously published on the Coconut Grove Spotlight.

Keilyn Quintero is a senior majoring in digital communications and media with a track in digital journalism. After she graduates, she wishes to pursue a career as a music journalist.