Developer says Merrick Manor not canceled

Miami /
Nov.November 19, 2013 12:00 PM

Developers of the proposed Merrick Manor condo tower are working diligently behind the scenes to salvage plans to construct the 10-story, 180-unit project in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables.

Despite having “more than 80 percent” of the proposed units under contract to prospective cash buyers, the ability of the project’s developer – the Astor Cos. – to build the Merrick Manor tower as marketed has come into serious doubt following a federal investigation.

The project’s future hinges on a side deal made with the city of Coral Gables.

To develop the proposed Merrick Manor condo tower as marketed at the intersection of LeJeune Road and Southwest 40th Street, Astor entered into an agreement to build a trolley depot and garage that would be turned over to the city.

Astor ultimately built the new trolley depot and garage in what media reports call a “historic black neighborhood” in Miami’s Coconut Grove, where land costs are lower than in nearby Coral Gables.

When neighborhood activists from Coconut Grove – backed by the University of Miami Center For Ethics And Public Service – protested the trolley depot construction, the city of Coral Gables sued Astor in September. The city claimed their agreement was void since the recently constructed trolley depot “doesn’t comply with zoning rules,” Miami Herald reported.

Last week, the U.S. Department Of Transportation weighed in on the issue, finding the construction of the trolley depot in the historic black neighborhood violated part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Despite the growing opposition to the trolley depot and missing the project’s scheduled October construction launch, Astor’s leadership is confident Merrick Manor will go forward as planned.

“The project will not be cancelled at all,” Astor’s Peter Torres said in an e-mail. “I need to hammer out some details before I give you the story.”

An Astor spokesman told The Real Deal negotiations are underway with the city to find a solution – such as an alternative location for the trolley depot and garage – that would clear the way for the project.

“We are working with the City of Coral Gables to resolve the matter over the trolley,” Astor spokesman Tadd Schwartz said in an e-mail. “We are confident that we’ll reach a resolution soon, and as such we expect to break ground on Merrick Manor in early 2014.”

If the developer ultimately fails to work out a solution, Merrick Manor would be the first tower to be cancelled of the more than 175 towers proposed during this latest South Florida condo boom.

At least three other proposed condo projects are facing potential setbacks in their South Florida development plans.

In Greater Downtown Miami, the planned 46-story, 374-unit BrickellHouse tower – which is under construction – was slapped with a foreclosure lawsuit in October.

To the north, the Williams Island Property Owners Association is suing to stop development of the proposed Prive project, a pair of 16-story towers and 160 units on a vacant island located in the Intracoastal Waterway in Northeast Miami-Dade County.

Further north in Fort Lauderdale Beach, community activists are working to halt the proposed 11-story, 22-unit Grand Birch condo project from being developed on a vacant site on the barrier island overlooking the Intracoastal Waterways.

Another project – the 34-story Nine At Mary Brickell Village with 390 units in Greater Downtown Miami – was originally slated to by the Sky Palace At Mary Brickell Village condo tower before being cancelled in 2012 for a rental project to be called EnV. The developers of EnV ultimately changed their minds and reverted back to a condo project – that is now called Nine At Mary Brickell Village – in August 2013.

The question going forward is, which newly proposed condo project will be the first to be cancelled during South Florida’s latest preconstruction boom?

Peter Zalewski is real estate columnist for The Real Deal who founded Condo Vultures LLC, a consultancy and publishing company, as well as Condo Vultures Realty LLC and CVR Realty brokerages and the Condo Ratings Agency, an analytics firm. The Condo Ratings Agency operates CraneSpotters.com, a preconstruction condo projects website, in conjunction with the Miami Association of Realtors.


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