Wary residents of the historic Coral Gate community are in talks with a large-scale developer who wants to tear down a nearby 68-year-old Sears and build a modern residential and retail complex in its place.
Raanan Katz of RK Centers
, which holds more than ten million square feet of commercial real estate across the country, has owned the Sears property since 1987. Katz, part-owner of the Miami Heat, is looking to change the property's zoning to allow for the buildout of two 400-unit buildings.
The development would be a mixed-use project with a public park that would span more than an acre of the City of Miami neighborhood, which is roughly bordered by Coral Gables to the west, SW 16th Street to the north, Coral Way to the south, and SW 32nd Avenue to the east. Established in 1948, Coral Gate
touts itself as Miami's first planned subdivision, featuring a mix of midcentury single-family homes.
Julie Hood, a Coral Gate homeowner of more than 30 years, is among the residents concerned about the scale of the project.
"The developers want to upzone, so of course they’re going to want our blessing," Hood tells New Times
. "We’re really trying to work with them, but it’ll be crazy if they upzone to 800 units. Of course [the new neighbors] will all have big dogs that will come and crap on my lawn and on and on… Some 'progress.'"
To change the zoning, the developer would have to follow a lengthy process that would involve filing its plans with the City of Miami and then heeding comments from the planning department before the company attends a public hearing and receives a final decision. Nearby neighbors would have an opportunity to speak in support of or against the project at the hearing.
The 8-acre plot abutting Coral Way is valued for tax purposes at $31.75 million. It's currently the site of the last Sears department store in Miami.
Built in 1954, the store was once a hotspot for affordable shopping. In its heyday, it was sometimes so packed that customers searching for deals struggled to find parking. Sears, a onetime retail giant with thousands of locations, recently emerged
from a 2018 bankruptcy with less than 20 full-line stores, three of which remain in Florida
When RK Centers introduced the project to residents of the adjacent Coral Gate community at a homeowner association meeting on April 28, neighbors worried the planned development would cause traffic congestion around Coral Gate Drive.
"We are currently reviewing those comments and revising plans," says Andrew Zidar, vice president of development and acquisitions with RK Centers. "We are in the process of redesigning the project in response to the neighborhood comments. [Our goal is] to redevelop this property in a manner which is a 'win-win' for both the property owner and neighboring community."
Residents who are leery of the project hired attorney Tucker Gibbs to negotiate with RK Centers, with the goal of decreasing the project's size and preventing the development from changing the face of the community.
According to Gibbs, one 65-unit building is allowed under the current zoning.
"My clients have serious concerns with the impact of the project on their neighborhood," Gibbs tells New Times
. "When it comes down to it, the primary issue the neighborhood has is with the density and intensity of the project because it [adds] to traffic, which is a big safety issue."
The attorney is hopeful that negotiations will reach a point where residents' concerns are quelled.
"I think the developer understands what our position is," Gibbs says. "They're trying to figure [how] to address it in a way that they can keep us happy. I think all parties in this want to come to an agreement. I believe that."
Zidar says Sears' lease term expires in 2030. As of December 29, he says, there have not been discussions about terminating the lease early.
Some Coral Gate community members see potential benefits of the project in light of South Florida's housing crisis. Alexander Sutton, a Coral Gate resident and student at Florida International University, says the project could provide housing stock in an area in desperate need of new units.
"I can see maybe why [the project] could become an issue, but there are always things that can be done if we feel like the neighborhood becomes less safe," Sutton says.
The final public hearing is a long way from happening. RK Centers' representatives say they are waiting to apply to the City of Miami for rezoning until they can reach a compromise with the neighbors.
At a Coral Gate homeowner association meeting on November 9, the packed parish hall at St. Raymond’s Catholic Church broke into roaring applause when a resident proclaimed, "We will not allow them to change the code!"