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May 2019

‘Cuando se termine este gran hormiguero, Miami va a lucir espectacular’, dice urbanizador


Like any city, Miami proves its true identity when walking at night. By taking the area of ​​Little Havana at the height of Calle Ocho and Avenida 9, the city unfolds and becomes younger.

Groups of  beautiful people  walk to Café la Trova, whose interior revives the style of old and true Havana, or they stop on the edge of the street at a beach bar in front of a Colombian restaurant to watch a chef prepare tacos and arepas.

The smoke from the food mixes with the party perfume worn by some girls dressed in shorts and heels – what else can you wear in this raging summer? The city takes on a different air and becomes more stylized. Brickell is close and money lends its own scent.

In that no man’s land they call West Brickell, a pocket of streets that has something in common with its two neighbors, Brickell and Little Havana, between the  metromover , the Miami River and I-195, a part of the future Miami grows. , the one that  millennials prefer .

“They want connectivity, technology and access to fun spots. They want to have restaurants and bars close by. They want to walk from one point to another, ride a bicycle, and for all that they sacrifice space, ”says Santiago Vanegas, president and CEO of Habitat Group.

Vanegas is a pioneer developer in the West Brickell area, where in 2005 he purchased his first land and undertook residential and hotel projects.

He bought and restored two abandoned hotels, the Historic Miami River Hotel, which he saw the potential of the log cabins that bear witness to the old Miami that was formed by the river, and the Jefferson Hotel, a modest building in Little Havana, at the which he decorated with touches of elegant Havana and whose rooms are rented today for more than $ 230.

He sold these two hotels, but talks about them with the same enthusiasm as his new projects, especially the three connected towers of  Smart Brickell,  on 9th Avenue and SW Second Street.

Vanegas explains that while other developers are delivering the last units of this construction cycle nearing completion, in condominiums in Brickell, downtown and Edgewater, his company is already preparing for the next cycle, and they hope to deliver the first project by the 2021.

With 25 floors each and sold in their entirety, the Smart Brickell towers – the first one has already begun to be built – will combine hotel and apartments, and will have the attractions that millennials are looking for  . Nest smart climate control and Lifx lighting systems, the sexy voice of Amazon’s assistant Alexa, and a program that communicates with the   building concierge .

The apartments start at $ 330,000 for the 600-square-foot apartments, and they are delivered with minimalist and futuristic furnishings that fit the space.

Vanegas explains that he has downsized the apartments to make the prices more attractive in West Brickell, noting that a similar condo in Brickell would cost $ 500,000 or more.

“Millennials prefer to pay for a small space that has good facilities and is well located,” he says.

For the summer, the area, which is steps away from the Brickell City Center, will offer more entertainment and dining options in the new Riverside complex  , which will have 120,000 square feet of roofed and open-air businesses, overlooking the Miami River .

Habitat Group has three other projects in West Brickell,  Millux  1 and 2, two 57-room hotels whose name refers to  millennials , and another with a luxury component, Brickell Lux, which will combine hotel and apartments with prices more similar to those of Brickell.


Although his center of operations is now in West Brickell, Vanegas has confidence in the urban development of all of Miami and in its condo market, which is more stable and less speculative.

Vanegas points out that the first component in the demand for condos is population growth, which in downtown alone is expected to reach 20,000 people in the next 10 years.

“The demand is there, what developers are doing is generating supply,” he says, explaining in turn that the second component of demand is the availability of credit, which after the 2010 crisis, has been adjusted by the system financial, which is stricter on loans.

As the speculator disappeared from the market, as there was no possibility of a  real  estate boom , only expert developers have been building.

“That means a better product, a more efficient urbanism, which also goes hand in hand with a good building code, which is Miami 21, which for me is practically the perfect model of urbanism,” he says about the implications that these changes they have for Miamians.

Vanegas explains that metropolitan centers have become “ant hills”, but if these are designed or builders are forced to be guided by parameters that respect the volume of construction, a staggered coherence is obtained.

He gives as an example that only 48-story buildings can be built in Brickell, with a density of 500 units per acre; in West Brickell, 24-story buildings and 200 units per acre; and in development corridors like Flagler and Calle Ocho, only eight stories and 150 units per acre.

In addition, the areas of residential, commercial or mixed use are respected.

“When this great anthill is finished, in 50 years Miami will look spectacular because it is staggered and organized, and that did not exist before Miami 21,” he says, noting that the lack of a plan explains the disproportionate height of the old buildings that clash with the style of the area in which they are located.

Vanegas also has a development vision for the  historic district of Little Havana , between 5th and 6th streets and 9th avenue, where there are buildings of Cuban architecture of great beauty, he points out.

He suggests that after the designation of a historic district, the next step should be taken and change the use, which is only residential, to generate energy and bring movement to the area.

“The buildings will be painted pastel colors and the tourist buses that now only go down Calle Ocho will get there to have that spectacular Cuban experience,” he anticipates, aware that once the investments begin, the gentrification process that will displace former residents due to rising property prices and rents.

This is a concern expressed by residents and business owners of Little Havana, who have seen how the rents of commercial premises have risen, in many cases due to the proximity to Brickell and the new West Brickell seal for the neighboring neighborhood. .

“Prices are through the roof, traffic is uncontrollable and magnificent family businesses have disappeared,” says Ena Columbié, who has lived in Little Havana for years, and although her rent has not yet been raised, she lives “with the fear that they will buy the building to tear it down and we stay on the street ”.

Columbié points out that most of the businesses are very similar hardware in which a coffee can cost $ 5, in addition to the annoyance for the neighbors that they close the streets to traffic every time there is an event, and they are unable to leave or enter their houses.

“The only positive thing is the makeup they have put on Little Havana, from which even the name has been taken away, now it is called West Brickell”, concludes Columbié.

Por su parte, Vanegas apoya la construcción de viviendas asequibles, pero señala que tiene que haber rentabilidad para los urbanizadores, que ahora reciben beneficios tributarios que solo benefician a los grandes urbanizadores.

El considera que los corredores urbanísticos de Flagler y la Calle Ocho son ideales para realizar este tipo de proyectos y sugiere que los gobiernos de las ciudades y las entidades públicas ofrezcan subsidios a los compradores para ayudar con la cuota inicial, en lugar de dar bonos o subsidios de alquiler.

Los proyectos de construcción de viviendas económicas generarán empleos para las empresas involucradas en la construccion, y además las nuevas propiedades pagarán impuestos a los gobiernos municipales, que aumentarán la recaudación y las posibilidades de invertir en otros proyectos.