Over the past 15 years, the once bustling immigration agency tower at Biscayne and Northeast 79th Street fell into disuse and decay even as the once-depressed surrounding neighborhood was bustling with new development — restaurants, boutiques and revamped motels.
Now, the skeletal tower, sitting on prime property at 7880 Biscayne Blvd., may finally catch up with the neighbors.
The commercial real estate firm Avison Young just completed a $23 million sale of the property, which includes a waterfront parcel along Little River.
The buyer is Miami-based B Group Capital Management. Zoned for mixed-use, the property can be either residential or commercial.
“Situated in the heart of Miami’s bustling Biscayne Corridor with the potential for a developer to build office, retail, residential, and hospitality components, this rare opportunity attracted offers from a variety of potential buyers,” said Avison Young Principal Michael T. Fay, managing director of the firm’s Miami operations, in a press release.
“Ultimately, the right buyer proved to be a locally based investor with a deep understanding of the site’s value, which allowed us to achieve the highest possible price for all stakeholders involved.”
Previous plans to revamp the immigration structure have fallen flat. The would-be developer was accused of diverting some of the money to a separate property, the site of the former Little Farm trailer park in El Portal, land that has been empty and overgrown since residents were evicted.
The failure of the initial immigration building redevelopment resulted in the loss of millions of dollars and the filing of lawsuits, alleging fraud and deception. Among those taking the biggest hit were scores of Chinese investors, who dreamed of relocating to the United States with their families through what is called an EB-5 investor’s visa. They each provided in excess of $500,000.
Created in 1990 by Congress to stimulate the U.S. economy, EB-5 visas are designed to incentivize affluent foreign nationals to invest in the United States. If an individual’s investment could be shown to create 10 permanent jobs, the investor qualified for a green card and could move with his or her family to the United States.
Chun “Peter” Liu was one of these investors. Desiring to provide his young son with a better life and education, Liu attended a convention in his native China, where he listened to a pitch to invest in a project to revamp a decaying Miami building. He was hooked.
Before becoming headquarters of what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the building housed the now-defunct Gulf American Land Corp., known for selling Florida swampland to northerners. At its operational peak as an immigration hub, the building was a spectacle of long lines and sometimes-boisterous demonstrations. After its closure in 2008, the building sat there, increasingly an eyesore.
The redevelopment of the property, then dubbed the Triton Center, was supposed to be completed by 2021, but it never even got started.
One of the few investors who managed to be admitted to the United States, Liu sued in October 2020, naming the project’s funding arm and then-manager. He sought compensatory damages and demanded access to the company’s books.
The case was eventually settled with court-appointed receiver Michael Goldberg taking ownership and now selling off the property to pay off mortgages on the land and repay a portion of what the investors were owed.
With the recent purchase of the tower, those who invested in the project and, unlike Liu, had not yet gotten green cards will not be getting them because no additional jobs will be created, according to Goldberg.
They will, however, receive at least partial reimbursements and be able to apply that money toward a new investment, Goldberg said. Congress passed a provision last year that allows participants in failed EB-5 projects to keep their place in line while reinvesting their money into another project.
How much money the investors will receive is unclear. Goldberg said next up is the sale of the Little Farm property, which could generate more money for the investor.s
The investors were taken by surprise and upset by the current situation, according to Goldberg. But they are grateful that there’s still an opportunity to get their visas.
He stressed that the visas remain dependent on their next investment producing 10 jobs per investor.
“There’s no guarantee,” Goldberg said, “but at least we have a potential pathway to get them.”
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