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When an update of the eight-year-old revitalization strategy is completed next spring, a series of meetings will be held to solicit public comment. "That plan was written at a different time, in the real estate market," Assistant City Manager Stuart Rogel says. "It now requires a look to see what has worked and what hasn't. Conditions have changed. We need to see what techniques and strategies should be used to encourage redevelopment." Rogel adds that the update most likely will limit condemnation to certain areas.
Aside from the threat of losing their property, South Pointe inhabitants have reason to fear an onslaught of high-rise architecture. To date, only the luxurious 24-story condos of South Pointe Tower, and Alton Road's thirteen-story pair of Rebecca Towers, which provides subsidized housing for the elderly, loom skyward. A grand scheme in its own right, the South Pointe Towers project realized only a fraction of its blueprinted hotel/residential promise before sliding into bankruptcy. The fate of the still-undeveloped land from the aborted project will be decided by a federal judge. More than likely, high-rises will go up at the tip of the beach.
For one thing, the city's current zoning code places no height restrictions along the waterfront. And for another, the economics of development encourages high-rises along the water. Because waterfront land is more expensive than inland property, a tall structure stands to bring in more money than a small one, unless tax or other artificial incentives are added to skew the equation. Additional sky-scraping towers are likely to be built on fourteen acres of bayside property along Alton Road, a by-product of the ill-fated "New Venice" plan that the city offered to South Shore Developers Inc. after a court battle five years ago. Another strategic triangle of waterfront land lies just west of South Pointe Park. Some of the vacant 5.5-acre site is in public hands (the city and the housing authority), the rest is privately owned by a group of Alaskan investors. All of it is prime high-rise property.
In fact, says Carla Talarico, the only waterfront in South Pointe that might be spared the ascent of massive towers is Ocean Drive north of Penrod's Beach Club. Planners will consider that idea in their update of the redevelopment plan, she adds.
Critics fear the seemingly inevitable big-time waterfront development will effectively wall off the ocean and bay from the rest of the neighborhood, creating a claustrophobic clone of West Avenue or the concrete canyon of upper Collins Avenue. "The area shouldn't be plasticized with high-rises," says attorney Toby Brigham. "That would destroy its character. There are plenty of other places where that kind of development can go." Tamra Sheffman, president of the South Pointe Association, suggests that planners wouldn't have to look far: "I would like to see high-rise in the middle and low-rise on the ocean, so people in the middle could still see what is happening all around them."
As far as the neighborhood's historic aura is concerned, much already seems destined to be lost. Which is a shame. The creative energy of South Beach's Art Deco buildings didn't disappear south of Sixth Street, preservationist Nancy Liebman says. Small buildings with Art Deco features went up along the lower end of Ocean Drive and throughout South Pointe. Some gems still stand, such as the Century and Nemo hotels, but many others, such as the Corsair Hotel at the foot of Ocean Drive, have already fallen victim to the wrecking ball. "As in the Art Deco District, it is the collection of buildings that's important," stresses Liebman, the executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, which successfully fought to have South Beach's historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "That's why even the Century Hotel wouldn't stand on its own. It just happens to resemble everything that is uptown in the Deco district. The context has been lost."
University of Miami professor Aristides Millas - an architect, preservationist, and urban planner - worries about protecting the historic buildings that remain in the neighborhood. "The problem with South Beach is you can't have preservation on one side of the street and `anything goes' on the other side," says Millas. "You have to be sensitive to this historic area, which contains some of the city's oldest buildings. It's where the history of Miami Beach began, and there has been no attempt to save any of it. I've always been mystified about why the city wants to continue the redevelopment designation. As long as that redevelopment agency stays in, they'll try to put deals together and really destroy the fabric of the neighborhood.