Russell Galbut scraps proposal for 50-story South Beach tower

Developer cites mayor’s opposition, plans rental project with commercial space instead

Jul.July 17, 2014 03:00 PM

Developer Russell Galbut is giving up on his plan to build a 50-story condo tower and adjacent three-acre public park at the entrance to South Beach, after Miami Beach’s mayor refused to entertain alternative proposals for a slightly shorter tower, The Real Deal has learned.

Galbut, the managing principal of Crescent Heights, told TRD on Wednesday that he is moving forward “immediately” on an already-entitled project in the 600 block of Alton Road, with 445 rental apartments and 60,000 square feet of commercial space. As for the 500 block, where he proposed co-developing the tallest tower in South Beach with Related Group, Galbut said he is now considering a “more subdued park” and “smaller tower.”

Jorge Perez, Related’s president and CEO, told TRD the proposed 50-story tower with 180 units could fetch prices averaging $1,200 per square foot, with penthouses garnering as much as $2,000 per square foot. The Alton Road site is the largest piece of land available for residential development in South Beach, according to Perez.

“It is one of the few sites left with spectacular waterfront views,” Perez said. Related Group is not interested in co-developing Crescent Heights’ entitled rental project.

Galbut decided to abandon plans for the 50-story tower after Mayor Philip Levine blocked his proposal and declined to consider shorter alternatives. Levine told Galbut the project was incompatible with city zoning regulations, including height restrictions that allow only a seven-story building of up to 75 feet.

Levine questioned Galbut’s motives in pitching a tall tower with a park designed to capture and redirect storm water from the perennially flooded Alton Road. The tower “is proposed under the guise of flood prevention and combating sea level rise,” Levine told Galbut in a June 9 e-mail obtained by TRD. The mayor blasted the project as “blatantly irresponsible development.”

Two Miami Beach committees meet regularly to brainstorm strategies to combat sea level rise, and the city is spending between $300 million and $400 million to install 40 pumps to push overflow water back into the Biscayne Bay.

Levine did not respond to an interview request.

Galbut, who maintains the mayor’s opposition to the 50-story tower is “personal,” insists that he is sincere about wanting to help alleviate flooding.

“It has always been about rising sea level, stormwater containment and living in barrier islands up and down the coasts of America,” he said. “We cannot continue to stick our head in the sand any longer, as we will now drown there.”

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