The Real Deal Miami

A 1960s Gables office tower gets new life

By Alexander Britell | August 04, 2011 06:21PM

396 Alhambra

As part of what may be a growing trend, the developer of a 1960s office tower in Coral Gables has turned it into a green, two-tower complex.

Instead of gutting the project, which is the only newly-constructed Class A office development to be delivered in the city this year, developer Agave Holdings decided to build an adjacent new tower and perform a complete renovation and retrofitting of the old property to LEED Silver standards.

“I think the resolution of the historic building to the new buildings was done in such a way that I would encourage everyone to come take a look,” said David Valdez, executive vice president at Blanca Commercial Real Estate, which is marketing the property. “It’s amazing how they answered the questions of how you put two towers together.”

The owners, 396 Alhambra LLC, replaced all of the systems and windows on the historic South Tower property, which is now the South Tower of a two-tower complex, retaining only the floor slabs and the curtain wall.

The modern, 1960s-style South Tower, which was originally designed in the 1960s, is unique for Coral Gables, which has emphasized a Mediterranean Revival style and even offers developers incentives to construct their buildings in that way.

“We just wanted to honor the old[er] building, because it does have a certain contemporary quality to it which I personally like,” said architect John Fullterton of Fullerton Diaz. “We had to try to figure out how to build a new building, compatible with a contemporary building that was already here, and integrate it in such a way that it seemed fairly effortless and smooth.”

According to Fullerton, the idea of gutting and tearing down the building was actually considered in the planning process, but given the character of the building, and the improved speed of doing a renovation, that option was rejected.

“There’s a lot to be said for the timeliness of architecture,” he said. “It’s not always best to replace old with new — it’s very valuable to see where we came from and see how time has passed. And that building is a great example of the architecture of the early 1960s — so I think it was worth keeping, and I’m glad it was kept.”

The South Tower includes seven stories and 87,000 square feet.  The north tower, when finished, will have 15 stories and 156,000 square feet of office space.

ComReal’s Louise Bendix said that given that the developer was committed to making the new North Tower LEED Gold, it made sense to retrofit the property according to LEED standards.

“I think you’re going to see more of that in retrofits of buildings, because it is now making financial sense,” she said.

She cautioned, however, that it would take time before developers considered pouring money into older buildings for retrofits en masse.

“I think our economy is going to have to get stronger, and we’re going to have to get rid of some vacant space [before that happens],” she said. “I just think that things are so distressed, the pockets aren’t deep enough to do much.”

Fullerton said he thought there could be more examples of these kinds of renovations in Miami, but they had to meet certain standards.

“Rehabilitating an existing building is, most of the time, more economical than building new,” he said. “But the bones have to be good — there has to be a good basis for doing that.”

The Gables property, which is located at 396 Alhambra Circle, has already leased 29,000 square feet in the building, Valdez said, with negotiations underway on an additional 50 percent of the space.

New tenants include Citibank, marketing firm KabooKaboo and architectural firm RTKL Associates.

The project, when completed, will include a total of 273,000 square feet.