Transit-Oriented Development in the 305

Land Development in the 305

Land Development Podcast
April 14, 2020


 

   

Land use and zoning attorneys, Albert E. Dotson, Jr. and Vicky Leiva, talk about transit-oriented development in South Florida and the impact of public transportation on a community.

Transcript: 

A. VICKY LEIVA

Hello, this is Vicky Leiva from The Law Firm of Bilzin Sumberg, and today we are going to talk about transit-oriented development. It seems that just a short few years ago, they were not the center of attention, but they are now as traffic gets more difficult and congestion increases.  And so today I've chosen to introduce to you my partner, Al Dotson, who has been doing transit-oriented development or TODs even before they were popular.  Al, say hello.     

 

ALBERT DOTSON

Vicky, it's great to be with you and always a pleasure to speak about issues that are important to the development community here in South Florida.

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

Well, why don't we start with, I think it was the very first one we ever did, the Santa Clara Station; do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

 

ALBERT DOTSON

You know that's interesting, Vicky, that you would start there.  As you know and as you've shared with your listeners, our firm actually began the transit-oriented development work, Stanley Price was at the County attorney's office and created the envelope for transit-oriented development throughout Miami-Dade County around Metrorail stations.  And after the creation of the transit zones, the County decided that it would look for developers who would join with the County to help create ridership by developing land that adjoins Metrorail stations, Santa Clara being one of them.  Shortly after Santa Clara, we came involved with the County's effort to get developer thoughts about all of the other stations, and for the most part, the County decided that it would seek developer responses to an RFP that included all of the stations.  

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

And we should probably add that the County, really Stan, when he prepared this for the County as an ordinance, created the RTZ zone which included not only the railway land for the Metrorail but created each station of the Metrorail system, a group of lots and lands and parcels that would ultimately become part of the station for the purpose of redevelopment.  So do you want to tell us a little bit about that exciting first procurement process for the -- I believe it was the Miami Arena?  Not the Triple-A but the original Miami Arena from the City of Miami, which had a station. 

 

ALBERT DOTSON

You know the original procurement actually included a number of stations within the procurement itself, and developers were allowed to respond to that RFP. What's interesting about that, Vicky, is that there were only two stations where most of the developers focused their attention.  One was the Overtown Station, which is the one you're referencing, and the other was the Coconut Grove Station.  Prior to that RFP, I believe there was a -- I'll call it an unsolicited proposal, which is the jargon we use today, for the South Miami Station.  So you had concurrently Miami-Dade County looking to develop multiple stations, and you had two stations that were the subject of much attention.  On the Overtown Station, what ultimately happened is while there was a lot of attention, no developer responded within the timeframe required to develop that particular parcel.  We were representing a client at that time that had responded to the Coconut Grove Metrorail Station opportunity.

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

Yes, I remember well.

 

ALBERT DOTSON

And we decided to look at the Overtown Station for a variety of reasons.  We looked at the County Code and realized that the County Code provided that a not-for-profit could actually submit a proposal to develop County land, and that the not-for-profit would not have to go through the procurement process if the County decided it wanted to move forward with that project.  So we worked with a not-for-profit that was in the development business along with a development partner that led to a long-term lease agreement with Miami-Dade County to build what is now the transit station where our transit department’s headquarters are located, and other County departments are also located -- that there was no competition on that, but during the process of negotiations, the County, I believe it was former Senator and Commissioner Gwen Margolis who suggested to Miami-Dade County staff -- the mayor and staff -- that they look at options to purchase after there is a construction project either underway or after the project is done.  One such option to purchase was actually placed in the Overtown lease, and the County decided that it would purchase the development built by our client and turn it into the County office buildings that you have there today.       

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

And that was a little different than anything we have seen since then in terms of kinds of transit-oriented developments, correct?

 

ALBERT DOTSON

You're right. In fact, the idea was to have private development on each of these sites, and the County realized that it needed space for its own operations as it continued to expand, as our population and the needs of our population expanded.  Overtown Metrorail Station was the next station north and was a way of connecting the two facilities via rail, and that's why the County decided to purchase that facility.

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

And I think at the same time you were also negotiating with the County a similar but not identical agreement for the Coconut Grove Station for the same client?

