Now that a lengthy legal dispute with the city of Coral Gables is behind him, developer Henry Torres is finally starting construction on his Merrick Manor condo project.
The Astor Companies president told The Real Deal on Friday that his firm has received the city permit it needs to begin foundation work for the 227-unit project, which had been stuck in pre-development since 2010.
Construction crews are already driving piles into the development site at 301 Altara Avenue, Torres said, and heavier work is slated to start at the beginning of February. The 10-story, Mediterranean-style building is expected to be completed by February 2019.
The news marks a major milestone for Merrick Manor, which was delayed following an ill-fated land swap between the city and Astor.
Under an agreement first struck in 2012, Torres’ development firm was to purchase 301 Altara Avenue — then a Coral Gables-owned trolley station — in exchange for replacing the trolley facility at a new location in Miami’s West Grove.
That move sparked the ire of West Grove residents and brought on a barrage of litigation, including a dispute between Astor’s holding company and the city, which took the side of residents.
After nearly two years — during which Merrick Manor was on hold — Astor reached an agreement with Coral Gables in which it would sell Torres the trolley site he needed, and he later sold the West Grove trolley garage to an investment group for just below $3.3 million.
“I told the city they wouldn’t have to take the new trolley station, but I still wanted to build my project,” he said. “If not for them, this project would have not come to fruition.”
The delays caused difficulties with sales, Torres said, and a number of buyers backed out. Even so, he’s looking at the silver lining: After the dispute, the city granted him a density bonus, bringing Merrick Manor’s unit count from its initial 172 to 227. The delays also gave Astor time to update the project’s design and amenities, as well as start offering finished units to buyers, instead of delivering them raw as originally planned.
Prices at the project have also grown considerably from the 2013 sales launch, rising from an average of $400 per square foot to the high $600s per square foot. Sales now stand at 48 percent, he said, with prices starting in the $500,000s and ranging up to $2.5 million.
“Some of our buyers couldn’t wait,” Torres said. “Those who did wait have gotten some really nice gains [in value.]”