How Transit-Oriented Developments Are Changing the Real Estate Landscape

Presented at CREW Miami’s Luncheon Meeting, February 14, 2018

Moderator: Anthony De Yurre, Partner, Bilzin Sumberg.

Panelists: Ashley Bosch, Director of Development, Rilea Group; Arnaud Karsenti, Managing Principal, 13th Floor Investments; Vince C. Lago, City of Coral Gables Commissioner; Patrice Gillespie Smith,Planning Design & Transportation Manager, Miami DDA

Suppling context for transit needs, Patrice Gillespie Smith compared downtown Miami’s population density of 23 people per acre to that of New York City, which counts 48 per acre. A high percentage of Miami’s downtown residents are in the 23-to-44 age group, pointing to a strong demand for non-car alternatives. Transit stations are a magnet for land use and increased density and Miami’s downtown already has the highest number of public transportation modes in Florida, with train, bus, and bicycle. Trail development (The Underline) is under way. Positive shifts in retail planning include the Metrorail station at Brickell City Centre, Brightline at Government Center, and, the under-construction, Miami World Center that will have eventually have three Metro stops.

Ashley Bosch described how Rilea Group’s Motion at Dadeland is designed to promote ridership at the system level. A colonnade from the transit stop (directly across from JCPenney) to Dadeland Mall will protect those walking or riding bikes from sun and rain. “Between job and home, people want to do things at a stop, like get a bite to eat or pick up dry cleaning.” The urban lifestyle that millennials are choosing includes having amenities in the workplace (gym, café, convenience store) and that also takes cars off the road.

Arnaud Karsenti noted that all TODs have to succeed for the concept to function successfully. His firm plans a transit-oriented development (TOD) at 37th Avenue and US 1 in Coconut Grove in partnership with Adler Group. To promote mass transit, his firm subsidizes its employees‘ Metro use. “Link at Douglas is halfway between Dadeland and Downtown. Stations are eyesores now, with nothing around them, but the City of Miami and the County realize that these areas need to be activated.” The new project’s goal is to create a sense of place where people can feel cool/trendy. The six-building complex with residential and retail components, as well as a plaza will be a nexus for train, bus, trolley, and rideshare; a place where pedestrians feel safe to walk. He said the County and Metropolitan Transit Authority have been supportive, and have helped the developers find solutions to project challenges. Karsenti sees the label “millennial” as a way of life rather than an age group. He believes development should benefit consumer decisions, because real estate falls in the category of “stuff” that both young people and baby boomers want less of. He’s betting that Link at Douglas’s 625-square-foot units, at $1,500 to $2,000/month, will find buyers.

As a professional engineer and a Coral Gables commissioner since 2013, Vince Lago knows both the private and government sides of TOD. He said Coral Gables has begun to allow smaller units in the CBD as a way to increase its supply of affordable dwellings. He worked to get the Gables a seat on the Metropolitan Planning Authority, and noted that increased transportation options are essential to adding housing density. Coral Gables has free trolleys and a free car service (FreeBee) in the CBD. He emphasized the need for the public sector to make policy adjustments so things can work for the private sector. 

Autonomous vehicles, which are not yet legal, have to reach 30% before they alleviate traffic congestion. Lago said nearly everyone is seeking, and planning for, adaptive re-use of parking structures, but obstacles to a carless society exist. “Some consumers are onboard but retailers, banks, and investors are not. Lessors will have to decide at the time of lease-signing whether to risk the elimination of parking, and devise new tenant perks to compensate.” He said 700,000 cars a day drive through Coral Gables on the way to somewhere else. Leadership is missing on the town and state levels, making it important to lobby elected officials because commuting is a quality-of-life issue.

— Susan Cumins CREW Miami member since 1998