Bal Harbour Shops set to nearly double in size after village council vote

Rendering of Bal Harbour Shops' expansion. Inset: Matthew Whitman Lazenby
Rendering of Bal Harbour Shops' expansion. Inset: Matthew Whitman Lazenby

UPDATED April 26, 1:30 p.m. Bal Harbour Shops just won its long battle to expand the luxury shopping center.

The Whitman family, owners of Bal Harbour Shops, gained village council approval late Tuesday to expand to 888,260 square feet. The $400 million expansion will add more than 340,000 square feet to the complex’s current 511,000 square feet, an increase of 74 percent.   

Bal Harbour’s village council approved three measures on first reading: a development agreement between the village and Bal Harbour Shops; an ordinance that allows a change of use for a parcel of land formerly occupied by the Church by the Sea; and an ordinance creating a new business improvement district, which is designed to spur the development of more dining options in the largely retail environment.

A second and final reading of the three measures is scheduled for May 16th.   

The vote came after a nearly seven hour council meeting that was dominated by arguments between anchor tenant, Saks Fifth Avenue and Whitman Family Development, which owns and operates the luxury shopping center. Saks, which first made its objections to the project known earlier this month, said it was opposed to the expansion because of concerns over a loss of 14 parking spaces during construction and what it said would be increased loading dock congestion. Saks said as many as 58 percent of customers will be forced to use valet parking in the future because of tandem parking that could stack cars five deep, and daily deliveries to Saks will be disrupted by the construction.    

Current construction at Bal Harbour Shops

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However, Whitman family representatives said there would only be a few days a year when valet parking at that high a percentage will be required, and that an email from a Saks employee indicated the company was seeking $55 million to fund the redevelopment of Saks’ 140,000 square feet.   

The Whitmans also said the village of Bal Harbour will receive about $122 million in benefits in the form of a new park, increased funding for village police and a new town hall, increased taxes and improvements to sidewalks and other facilities in the village.   

And the owners said the actual footprint of the shopping center will only expand by 17 percent, because much of the new square footage will go to underground parking.

In approving the expansion plan, council members said they want Bal Harbour Shops to fund up to 5,820 hours of police protection for the mall during the construction phase, to increase funding for a proposed park by $1 million, and start charging a parking surcharge as soon as a new parking garage opens.

After the vote, Matthew Whitman Lazenby, CEO of Whitman Family Development, said the company would meet with the council and village staff between now and May 16th to discuss the funding requests. “There were some great ideas and there were some that we need to think about…this is the first we are hearing them and we need to digest them,” he said.

Just last year a similar measure to expand Bal Harbour Shops was rejected by the village council, but following municipal elections last year two new council members who support the expansion were elected with strong backing from the Whitman family.  

A majority of residents who attended Tuesday night’s meeting voiced support for the expansion plans, but a number of residents raised objections – mainly focused on traffic. Among them was attorney Kent Harrison Robbins who told the council that “traffic is already a mess” and that not enough analysis had been done to look at ways to mitigate increased traffic to Bal Harbour Shops, especially increased truck traffic along 96th Street, which is the main entrance to the shopping center.