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Major Retail Rising Near Miami Courthouse, Health District

The doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital and the bailiffs and clerks at the Richard Gerstein Justice Building hopefully like hot dogs, because the vendor slinging wieners outside the courthouse is one of the few lunch options around in the so-called Health District, long a retail desert.

Developers Andrew Hellinger and Coralee Penabad of Urban X survey the construction at River Landing Shops and Residences in December 2018.

That is about to change, with the construction of River Landing, a $425M mixed-use project by UrbanX Group on the banks of the Miami River. 

Soon, in between surgeries or during breaks in jury duty, people will be able to power lunch, pick up a brand-name handbag and get a part for their boat. They might hang around for happy hour or take a ferry across to the river to a Marlins game. 

With medical schools, hospital facilities and the court, the area around River Landing has long drawn one of the one of the largest daytime populations in South Florida. The project will cater to area workers with 412K SF of retail space, 529 market-rate apartments, 2,200 parking spaces, boat tie-ups and green space. Tenants already on board include Publix, Burlington, T.J.Maxx, West Marine, Ross Dress for Less, AT&T and Hobby Lobby. The development is expected to open in early 2020.

Developer Andrew Hellinger, who will be a speaker at Bisnow's Retail Revolution event in March, said has he eyed the property, which was once controlled by Henry Flagler, since the early 2000s when he was with the now-defunct firm Leviev Boymelgreen.

"We broke the rule of real estate: Never fall in love with a property," Hellinger said. 

River Landing overlooks the Miami River. A shuttle boat will bring residents across the water.

He bought it from the Shriners in 2012 and is developing it with his partner in UrbanX, Coralee Penabad. 

Almost all of the river has private buildings along it — working boatyards, expensive homes, or, lately, a few expensive restaurants. River Landing will have a giant, open-air corridor that invites people to walk through the project from the street to the river, plus 2 acres of land that was donated by the county and will be open green space.

There will also be a landscaped walkway along the riverbank, and steps leading up to River Landing's ground level where restaurants will have outdoor patio seating. 

Looking southeast from River Landing, visitors can see the Miami River flowing toward downtown Miami.

"Everything is secluded and blocked off from the public" along the river, Hellinger said. "Our goal was to invite the public. And once we do, we think you will want to eat, stay, hang out, hopefully enough that you'll want to come live in our apartments." 

In 2015, Hellinger faced foreclosure on a $38.2M mortgage, plus several liens from unpaid architects and engineers. But a Toronto-based real estate investment trust, H&R REIT, bought the mortgage and worked to help execute the vision. Hellinger said the ordeal ultimately became a good thing, because H&R had ideas like adding floors and office space that made it a better designed and more profitable project. 

"Before we started construction, we were pre-leased with the anchor tenants," Hellinger said. "Our Publix lease is a 40-year lease. All the others are either 10- or 15-year leases." 

A rendering of River Landing as it will be seen from the water.

Hellinger believes his project is recession-proof, because it is perfectly situated for professionals who work in the nearby hospitals and research centers. Healthcare is the only industry that grew during the last recession, he said. 

"Publix turned us down twice, and I convinced them to give us a meeting," Hellinger said. "I asked for 15 minutes to convince them that this part of the city was going to grow and be the place to be. That meeting lasted two hours, and at the conclusion they committed to a 28K SF supermarket, which is pretty small. They're now at 42K SF. That tells you something about their concept of growth in this area."