With more than 200 businesses, including a multitude of designer brands, restaurants, galleries and entertainment, Lincoln Road is one of the most famous streets in Miami Beach. The open-air mall garners over 11 million tourists each year. It was a mangrove forest until 1912, when American entrepreneur Carl Fisher, the man behind developments such as the Lincoln Highway and the Royal Palm Hotel, envisioned the area as “the Fifth Avenue of the South.”
Lincoln Road has been a hot spot for decades, and developers continue to see potential for expansion.
Prominent developer Don Peebles, in partnership with former Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine, the Scott Robins Corporation, and the Baron Corporation have proposed a six-story building that would include two floors for apartments, three for office spaces, a first-level retail space, and parking.
Real estate agencies Integra, Starwood, and Comras Company will be partnering for a similar project also near Lincoln Road. The project titled “The Gardens” would take place in two locations. A six-story building on 1680 Lenox Ave and an 8-story building on 1080 Lincoln Lane that would include a 130,000 square feet of Class A office spaces, 25,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, and 425 parking spaces – 192 for the public. This plan also includes a 1000 square feet of public space including a pocket park and water fountain feature.
All three proposed project sites are currently city-owned parking lots.
Developers promise to diversify Miami Beach and grow the local economy. They note the developments will mean increased tax dollars, more business activity and create jobs.
Whether these developments take place will ultimately be up to Miami Beach residents on a referendum next Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Ballot question 4 asks for approval of rent payments received by the city from the Lincoln Road parking lot leases. For the Meridian location, the city will be paid a minimum of $145,704,144. Along with a $210,088,941 minimum from the Lenox and Lincoln Lane North locations. The payments will be made over a 99-year lease.
Ballot questions 5 and 6 relate to leasing the city-owned public parking lots to private developers.
These referenda, along with five more related to Miami Beach, will be voted on during this year’s midterm election.
Reactions to these proposals have been mixed. The Miami Beach City Commission approved the plans for a referendum on a 5-1 vote, with the only rejecting vote coming from Commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez.
Rosen-Gonzalez has been highly critical of these plans, stating on her website that referendums 5 and 6 have “questionable financial terms, no real public benefit and developers somehow won the bid with no real public input.”
On her public Twitter account, Rosen-Gonzalez published a video criticizing Miami Beach mayor Dan Gelber and his support for the plans.
In the video it is said that, “For Dan Gelber and his millionaire cronies, every day is Christmas (…) Gelber wants to give a 99-year sweetheart lease on city property to five of the richest men in America.”
Beach Mayor Dan Gelber did not respond to three phone calls or three emails.
Wayne Roberts, a Miami Beach resident and activist, wrote an open letter to Gelber criticizing the proposals. In it, he writes that the referenda are “unlawful” and that the $355 million lease payment is “an outright deception.”
Roberts sent the letter out as a mass email to residents and states that he has gotten an overwhelmingly positive response.
“My email went to voters, I have a list of about 35,000,” Roberts said. “I’ve had 600 residents send me back a thank you and support, and only one negative response, so I think that’s a good inclination.”
Miami Beach United is a non-profit grassroots organization that aims to raise awareness among city residents about local issues and increase political involvement. The group’s voting guide advises residents to vote against the Lincoln Road developments, claiming the ballot language is misleading because it does not state that the $355 million lease payments will be given over 99 years, which only averages about $3.5 million annually for three acres of property.
MBU reasons that the projects are overdevelopment that will only increase traffic and that there are better locations.
They say, “Using the limited public space we have for speculative office space is bad planning policy, bad economic development policy, and bad public policy.”
There are those who are excited to see these developments, such as Sandra Cassola, a campaigner in favor of referendums four, five, and six.
“South Beach has had its issues and we’re trying to resolve those issues for the tourists and the residents who live here all year round,” said Cassola. “Slowly but surely we hope that South Beach will be the south beach that everyone remembers.”
Yes for a strong Miami Beach, an election committee, is urging people to vote yes. The coalition states on its site that the benefits from these referenda include “affordable housing, increasing public safety dollars, and funding to protect local beaches and water.”
Voters will have until Nov. 8 to cast their votes on these issues. For more information on voting, see our voter guide.
Esteban Rodriguez worked on the video story.