Miami Beach declares rising tide ‘emergency’ as condo developers propose 21 new towers

Feb.February 18, 2014 01:00 PM

Miami Beach has officially declared an emergency in hopes of better dealing with issues related to rising sea levels. There are 21 new condo towers proposed for the barrier island municipality, including one of South Florida’s steepest preconstruction units, priced at nearly $6,050 per square foot.

The proactive step, shepherded in by first-year Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, comes less than nine months after Rolling Stone magazine published a feature story entitled “Goodbye, Miami,” in which the publication predicted “rising sea levels will turn the nation’s urban fantasyland into an American Atlantis.”

It is unclear what, if any, impact the Rolling Stone article and other subsequent news stories have had on condo sales in South Florida, where prices and sales are generally on the rise from the devastating real estate crash of 2007.

Developers to date are proposing more than 1,150 new condo units in Miami Beach. Many have prices starting above $1,000 per square foot, even though 550 new South Beach units are still unsold from the previous South Florida boom-and-bust cycle, according to the preconstruction condo projects website

An additional 1,900 condo units are on the resale market, at an average asking price of more than $700 per square foot, according to the Southeast Florida MLXchange.

Even if real estate statistics do not yet reflect any impact from concerns about rising sea levels, flooding is surely not good for business on the barrier island, especially at a time when Greater Downtown Miami is growing in popularity.

To counter the anticipated rising seas in future years, the Miami Beach commission voted unanimously on Feb. 12 to institute a number of flooding fixes, including adding 40 pumping stations and raising the tidal levels for planning standards for future city projects from less than a foot of water to about 2.7 feet, according to the Miami Herald.

Before voting, commissioners listened to a presentation about what the city faces in the future by self-described “Flooding Czar” Scott Robins, who headed a three-member panel on flood mitigation for the city.

“Our design guidelines for flooding were grossly inadequate,” Robins told the commission. “What we were building would never hold back the floods and the tide.”

Robins said city staff told him “that all of the work recently completed and under construction, and all of the work presently in the pipeline, was critically under-designed, especially considering all we know today and the level of service our community should expect from our infrastructure.”

Miami Beach condo developers, who are proposing new projects throughout the city ranging from the exclusive neighborhood of South of Fifth to the more modest area of North Beach, can only feel cautiously optimistic about the commission’s proactive moves.

For all of the good that comes from the plan, the part of the strategy that condo developers are sure to be concerned with is how exactly the city of Miami Beach plans to pay the expected $200 million to implement the newly adopted fixes.

The overall cost for “stemming rising tides” in Miami Beach is now forecast to increase to about $400 million, according to the Herald.

“When you compare the cost of the alternative, as ugly as it surely will be, we have no other choice,” Robins told the commission.

The unanswered question is whether future condo purchasers, who do have alternatives, will buy into the city’s plan to fend off rising tides, when units have asking prices as rich as $50 million each.

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, a preconstruction condo projects website, in conjunction with the Miami Association of Realtors.

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