Miami Beach’s real es­tate boom set to carry on as seas rise

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY DIEGO URDANETA

Miami Beach’s condo boom is bub­bling hot, with glass tow­ers be­ing built as fast as they can be — even as sci­en­tists say ris­ing seas could swamp much of the sto­ried city by the cen­tury’s end.

City of­fi­cials are bet­ting that a prop­erty boom- fu­eled surge in real es­tate tax dol­lars will bankroll big in­vest­ments in fight­ing ef­fects of cli­mate change.

Many sci­en­tists, how­ever, have doubts about how much can be done, and how soon, to stem tides that few un­til re­cently thought would rise so fast.

The sea and sand life­style is big busi­ness for the area. Mil­lions of tourists visit Miami Beach’s white sands and Art Deco build­ings ev­ery year.

Res­i­dents of the city — which sits on an is­land just off down­town Miami — have grown in­creas­ingly used to see­ing streets flooded with sea­wa­ter, even on sunny days.

Al­most all of low-ly­ing Florida’s pop­u­la­tion of just un­der 20 mil­lion lives crowded along its two sandy coasts. Florida is al­ready the third most pop­u­lous U.S. state — and ex­pects to grow as the U.S. baby boom gen­er­a­tion heads into re­tire­ment.

And the is­land on which Miami Beach sits is on the front­lines for storm and ti­dal surges. As a whole, the state’s mean el­e­va­tion is just 100 feet (30 me­ters).

To help get its stand­ing wa­ter out, Miami Beach alone is in­stalling a pump­ing sys­tem ex­pected to cost US$300-500 mil­lion (NT$9.307-15.512 bil­lion).

New builds, new

pro­tec­tion

“New devel­op­ment is good be­cause it ba­si­cally strength­ens our tax base,” said Miami Beach Public Works direc­tor Eric Car­pen­ter.

“You need to pre­pare f or a rainy day while it’s still sunny out­side.”

Car­pen­ter is in charge of the mas­sive pumps project.

“Now is t he t i me t hat we should be in­vest­ing the money into im­prov­ing our in­fra­struc­ture in the city, be­cause we do have in­creas­ing tax-base com­ing in with th­ese new de­vel­op­ments,” he told AFP.

In 2014, Miami Beach col­lected US$128 mil­lion in prop­erty taxes — up 8.8 per­cent from 2013, of­fi­cial data show.

The city has al­ready in­stalled 25 of 80 mas­sive pumps in its cur­rent plans.

So far, re­sults are fairly en­cour­ag­ing: in Oc­to­ber, at a high­est tide stage, sea wa­ter was al­most kept out en­tirely.

Just a year ear­lier, Mayor Philip Levine rode around a city street in a kayak to un­der­score the need to take ac­tion.

Rais­ing (Parts of) the City?

Au­thor­i­ties say all the pump­ing in the world is of course a shortto medium- term fix. Pump­ing can­not turn back ris­ing seas if the pace of sea level rise it­self in­creases.

Some ex­perts have sug­gested build­ing and retrofitting some city in­fra­struc­ture at higher lev­els as a pos­si­bil­ity. Miami Beach’s real es­tate alone is val­ued at US$2.7 bil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent U. S. gov­ern­ment and sci­en­tific re­port, the Miami area, with its dense pop­u­la­tion and low altitude, is among the U.S. cities at great­est risk.

By 2100, seas could rise as much as six feet (1.8 me­ters).

If that were to hap­pen, two thirds of Miami Beach would be un­der wa­ter.

Florida In­ter­na­tional Uni­ver­sity ge­ol­o­gist Peter Har­lem, who works on mod­els to fore­cast sea-level rise, warned the cur­rent strat­egy can­not save Miami Beach, which just cel­e­brated its cen­ten­nial.

“If you spend it on the easy stuff, you’re not go­ing to have any money left for the hard stuff,” he said.

“So my con­cern is the longert­erm sea level rise that’s go­ing to get real ex­pen­sive — and if we’re all broke be­cause we blew all that money sav­ing a few places that should have been moved.”

Record High-end Sales

Omi­nous fore­casts, how­ever, have not scared off real es­tate de­vel­op­ers or buy­ers.

“Peo­ple are com­ing in and pay­ing top- dollar for units, record- break­ing prices, higher than ever be­fore,” said Har­vey Daniels, vice pres­i­dent of devel­op­ment sales at One Sotheby’s Miami. “You know, we have some fullfloor res­i­dences that are US$10, US$15, US$20, US$30 mil­lion in Miami Beach. And they are not get­ting th­ese num­bers any­where else.” His out­look is rosy, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the mar­ket slump just a few years back. Now the U.S. econ­omy is more sta­ble — and pur­chases from Asia, Europe and Latin Amer­ica have surged.

“It is a great mo­ment for Miami Beach, there are a lot of the projects, ev­ery­thing is sell­ing very, very quickly,” said Daniels who is sell­ing con­dos at the Ritz-Carl­ton, 111 op­u­lent homes from US$1.8 mil­lion to US$16 mil­lion.

For now, Daniels is not fret­ting about sea-level rise.

“It is def­i­nitely some­thing that I think will have some type of im­pact far in the fu­ture, but the city of Miami Beach is tak­ing ma­jor pre­cau­tions,” he said.

“It cer­tainly hasn’t af­fected our sales or slowed down our sales. We haven’t lost any deals be­cause of it. And I don’t an­tic­i­pate we will.”

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