Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Original Biscayne Landing developer wants to buy it back

By Nadege Charles
North Miami has seen a circle of developers jockeying to take over the Biscayne Landing property in the past few months.

The latest twist: the original developer, Michael Swerdlow wants to get back into the project.

And to prove he means it, at a council meeting Tuesday, Swerdlow offered the council $16.5 million and challenged them to find a developer with a better proposal.

However, North Miami is not in a position to negotiate with Swerdlow because the city doesn’t own the development rights, yet.

The council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to terminate the site lease and proceed with the final steps to return the land back to full city ownership. Mayor Andre Pierre and Councilwoman Marie Steril voted against the item.

Trimont Real Estate Advisors, which is serving as an advisor to Wells Fargo and acting as trustee for the property’s main mortgage holder has refused to pay the city $1 million owed for the Museum of Contemporary Arts and is late on its annual rent payment.

If the city takes back the land, it will likely start from scratch and put out a bid for a new developer to develop the undeveloped piece of property that sits along Biscayne Bay, Councilman Scott Galvin said.

Swerdlow is not the first developer to claim he can solve the city’s problem. Several other groups have come forward to with proposals to transform the valuable stretch of land with ocean views.

After a failed indoor ski resort idea tanked last year, the city has received offers from North Miami Development Team LLC and Bay Vista Development Group which is backed by the Terra Group and Carlisle Development Group.

Developer Irwin Tauber has also expressed interest in the property.

Now, Swerdlow wants a second chance.

Swerdlow had an original deal with North Miami to build a mixed-use luxury community at Biscayne Landing. In 2003 he brought in Boca Developers as his partner, but in 2006 Boca Developer bought out Swerdlow for an undisclosed amount.

Shortly after, the market tanked and the land has been mired in foreclosure and legal proceedings.

“I personally think it’s good for the city,” Swerdlow said of his proposal.

In a Tuesday letter to the city, Swerdlow proposed an immediate $1 million deposit to the city and $1.5 million in annual rent.

He is asking for an “unencumbered lease” and promised to set aside start up money for affordable housing.

The original lease asks for $28 million in offsite developments including expansion of the city’s museum and upgrades to its library.

Mayor Andre Pierre said he is willing to consider an open process for all developers to pitch their ideas to the city.

To Swerdlow, he said, “You don’t get a free roll into the city of North Miami.”

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