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Echo Brickell marks development crossroads

Last week’s presale launch party for the proposed Echo Brickell residential highrise marks a crossroads for condo development design in Miami’s Central Business District during this latest building boom.

To date, developers in the district have generally designed condo projects based on a simple rule: build luxury condo towers with a small number of units, large floor plans, superior finishes and extensive amenities exclusively on waterfront sites fronting Biscayne Bay.

Accordingly, development sites in the district that are not located directly on land fronting Biscayne Bay are usually destined for less luxury and more density as developers often conclude a Class A project on a Class B location would unlikely produce more than a Class B price.

Echo Brickell’s developer – Property Markets Group of New York City – is challenging this local approach by attempting to build a signature 57-story condo tower with expansive floor plans at a rich price per square foot on land located a block west of the bay at 1451 Brickell Avenue.

The developer is hoping to overcome the lack of a waterfront location by having an actual Brickell Avenue address, unlike many nearby proposed condo projects that incorporate the famed street name in their official monikers despite being located elsewhere.

Aside from the Brickell Avenue address, Echo Brickell also has a name-brand conceptual designer in star architect Carlos Ott, a boutique-like density with only 180 units and above-average amenities for the market, according to marketing materials.

It is worth noting, Echo Brickell is to be developed across the street from the Four Seasons Millennium Tower at 1441 Brickell Avenue.

During the last South Florida condo cycle, the developers of the Four Seasons Millennium Tower built a 70-story mixed-use project with condos, condo-hotel units, offices and retail space that some industry watchers contend was more appropriate for New York City than Greater Downtown Miami.

Ultimately, it took nine years for the Four Seasons to sell all 264 condo and condo-hotel units despite construction concluding at the beginning of 2003.

The positive news for the Four Seasons is the units eventually sold for an average price of $730 per square foot, excluding any developer incentives that were offered along the way between 2003 and 2012, according to Miami-Dade County records.

If Echo Brickell – which reportedly has presold 50 percent of the project at prices starting at more than $700 per square foot – succeeds where the Four Seasons could not, Greater Downtown Miami could see a wave of luxury condo developments popping up on non-waterfront sites.

It is for this reason that developers, lenders, property owners and buyers alike monitor the progress of Echo Brickell more than another proposed Greater Downtown Miami luxury project planned for another non-waterfront site: the One Thousand Museum condo tower.

One Thousand Museum is proposed to rise more than 60 stories and feature fewer than 100 units on the current BP gas station on the west side of the 1000 block of Biscayne Boulevard. The Zaha Hadid-designed skyscraper is to be developed across from the 29-acre Museum Park, which features the soon-to-open $220 million Perez Art Museum Miami and planned $275 million Frost Museum of Science, on a waterfront site on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard.

Civic boosters say when Museum Park is completed in 2015, it will be a top South Florida destination for residents and visitors and ultimately evolve into Miami’s version of New York City’s Central Park.

The unanswered question going forward is whether preconstruction condo buyers are so bullish on Greater Downtown Miami’s future that they are willing to pay what had been a waterfront price for a unit in a project located a block away from Biscayne Bay.

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