Civic leaders talk sea-level rise and SoFla businesses: panel

Panel discussed how investment and development are affected by climate change

Apr.April 01, 2016 04:00 PM

Flooding in Miami Beach

South Florida is ahead of the national curve when it comes to protecting against sea-level rise, according to a panel of civic leaders assembled Friday morning, but much more still needs to happen for the region to consider itself safe.

The eight-person panel, hosted by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce in the ballroom of downtown Miami’s Doubletree by Hilton hotel, spoke to a crowd of more than 100 local business leaders about the impacts of sea-level rise, and what action the community should take to protect itself for the future.

“The key challenge from the real estate perspective is we need to align all of our interests,” said panelist Quinn Eddins, director of research for CBRE’s Florida division. “Individually, developers and investors don’t have the incentive to act unilaterally.”

From the perspective of individual property owners, one major issue is the cost associated with protecting a building against surge waters, he said. If a buyer or builder were to factor in the cost of putting a structure on a 10-foot podium, Eddins said, they are likely to be outbid by competitors who keep their focus on the short term.

But while the cost might be prohibitive, concern has started brewing about the possible damages of rising tides. A flood map released in February by listing service E Miami Condos showed that if waters rise just two feet, more than three dozen existing condo buildings in both the mainland and Miami Beach would flood.

“The commercial real estate industry is starting to take climate change seriously,” he said. That concern comes into play when comparing Miami to other major U.S. metropolitan areas like New York or San Francisco, which compete for investment activity — and are all in the same boat when it comes to risk of water damage.

Miami Beach city officials have already started taking action to combat sea-level rise, according to Elizabeth Wheaton, director of the city’s Environment & Sustainability Department.

The city has started a $400 million program to raise street heights and install water pumps, especially in Sunset Harbour, one of the barrier island’s most flood-prone areas. The city has also passed a new standard that requires all new construction above 7,000 square feet to be Gold Leed Certified — or opt out via a fee, she said. The LEED Certification is a federal program that measures buildings on their resource efficiency and green footprint, with gold being the second-highest award.

And while climate change has yet to become a major discussion point for the day-to-day business of a real estate agent, that will likely change in the near future, said attendee Ron Shuffield, CEO of brokerage EWM.

His firm already briefs clientele about property elevations when relevant, and he said those briefings will beef up when the issue becomes more pressing. For now, clients — second home buyers in particular — don’t really ask about sea-level rise, he said.

“I’ve spoken to a number of developers and investors, and they say ‘Miami has a lot of characteristics we look for… but we have concerns about resilience,’” Eddins said. “It’s in all of our best interest to mitigate [flood risk].”

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