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1/01/04 - Miami Today News

Homes, offices, retail expected to boost Metrorail ridership
By Shannon Pettypiece

Miami-Dade County has been reaping more than $1 million a year from land along Metrorail lines and expects revenue to increase this year as two more public-private ventures open.

Land next to Metrorail lines is owned by the county, which agreed in 1998 to lease property next to most stations to private developers, said Miami-Dade Transit project manager Robin Statfeld.

Developments slated to open this year include retail and office space at the Martin Luther King Jr. station and rental housing at the Allapattah station. Construction is expected to start this year on commercial development at the Coconut Grove, Overtown and South Miami stations.

The Coconut Grove project, which includes retail and residential space, is projected to generate $16 million for the county over 30 years. An office-retail development in South Miami should bring in $180,000 a year for 90 years.

Already open is Dadeland North, pumping $400,000 a year into Miami-Dade coffers - 5% of the project's annual gross revenue. At the Dadeland South station, the county receives up to $800,000 a year in rent from three Class A office buildings and the Marriott Hotel.

Because of high demand for development near mass transit, private developers say they are willing to share their profits with the county. Options remain available at some of the 22 stations, county officials said.

"This will allow residents to have reasonable access to public transit, and there is a need for affordable housing," said Vincent Brown, president and CEO of Metro-Miami Action Plan, which is developing affordable housing for 1,000 people at Northside Metrorail Station. "It furthers our mission of providing affordable housing and community economic development."

Doors are opening and dirt is moving near almost a dozen Metrorail stations as mass-transit stops turn into lifestyle destinations.

More than 1,000 apartment units and 1.8 million square feet of office and retail space next to Metrorail stations are finished, under construction or in the planning stages.

Since 1998, the county has been trying to create destinations for commuters along Metrorail lines to increase mass-transit use, said Ms. Statfeld.

Not all Metrorail stations will neighbor new developments, as was originally hoped. No projects are planned at the Hialeah, Civic Center and Tri-Rail stations, and plans are tentative at Brownsville.

But for 11 of the 22 stations, affordable rental housing, retail and county office space are expected to draw commuters and residents.

Metrorail runs from Northwest 79th Street and Northwest 72nd Avenue through downtown Miami to Southwest 88th Street and the Palmetto Expressway. The county leases land at the stations to private developers for a cut of development profits under the condition that they build transit-friendly projects.

In exchange, developers can draw traffic from 1.4 million Metrorail riders a month.

"We just think it is a win-win situation because they get the benefit of being at a transit station," Ms. Statfeld said.

Projects include:

* 172,000 square feet of county office space and 13,500 square feet of retail space at Northwest 62nd Street and Northwest 27th Avenue, next to the Martin Luther King Jr. station expected to open early this year.

* Overtown Transit Village, consisting of 341,000 square feet of county offices, 4,000 square feet of retail, 588 parking spaces and a public park, with construction scheduled to start in the spring.

* A new headquarters for the county's Water and Sewer Department at the Douglas Road station, South Dixie Highway and Southwest 37th Avenue, which opened in fall 2002.

* A mixed-use development of rental apartments, county offices and 13,000 square feet of retail at the South Miami station.

* Restaurants and Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy and The Sports Authority stores at Dadeland Station.

* Three Class A office buildings, 35,000 square feet of retail and a 305-room Marriott hotel that opened in 1985. Another hotel is in the works.

* Rental apartments and townhouses at South Dixie Highway and Southwest 27th Avenue, by the Coconut Grove station. Construction is set to begin this year.

* A 220-unit residential development and parking for Metrorail commuters on 6 acres at Northwest 79th Street and 32nd Avenue, next to the Northside station. The project is in the planning phase.

* Rental housing with 128 two- and three-bedroom units at the Allapattah station, Northwest 36th Street and 12th Avenue. Ground was broken in October 2002, and the complex is expected to open in the spring. Miami-Dade Transit sold the land to the county's Office of Economic Development in 1999 under the condition that transit-friendly urban housing be built.

* Affordable rental apartments at Okeechobee Road and Northwest 74th Street under development by non-profit Jubilee Community Development Corp. and Gatehouse Development Corp., in the planning stages.

* Two phases of 408 rental apartments opening in the summer at Northwest 20th Street at 12th Avenue, developed by Santa Clara Apartments Ltd. by the Santa Clara station.

Many of the housing projects will be for low-income residents traditionally dependent on mass transit, said Vincent Brown, president of Metro-Miami Action Plan, a county organization working on the project at the Northside station that he said will house 750 to 1,000 people.

Affordable housing is typically defined as renting for $1,200 to $1,400 for a three-bedroom apartment, $700 to $900 for a two-bedroom and $575 to $679 for a one-bedroom, Mr. Brown said.

While the projects are expected to draw business, developers have to pay the county for use of the land, and the process takes much longer than a typical development on private land.

Developers were required to go through the county's bidding and advertisement procedures and work with Miami-Dade Transit to make their sites commuter-friendly with amenities such as covered walkways and easy access to bus stops, said Ms. Statfeld.

Although they are in joint ventures with the county, developers still go through standard zoning and permit procedures.

"You have to go through the whole process of going through the commission and advertising it according to county procedures," Ms. Statfeld said. "We have things we want to see, too. They have to make it transit-friendly."

With revenue from a half-cent sales tax earmarked for transportation projects, the county plans to build more Metrorail stations as the line stretches in all directions.

"Hopefully, the wave of the future are these transit-related developments," Ms. Statfeld said, "as Metrorail goes more places in the future."