 

ALBERT DOTSON

You're right.  The Coconut Grove Station was the crown-jewel at that time of the development -- the development community considered it the crown-jewel at that time. A lot of competition; we defeated a bid protest challenge from a Texas-based company and negotiated a final lease and development agreement with Miami-Dade County on behalf of our client.  That developer received the award from the County, and in fact, there are developments taking place today at the 27th Avenue Station, otherwise known as the Coconut Grove Station, based on the agreement that we put in place a couple of decades ago.

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

Well, let's make sure that we share with our listener that that first deal was affected by one of the turndowns in the development, and it was an economic downturn, and it did not come to fruition.  It was renegotiated a second time with the County, attempts were had to have the project -- the proposed project approved by the local municipality where the development was going to be built, and ultimately, that was once again affected, and it was the third time that was the charm, which is the current project which you renegotiated and is now under development.  Care to give us a status report on where that's at?  

 

ALBERT DOTSON

Yes, and I appreciate you going through that history. It's important to note, as you did, that these projects are multiyear projects and sometimes multiphase projects.  There can be economic situations that impact their ability to move forward.  That did happen with respect to the first developer and the concept that they had for the development of the Coconut Grove Metrorail Station.  The current developer that we're representing tends to move forward even in these trying times that we find ourselves in and will develop the station that will include retail and may include some office.  There is a discussion, depending on the market, whether there will be residential.  The idea around these joint developments is that you will begin to create mass where these transportation nodes are located in order to increase reliance on our transit system and therefore reduce the number of cars on our streets.  

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

And speaking about where it all started, you mentioned previously that all of these stations went out to -- on a procurement process at the same time, including the South Miami Station in which you're involved right now, correct?

 

ALBERT DOTSON

 Actually, I'm not currently involved in the South Miami Station directly. I'm involved indirectly.  We are representing the City of South Miami in connection with the development of the City of South Miami property that is along the transitway.

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

 And the transit program there, it's moving along?

 

ALBERT DOTSON

 It is.  It absolutely is. It's a public-private partnership between the City of South Miami and a developer to redevelop the site on which City Hall is located as well to the City of South Miami's City Hall is located and where their police department headquarters is located.  That will include a new City Hall, a new police department headquarters, and private development.

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

 And all with easy access to the station next door?

 

ALBERT DOTSON

 That is correct.

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

So the dream created by some very visionary leaders back in the 1960s and '70s has finally come to fruition with all of the developments at these transportation knots that are actually in place or coming to completion?  Any other transit-oriented developments that you feel should be mentioned?

 

ALBERT DOTSON

You know the one transit-oriented development we haven't discussed is not a public-private partnership but a private-public partnership, and that's with Brightline and Virgin Trains.  We continue to work with their leadership as they expand their offerings to the community and put in multiple transit locations where there could be additional private development.  Brightline and Virgin Trains are going to be transformational for our entire state in being able to connect to entertainment hubs of our state, Orlando and South Florida.  To go from a cruise straight to Disney without ever having to get into a car would be an amazing feat once it is completed.  The business traveler can go from Downtown Miami to Downtown Fort Lauderdale and back or from Downtown Miami to Orlando and back without having to drive will also be a game-changer within our state.  So that transit-oriented development doesn't necessarily fit the common definition that involves the public sector first and then the private sector.  Both of them are going to be extraordinarily important as we connect people within our community and people within our state. 

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

Well, and its location, it also happens to be adjacent to and will work in coordination with one of the existing or the primary station of the Metrorail system at Government Center. So definitely transit-oriented in its location and in the way it's built and constructed to be part in parcel of that Government Center site.  Any other issues you think we should mention before we let our listeners go?

 

ALBERT DOTSON Yes, just one thing.  If you have a moment, take a train.  It will help everyone, those who drive, and also our public transit department as they continue to seek funds to create more public transportation alternatives for our community.

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

Well, thank you very much, Al. It's certainly been enlightening and it's always a pleasure to recall our many experiences in the transportation area.

 

ALBERT DOTSON

My pleasure.

 

A. VICKY LEIVA

Thanks for listening to our podcast.  If you want more on this and other land development related topics, visit us at Bilzin.com and subscribe to our new Miami blog at www.newmiamiblog.com.

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Albert E. Dotson, Jr.

Albert E. Dotson, Jr.

Managing Partner
A. Vicky Leiva

A. Vicky Leiva

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