Deal to solve Wynwood mega-project tiff: Split baby in two

Miami Herald - September 7, 2016

Eager to salve a split that threatened political support for his massive Wynwood redevelopment, entrepreneur Moishe Mana agreed on Wednesday to a put his plan through an unexpected and “radical” last-minute surgery proposed by a group of fellow neighborhood property owners.

Whether the new plan flies or not, though, won’t be decided until the Miami Commission meets Thursday afternoon for what was to be the second and final vote on the Mana Wynwood special area plan, which contemplates a staggering 10 million square feet of commercial, residential and cultural development in the core of the burgeoning hipster mecca.

The new proposal would split Mana’s project in two, allowing the developer to move forward with a plan for an international trade center that’s attracted investment interest on one piece, while putting off the balance of the blueprint for a brief period to shape it in a way that ensures it meshes with the low-scale neighborhood around it instead of overwhelming it.

The plan would also sidestep a contentious battle over $10 million that Mana had pledged to contribute to a city fund designed to ameliorate the impact on new development in Wynwood. That promise was part of a wide-ranging agreement that Mana made in March with the Wynwood Business Improvement District, a semi-autonomous public agency that represents local property owners, to win their support for his project.

But the BID balked when the developer later agreed to divert all but $2.5 million of the promised money to the Overtown community redevelopment agency after meeting privately with Miami Comissioner Keon Hardemon, who represents both the impoverished, mostly black neighborhood as well as a portion of Wynwood. That shift, which came after the commission approved the plan on an initial vote, prompted angry accusations from BID leaders that Mana had breached their agreement, though the developer’s representatives say it was Hardemon’s decision to divert the money, not theirs.

On Wednesday, the BID’s board of directors voted 4-0 in a public meeting to rescind their support of Mana’s original concept. But they immediately also unanimously endorsed an alternative proposal outlined by developer and BID board member David Polinsky.

That last-minute proposal, which Mana’s representatives also endorsed, would “bifurcate” Mana’s original 25-acre plan. The first piece, a west zone consisting of nine acres, mostly on three blocks along Interstate 95, would go directly to a commission vote Thursday with the BID’s explicit support.

That piece would be developed along the lines of Mana’s original plan. Special zoning rules would allow Mana to erect a clutch of towers of up to 24 stories on that piece, double the maximum permitted by a zoning plan enacted last year to protect Wynwood’s low-scale character. The towers would house a hotel, offices and exhibition spaces as part of an international trade center focused on Asia and Latin America, and Mana representatives say he needs to move quickly to seize on serious investment interest in the idea.

But on the second piece, the larger eastern zone that directly abuts the heart of Wynwood, instead of creating its own special-area zoning rules, the BID’s alternate plan would instead have new construction adhere to the existing Neighborhood Revitalization District rules enacted last year — something some BID members have wanted. The BID said it would collaborate with Mana on altering NRD zoning rules as needed to accommodate Mana’s concept of a creative zone of cultural and educational buildings surrounding an extensive public plaza dubbed Mana Commons.

The new agreement carries advantages and potential pitfalls for all sides, both parties noted.

It gives Mana much of what he had been seeking, including sundering a “phasing” plan that would have permitted the developer to build his lucrative towers only after completing substantial portions of the eastern zone — meaning there’s a risk the public plaza and less-profitable cultural buildings might not happen soon, if ever.

Any “bonus” fees Mana pays for the right to build taller in that zone would be split as Hardemon wanted, with about $7.5 million going to the Overtown CRA, the BID board agreed.

But the new plan also puts the 15 or so acres in the eastern zone back under the NRD zoning rules —meaning the BID wins not just potentially a more-compatible scale and look of new construction, but also that Mana would be required to pay substantial impact fees into the Wynwood public benefits trust fund on anything he builds there. His original plan would have exempted him from paying the fees.

That could mean a significant windfall for the Wynwood fund — which is designed to pay for street and sidewalk improvements, public spaces, parking garages and affordable housing — exceeding the pledged $10 million, said Polinsky and BID vice-chairman Albert Garcia.

“It’s an opportunity to have the applicant play by the same rules as the rest of the district and protect the integrity of the NRD,” Garcia said. “And Wynwood could conceivably benefit even more.”