South Miami’s Sunset Place revival gets green light

Planning and Zoning Board approves South Miami’s new comprehensive plan to transform Shops at Sunset Place.

The Shops at Sunset Place, a once-thriving 10-acre regional mall in downtown South Miami, now stands as a relic of its unintegrated and outdated 1990s design, casting a shadow over its neighboring businesses.

The silence within its vacant halls echoes the single, pressing question many residents have been asking: “When will something finally happen on this property?” It appears residents are getting their answer as the City of South Miami’s new City Commission promises to usher in an era of revitalization, with the iconic mall at its heart.

Last month, the Planning and Zoning Board set the stage for Sunset Place’s redevelopment, approving by a near unanimous vote an overhaul to the zoning code. The initial vote is a promising first step and a sharp contrast to the site’s troubled history, marked by false starts, delays and city-imposed obstacles. These obstacles, creating an inflexible code that micromanaged development, led to the former owners abandoning their plans. Notably, when Tom Cruise attended a movie premiere at AMC Sunset Place this past July, Gina Guilford was moved to pen a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald titled “This wasn’t our best look,” openly criticizing the South Miami City Commission’s unsuccessful efforts in revitalizing the Shops at Sunset Place, questioning what impression such a distinguished visitor might have of Miami based on the current state of Sunset Place.

Javier Fernandez

South Miami’s elected officials are taking a different approach this time around. Newly elected Mayor Javier Fernandez (former Democratic State Rep. from Coral Gables), alongside the entire South Miami Commission, made the redevelopment of Sunset Place and downtown South Miami a central focus of their recent election campaigns.

“We need a better downtown and Sunset Place. I’m going to bring those priorities to the forefront from Day One,” Fernandez said in November 2022.

Commissioner Steve Calle had his pivotal “That’s it, I’m running for Commissioner” moment when he parked with his family in the Sunset Place garage and strolled through the “sad” and “ghost-town” mall. “That’s always been my No. 1, we [have] to fix Sunset Place and downtown,” he emphasized.

From regional mall to neighborhood

The zoning changes initially requested by the current owner and, subsequently developed in collaboration with the City’s staff, reimagine the property’s potential. Their goal is to convert the site from a regional mall to a neighborhood that seamlessly blends with South Miami’s current street network. This involves breaking up the large block into smaller street squares and replacing big-box stores with a mix of small shops, residences and family-friendly open spaces.

The changes include the replacement of an existing ordinance that previously allowed for the construction of over 1.4 million square feet of commercial space with a new plan, placing greater emphasis on residential density—in other words, a “de-mall-ization.” The new ordinance trades off high-traffic generating uses (retail uses) for lower-traffic generating uses (residential uses). The overall effect is a significant reduction in the potential traffic-generating capacity of development while bringing in sufficient new residents to sustain area businesses.

“The City Commission and Sunset Place owners envision a different development, which provides and attracts pedestrian activity through the development of needed housing and office uses, together with supporting ground-level retail uses consistent with an urban community,” describes the Planning and Zoning Staff Report.

The city is placing a strong emphasis on maintaining the quaint, low-density ambiance along Sunset Drive, South Miami’s main street. Height restrictions along Sunset Drive are set to decrease from four stories to two stories. Instead, the plan strategically shifts the focus of development density and height toward US-1, aligning with the existing and forthcoming residential structures in the transit corridor known as the Rapid Transit Zone, where heights of up to 38 stories are permitted.

“We set out to change the canvas of this twice failed project, moving away from a regional mall toward a neighborhood that becomes an integral and cohesive part of the South Miami community,” stated Richard Perez, executive director of Midtown Development, at the City of South Miami’s Planning and Zoning meeting.

With this strong commitment and collaborative spirit from South Miami’s political leadership, the future of Sunset Place and the broader downtown revitalization project looks bright.

The next crucial step will be the City Commission’s vote on the requested zoning ordinances. Hopefully, the third time will be the charm for Shops at Sunset Place.

Staff Reports


  • Get real

    October 13, 2023 at 11:17 am

    What was iconic was the original Holsum Bakery at that site for many decades and wonderfully decorated for the holidays each year. Everything since has been horribly designed to maximize profit and very short-lived in duration. The mall by this and previous name (“Bakery Center”) has never, ever been describable as “iconic!”

  • Marianela

    October 13, 2023 at 8:19 pm

    Finally! Hope something nice happens, that place is a mess.

  • Jared

    October 15, 2023 at 9:35 pm

    I was there last week and it reminded me of COVID. It’s a haunted mall.

  • Donny

    October 15, 2023 at 10:26 pm

    Good sign. The last commission micromanaged the previous developers and drove them to dump the site. There’s hope that won’t happen again. Javier Fernandez knows what he is doing.

    • C. Manrique

      October 16, 2023 at 8:09 am

      These new politicians who said they will put Downtown South Miami first should not get reelected if this place looks the same in a year. The small businesses are suffering because it’s so dead.

  • Harvey

    October 16, 2023 at 12:26 pm

    There used to be so much life in Sunset Place, but now it’s always empty while Miami is thriving everywhere else. The Grove, Brickell, and even Coral Gables have so much life and energy, and I would have never guessed in a million years that Allapattah would have more foot traffic than South Miami.

Comments are closed.


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