They gathered in front of a rusty chainlink fence and a graffiti-covered "No Trespassing" sign: Mayor Manny Diaz, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, and megadeveloper Tibor Hollo.
Behind the fence, littered with plastic bottles and crushed Coke cans, stretched two acres of land facing an incredible view: Biscayne Bay lapping quietly against a concrete barrier, cars speeding over the causeway to Key Biscayne, and Fisher Island swimming on the horizon.
Two years ago, any developer in the hemisphere would have murdered a close relative for this plot of bayfront gold. Today, Hollo handed it over to city officials for $3 and the promise to build a public park on the site. Is there a better image of how far Miami's market has sunk in a few short months? Read more about the extraordinary deal after the jump.
Hollo, the man behind downtown's Omni development and the Opera Tower, already had permits to build a two-tower condo project called Villa Magna on the land, just east of Brickell Avenue and SE 12th Street. As the housing market crashed and burned, Hollo realized it was far from an optimal time to look for buyers for hundreds of new condos in Miami.
"This is not the market to build a major project," Hollo tells Riptide.
So Hollo put the brakes on the project before any work began. Over dinner at the Capital Grille a few blocks away, Sarnoff and Hollo came up with a new plan. Hollo would give the city the land for three years -- at $1 annual rent -- and the city could use the vacant lot for a public park.
"There's nothing in this for him," Sarnoff says. "I hope this lasts for well beyond three years. Though I suspect Tibor hopes it's only a three-year project."
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"We own this property free and clear, so we were able to give it to the city to use until the market turns around, hopefully in the next couple years," Hollo adds.
This might not be the last time we see a developer throw in the towel on plans that seemed like solid gold a few years ago and put up some park benches in its place. According to Sarnoff, the city is already in talks to work similar deals in three other vacant sites: a lot next to Macy's on Flagler Street, the Oasis property on NE 79th Street overlooking Biscayne Bay, and the Millennium site on the Miami River between South Miami Avenue and the Metrorail.