During the real estate downturn, Swire Properties Inc. took a methodical approach to assembling the site of its Brickell CityCentre development. If the company wants to outbid other suitors to add a Brickell Avenue entrance to the project, it will have to move much faster.

Calling the 700 Brickell site in Miami "a logical extension of Brickell CityCentre to Brickell Avenue," Swire has joined a group of potential buyers for 1.55 acres in the middle of the city’s financial district now being marketed for sale. Swire executive vice president Megan Kelly said Monday in a written statement that the company, which is developing the 2.9 million-square-foot CityCentre nearby, plans "to pursue the opportunity aggressively."

The company’s disclosure comes as somewhat of a surprise, as it amassed much of the CityCentre site through distressed purchases. The 700 Brickell site, which is now a vacant lot, is expected to be sold at a top-of-the-market price. The site was once the location of the Miami Today newspaper.

CBRE Inc. and Steelbridge Capital LLC are marketing the property and have set an April 17 call for offers, according to CBRE vice chairman Christian Lee.

Representatives of descendants of the pioneering Brickell family own the 700 Brickell property, while Northern Trust owns 710 Brickell, according to Miami-Dade County records. The bank, which plans to move to 600 Brickell at Brickell World Plaza, recently demolished the small brick building after Miami Today relocated to 2000 S. Dixie Highway.

"We expect interest from a wide variety of developers, of which many are in Miami right now," Lee said. "Certainly there has been a strong push for land due to tremendous demand for all property types."

"Both veterans and rookies are interested," Lee noted.

No Asking Price

The owners have not set an asking price, letting the market determine the site’s value. They are looking for cash buyers.

"A buyer can get third-party financing if they can get it done in time," Lee said.

Northern Trust and the Brickell heirs picked "a very attractive time" to bring the properties to the market, according to attorney Hal Lewis, a partner at Miami-based Pathman Lewis who heads the law firm’s real estate and banking, and corporate and transactional departments.

A potentially expensive purchase price should discourage land-banking investors, Lewis said.

"I tend to think a strong developer-user would come in and acquire the site," he said.

Swire would certainly fit that category, but the company should only purchase the properties if they add "real strategic value" to CityCentre, Lewis said.

"Not that they couldn’t afford to buy it at a premium," he noted.

Swire, which developed much of Brickell Key, is part of Hong Kong-based real estate and airline owner Swire Pacific Ltd. The first phase of its $1.05 billion CityCentre project is scheduled for a 2015 completion. The company recently hired contractors Americaribe Inc. and John Moriarty & Associates of Florida Inc. as the construction management team for the project.

Versatile Site

Fronting Brickell Avenue between Southeast Seventh and Eighth streets, the 700 Brickell site can accommodate up to 1.1 million square feet of development under the Miami 21 zoning code.

"This site is as main and main as it gets," Lee said. "It’s big enough to support a massive tower and small enough where you don’t start scratching your head and saying ‘Do we put two buildings here?’ "

A developer could build an apartment, condominium, hotel, office or mixed-use project on the land, according to CBRE and Steelbridge.

With several new condo projects already under construction in the Brickell area and a lingering glut of vacant office space, a high-end rental apartment tower might make the most sense for the eventual buyer, according to Jason Shapiro, managing director of Miami-based real estate investment banking firm Aztec Group Inc.

A partnership between New York-based BlackRock Realty Advisors Inc., LYND Development LLC and LNR Property LLC is currently building EnV Brickell, a 35-story rental apartment tower atop an existing Publix store in Miami’s Mary Brickell Village.

"Luxury rental apartments would be great," Shapiro said. "There is a limited supply of true quality-managed rental apartments in Brickell."

Lenders have been slow to return to South Florida’s construction market. A notable exception is last month’s syndicated $160 million loan for Trump Group’s Mansions at Acqualina in Sunny Isles Beach. Finding debt for whatever project materializes at 700 Brickell could be a challenge, according to veteran banking attorney Lewis Cohen, a shareholder in GrayRobinson’s Miami office.

"Lenders are still being very cautious," Cohen said. "They are trying to work their way out of a lot of troubled debt. … It’s going to take an experienced developer and a good use plan for that property in order to make it attractive for lending."