It only took, oh, 15 years or so, so long that it began to feel like a fable. But Miami Worldcenter's vast and long-delayed "city within a city" is finally rising from the ground just north of downtown. For real.
Worldcenter's 60-story, glass-wrapped Paramount luxury condo tower, which sits on a block-long retail and amenity podium, has topped off and will open next year. A stand-alone retail and garage building is under construction across what will be the city's first pedestrian-only shopping street.
A block away, the Caoba rental apartment tower nears completion, with a projected opening late this year. And developer ZOM's Luma rental tower is set to break ground this summer.
That's just roughly half the $2.7 billion worth of mixed-use development slated for the half-dozen city blocks that Miami Worldcenter will occupy when it's complete a few years hence.
But it looks now like Miami may well have its answer to Hudson Yards, the massive development project over a rail yard on Manhattan's west side. Both are about the same size at 27 acres, both are about equally dense, and they are tied as the biggest real-estate projects now under way in the country, said Nitin Motwani, Miami Worldcenter's managing principal.
Worldcenter, in fact, may be the largest single project in city of Miami history, he said. It straddles North Miami Avenue, just south of Interstate 395.
"We couldn't be happier," a beaming Motwani told a gaggle of reporters and photographers gathered for a tour of the massive construction site on Thursday. "We made mistakes along the way. We were pioneers. No one had done this before. But the result has been remarkable."
360 view: See a panoramic rendering of Miami Worldcenter
Still to come: an office high-rise, two public parks and a convention center with a two-tower, 1,700-room hotel. The convention hotel's elevated amenity deck will feature an unconventional attraction, said Paul Pebley, sales director for developer MDM: a track for electric race cars.
The race-car track only adds to the Jetsons'-like elements at Miami Worldcenter. Paramount developer Dan Kodsi is readying the tower's rooftop for flying cars.
Worldcenter founding principal Falcone, Motwani and their team suggested that the project's coming to fruition signals the long-awaited arrival of the city's urban, densified, interconnected future — one in which you can drive and park if you want to, but won't need to.
On Friday, they noted, the new Brightline express train will inaugurate its new MiamiCentral station a block away, with service to downtown Fort Lauderdale and downtown West Palm Beach starting later in May.
They stressed as well that Miami Worldcenter will attach directly to three Metromover stations, while Brightline's MiamiCentral will incorporate a new Tri-Rail terminus and connect to Metrorail.
"It's the new epicenter of downtown Miami," said Michael Harrison, senior managing director at commercial developer Hines, which will build the office tower at Worldcenter.
There were doubters, to be sure, when developer Art Falcone and Motwani began buying up lots in the mostly derelict Park West section, then won approval for what they described as Miami's version of Rockefeller Center. That was way back in the administration of then-Mayor Manny Diaz.
"I'm one of the people who said they were crazy," Harrison said.
There was one major economic crisis, litigation from activists and some planning stumbles. Two department stores that were to serve as anchors for a massive and controversial enclosed shopping mall spread over several blocks pulled out. Then the mall was ditched and redesigned as an open-air, urban retail, dining and drinking district — the kind now in vogue with shoppers who have otherwise abjured bricks and mortar shops for online. The redesign reopened streets that would have been absorbed within the mall.
Big-money partner CIM injected badly needed cash into the project when it joined in 2009, and retail partners Taubman and Forbes, who at times were reportedly ready to pull out, remained on board. The revival of the condo boom and high demand for rentals provided a market, as did Miami's expanding retail scene, which appears to be bucking national trends.
Forbes' Nate Forbes said he was not ready to announce the names of retailers or restaurateurs, but added interest has been "very, very strong."
"This is one of the most important projects in the country right now," he said.
Kodsi said sales at Paramount are also robust, with nearly three-quarters of units under contract. Units in the building average 1,600 square feet and have been selling for $700 a foot, Motwani said.
Falcone sounded almost incredulous as he detailed the project's chronology from the day he bought the first lots at auction in 2003.
"We've had our setbacks over the years," Falcone said, adding: "All those things we've been talking about have actually happened."
This article was written by Andres Viglucci, and published in The Miami Herald.