Bal Harbour Shops revamps expansion plans sans Village Hall

Litigation against assistant mayor continues, and a judge may decide if she should have voted on previous proposal

May.May 02, 2016 06:30 PM

Bal Harbour Shops has revamped its $400 million expansion plan with a different configuration that does not include the Village Hall site, after the luxury shopping center’s owners failed to win village approval for their original proposal last month.

The latest design has at least 50,000 square feet of less space, eliminating the addition of about 10 to 20 luxury boutiques, Matthew Whitman Lazenby, president and CEO of Whitman Family Development, which owns and operates Bal Harbour Shops, told The Real Deal.

On April 13, the village council deadlocked 2-2 on the sale of the current Village Hall site, which was part of Bal Harbour Shop’s original plan, first proposed several years ago.

The new expansion plans, filed with the village on Friday, still include the first Barneys New York flagship store in the Southeastern U.S., significant upgrades to longtime anchor tenants Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and new luxury boutiques and restaurants for the 51-year-old upscale shopping center, Lazenby said

But it is now designed to be built entirely on land already owned by the Bal Harbour Shops, including the site of the former Church by the Sea, purchased for $30 million by Whitman Family Development in February.

Our department stores Neiman Marcus, Saks and Barneys —those sizes are all fixed…,” Lazenby, told TRD“What is trimmed down is the amount of boutique space that we offer, so there is 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of boutique space over three levels that we can now no longer build because the plans no longer include Village Hall.” That equates to 10 to 20 stores, he said.

The initial version of the enhancement plan called for Bal Harbour Shops to give nearly two acres of land to Bal Harbour in exchange for the 1/3-acre beneath the existing Village Hall. It also called for Bal Harbour Shops to fund and build a new Village Hall.

Village Mayor Martin Packer and Assistant Mayor Patricia Cohen voted against the Village Hall proposal, stopping the plan from moving forward and prompting the Whitmans to dust off previous plans created that exclude the Village Hall component.

With the revised plans, what was previously calculated as a $120 million public benefit package, including the two acres of land and cash contribution, is reduced to about $50 million, Lazenby said.

But the proposal, which requires village approval, still includes expanded vehicle entryways/exits, wider sidewalks and increased landscaping/tree canopy around the shopping center on 96th Street and Collins Avenue.

In March, Bal Harbour Shops LLC sued Cohen and the village in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, alleging she is violating Florida’s public records law because she has failed to turn over text and email messages on her personal electronic devices in which she may have negatively discussed the luxury mall’s expansion plans, which the assistant mayor opposes.

Last month, Whitman family attorney John Shubin told The Real Deal that there is some evidence Cohen’s opposition may be connected to her personal relationship with Jackie Soffer, who oversees Turnberry’s retail, hospitality and office divisions, including Aventura Mall, a Bal Harbour Shops competitor. Soffer, who, together with her family owns Turnberry Associates, is also married to Craig Robins, founder and CEO of DACRA, developer of the Design District, which also competes against Bal Harbour Shops.

Lazenby told TRD that he is continuing to pursue litigation, and that it would be up to a judge to decide if Cohen should have voted on the previous proposal. He said there is video evidence of Cohen passing notes to the mayor during the village council meeting.

“That process will play itself out,” Lazenby said. “There is evidence of Sunshine Law violations and clear evidence of bias.”

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