Update: a few days after this story ran, a building official advised that Marina Lofts in 2014 had applied for and received a two-year extension to apply for a building permit, a fact confirmed by city spokesperson Chaz Adams. The developer now must apply by February 20, 2017. Original story: In December, the Facebook page for Marina Lofts read: "If you need an apartment, but don't want to wait months on a waiting list, please consider Marina Lofts' Preferred Residence Program."
Which is rather ironic, considering that the 800-plus apartments at Marina Lofts have yet to be built. In fact, ground has not even been broken on the controversial residential project, which was approved by the Fort Lauderdale City Commission nearly a year and a half ago. The city has yet to receive an application for a building permit. The deadline for the builder to apply is February 20.
Passions ran high in 2013 when developer Asi Cymbal proposed moving a historic rain tree and building a new, radical-looking apartment complex, designed by "starchitect" Bjarke Ingels, on Fort Lauderdale's New River.
Over the objections of environmentalists and residents concerned about increased traffic and other worries, the city approved the project in August 2013.
In November 2013, real estate blog Curbed reported that the project would break ground in the third quarter of 2014.
Today, the rain tree stands and construction crews are nowhere to be found. What gives?
An assistant in the office of Cymbal Development said that she could not comment on the project and that Cymbal was not available Friday. He has not responded to an email sent Friday.
Asked whether Cymbal or his team had applied for permits to build or to move the rain tree, Fort Lauderdale spokesperson Chaz Adams explained that the tree was being treated as part of the project. "The developer has until February 20, 2015, to apply for a building permit and until August 20, 2015, to receive the building permit. The city would need to receive a request in writing prior to February 20 if the developer sought an extension."
This could set off a whole new round of public debate because, Adams says, "any request for an extension would need to be presented to the City Commission for consideration."
John Travers, building official for the city, quoted Florida law when explaining that once a permit is issued, it should be nullified if work "is not commenced within 180 days from the date of the permit or if the work authorized by such permit is suspended or abandoned for a period of 90 days after the time work is commenced."
In 2013, citizens opposed to Marina Lofts prepared a document showing that they had traveled to construction sites where Cymbal had pending projects, only to find little actual construction. One of the most outspoken opponents of the project, Chris Brennan, was fired from the water taxi, which leases space from Cymbal, for speaking out. The experience prompted him to run for mayor this year.
Cymbal has said he grew up poor with a single mom in Coney Island. He honed his trade working with high-profile New York developer Shaya Boymelgreen (who later faced a slew of lawsuits over his projects). Cymbal moved to Miami in 2004 and struck out on his own; the real estate press swooned over him when he made a 500 percent return on one Design District project. He has said he spent $15 million on Marina Lofts before even winning approval for the project. His company website says he focuses on "projects that create the highest possible yields for our investors and clients."
No one responded to an email sent Thursday to Bjarke Ingels' company asking whether his team was still involved in the project. The project was not among those listed on the homepage of the company's website as "in progress" or "under construction."
In 2014, Cymbal was embroiled in a legal dispute with former partners at Design District Development Project with whom he was working on a Miami building called Design 41 in the Design District. They claimed to have kicked him out of the company for "nonperformance" and "mismanagement." Cymbal sued, alleging that he had been booted improperly. He claimed they had run out of funding and failed to pay him as the builder on the project.
Cymbal's attorney in that case, Scott Kravetz, says they are "still fighting" in court and "pretty optimistic we're going to prevail in the end." He said he was not involved in Marina Lofts.
On its Facebook page, Marina Lofts has ignored questions from commenters asking about the status of the project.
On the Design 41 project, construction is underway.