Crescent Heights scores school board approval to buy downtown Miami land for mixed-use project

$21M deal hinges on Omni CRA extension that would give developer tax incentives

Renderings with superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Russell Galbut (Crescent Heights, Twitter via Alberto M. Carvalho)
Renderings with superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Russell Galbut (Crescent Heights, Twitter via Alberto M. Carvalho)

Real estate giant Crescent Heights secured approval from the School Board of Miami-Dade County to purchase a lot north of downtown Miami, capping a yearslong effort to acquire the site.

Crescent Heights, a Miami-based developer led by Managing Principal Russell Galbut, is expected to pay $20.6 million for the property at 1370 Northeast Second Avenue.

The deal still hinges on the extension of the ​​Omni Community Redevelopment Agency through 2045, which would have to occur by the end of this year, as well as zoning approvals. Crescent Heights is seeking tax incentives the CRA would provide for the Arts & Entertainment District site.

Crescent Heights would double the size of its assemblage with the acquisition of the school board’s 1.1-acre lot, to build a major mixed-use development designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, who designed the developer’s NEMA tower in Chicago. Crescent Heights owns the adjacent parcels immediately south.

The Miami project, called Casa Forma, calls for a 43-story, 1,100-unit residential tower on top of a podium with eight floors of parking and two floors of office space. The school board would receive roughly 100,000 square feet of office space and Crescent Heights would also provide about 1,100 parking spaces, half of which the school board would control. The build-out cost for the office space would be capped at $420 per square foot, according to the proposal.

The residential units at Casa Forma would likely be apartments, Galbut said. He expects to begin construction immediately after obtaining entitlements, and the project would take about 38 months to complete from groundbreaking. Crescent Heights plans to invest about $100 million into the project, he said.

Outgoing Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho spoke in favor of the Casa Forma project proposal at his final school board meeting on Wednesday night. The school board’s unanimous vote allows it to move forward with the sale and authorizes the superintendent to work with the developer on project submittals. Jose Dotres replaces Carvalho, who is now superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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The land sale in its current form has been in the works since the school board approved the sale to the highest ranked proposer, which is an affiliate of Crescent Heights, in March 2018. But Crescent Heights has been vying for the site for nearly six years.

Crescent Heights and Galbut, through his family office, have a number of mixed-use projects in the works in Miami and Miami Beach.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Carvalho said the approval was the “last significant item” he wanted the board to consider, and said “the community benefit beyond the school district is significant.”

The properties are next to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The project would overlook the I-395 signature bridge that’s under construction, which will include a 33-acre park.

Development has boomed in the Arts & Entertainment District, also known as the Omni District.

The Melo Group built, leased and refinanced a number of apartment towers during this real estate cycle, in addition to other investors who have purchased development sites in the area.

Developers Dan Kodsi and Rafael Pecchio recently paid $8.9 million for a property on North Miami Avenue in the Arts & Entertainment District where they plan a 200-unit apartment tower that could be 45 stories tall.

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