13 July 2010

The Icon




Less than two years ago, in December 2008, condo mogul Jorge Pérez unveiled his $1.3 billion self-proclaimed “legacy,” the ICON Brickell in downtown Miami. With 1650 residences and a 150 room boutique hotel in three 50-story towers, it is Florida’s largest condominium development. The complex features “signature designs” by Yoo and “inspired by” Philippe Starck, including a unique entryway “envisioned by Starck as a dark cave illuminated by light emitted from the watchful “eyes” of mammoth columns” shaped like carved human faces. Marketing materials also promised a 28,000 square-foot state-of-the-art spa, a two-acre terrace and pool deck 140 feet above Biscayne Bay, Florida’s longest swimming pool, a thermal hot tub with seating for 40 people, and an exclusive residents-only nightclub 50 stories up. Prices for residences were expected to start at $500,000 and range to $2 million.

But by that time, the housing bubble was already well into collapse mode, tens of thousands of condo units sat vacant in Miami, and new lending rules had dramatically restricted financing for potential buyers. In March 2009, the New York Times described the ICON as a “monument to excess” and a symbol of greed and irrational behavior characteristic of the building boom. By January 2010, only 137 units, less than 10%, had sold. At the same time, dozens of potential buyers were seeking to get out of contracts to buy.

    After the developer slashed prices earlier this year, over 300 additional units have sold, though most likely went to bulk investors rather than future residents. The complex is also offering rentals, including a plan to house a group of homeless sex offenders living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. July reports state that prices have been reduced further, below 50% of original targets.
    For the time being, the building remains essentially a ghost town. At night, a handful of lights might be visible in the semi-occupied north tower. And the infinity pool and top-floor bar have become popular sunday afternoon party spots, as commercial interests have eased the location’s planned exclusivity. But the towers themselves appear devoid of the usual signs of life of a residential building. Gazing up, there is not a single balcony chair or potted plant in view, just fifty identical stories of glass and metal. It is captivating in its own way. I visited the location recently to photograph it.

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