Miami commission rejects proposed Olympia Theater renovation

New Urban International proposed converting theater’s apartments into boutique hotel that would generate $1.4M annually to the city
By Francisco Alvarado | July 11, 2019 06:00PM

Olympia Theater and Commissioner Ken Russell

Olympia Theater and Commissioner Ken Russell

An unsolicited proposal to redevelop the commercial portion of downtown Miami’s Olympia Theater was shot down at a Miami City Commission meeting on Thursday.

Commissioners voted 5-0 against seeking bids to turn over management of the city-owned Olympia, dealing a quick blow to a developer interested in converting the building’s 72 apartments into boutique hotel rooms and renovating the 1,567-seat historic theater.

Instead, commissioners instructed City Manager Emilio Gonzalez to speed up discussions with Miami Dade College about taking over the theater’s operations and using the apartments for student housing — and report back in September. Roughly 15 months ago, the commission passed a resolution that the city work out an agreement with the college.

“I don’t blame people for coming with private proposals,” said Commission Chairman Ken Russell. “I don’t think this is a bad idea that has been brought to us.” Nevertheless, Russell said he still preferred working out a deal with the college.

His colleagues agreed. “We want to see what Miami Dade College has to offer,” said Commissioner Manolo Reyes. “If we don’t agree with it, we will take the necessary steps to preserve [the theater] and find someone to manage it.”

New Urban International, a real estate asset firm owned by a nonprofit called New Urban Initiative, submitted the unsolicited proposal for the theater at 174 East Flagler Street. According to New Urban International’s co-founder Mario Abati, his company manages 35 properties in Miami-Dade, including eight buildings that will be converted into student housing near Miami Dade College’s Eduardo J. Padron Campus in Little Havana.

Abati told commissioners that he is willing to amend his redevelopment strategy to create student housing instead of a boutique hotel and partner with Miami Dade College. “There is room to change the proposal,” he said. “I am a hotelier at heart, but if Miami Dade College would like to come in and use it as a theater, I am more than welcome to accept that.”

New Urban’s proposal calls for converting the residential tower into a “a lifestyle boutique hotel with an industrial urban feel and modern technologies.” The units would become suites or shared rooms and the ground floor would have a small lobby with a cafe and bakery. The company estimates renovating the circa 1926 theater and preserving its historic elements would cost between $15 million to $20 million, and the hotel conversion would cost an estimated $6 million.

Abati said New Urban would finance the project through grants and the sale of dwelling and development rights. He added his plan would generate $1.4 million in annual rent to the city.
The proposal “does more than just preserve the building, but also generates revenue for the community for years to come,” he said. “If anything, don’t just look at my proposal. Send it out to RFP and see what others want to do.”

Roughly two years ago, the Related Group withdrew an unsolicited proposal to change the Olympia’s residential space into 200 to 300 affordable and workforce housing apartments.