Galbut Development Unveils Versions to the Public
Three distinct visions were unveiled to the public last Thursday of what the three-block area between 6th, 7th, and 8th streets at Alton Road could look like in a few short years – a grand, yet scaled, outlet mall/residential development which its various architects intend to be a “magical” marriage of retail space with green space, with a nod to the surrounding neighborhoods and South Beach’s unique Art Deco style.
One after the other, the designers competing for the opportunity to win the project –Gensler, Benoy + Add, and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill – presented and explained renditions of the proposed Crescent Heights development before a packed room of over 150 Beach residents and public officials gathered at the Shelbourne Hotel.
The meeting, previously and controversially scheduled for the City Commission chambers at City Hall, was moved to the Shelbourne in order to accommodate a larger audience.
Each of the design groups, with the help of slide shows, showed what they would do to transform the area near the city’s southern entrance into a mixed-use residential/commercial development, while carefully balancing issues and concerns ranging from traffic circulation, connectivity, aesthetics (“invoking the spirit of Art Deco without mimicking it,” offered one presenter), pedestrian-friendliness, and neighborhood cohesiveness. One of the designers even went further and rolled out a small scale architectural model of their rendering.
“Does this say ‘gateway?’” derisively asked the spokesman for one designer at the start of his group’s presentation as he displayed a slide of the retail outlet facade at the northeast corner of 5th and Alton. His firm proposes a layout that would create a 9.3 acre park on what is only an 8.7 acre plot of land through the clever utilization of rooftop space.
Mayor Matti Bower, seated next to Russell Galbut, the project’s developer, nodded in agreement when one speaker mentioned that this charrettes meeting was opened to the public “for their input.” That input will now play a major role as city leaders and Galbut advance to the next phase of the project, expected to be the consideration of and debate over the three proposed designs.
Reaction from the audience – which included many who had arrived from a City Hall protest an hour earlier – was muted, with only a few questions asked at the end of the two-hour session. Most seemed to be absorbing the new images and information presented to them rather than either all-embracing or critical.
Each of the plans incorporates a pedestrian-friendly emphasis, factoring in a proposed walkway over the MacArthur Causeway entrance to 5th Street, linking the Baywalk. Some plans made accommodations for a potential future Baylink commuter rail line from over the Bay.
The site’s proposed public park space would include ample walkway and shade canopy from planted trees. Its parking garage would be “sensitively” and “very respectfully” scaled so that it does not overwhelm the surrounding community just east of Alton.
“We’re fortunate today to be on the same side,” one designer remarked on the confluence of residents, private entities, and civic leaders. “We want that magical” transformation that the three plans propose for the Beach’s southernmost gateway.