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It's one of United Architects remodeled building

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Sunset West by United Architects, Inc.


If you have a question or would like to discuss your future project.  There is no charge for the initial consultation, if you own the Miami-Dade County property.


If you would like to buy property through Maria Luisa Castellanos as the realtor, we can also do that for you.  Call the office at 305-552-5465.


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Photo by Andrea Cau  from Unsplash


11 Steps to Building a Commercial Building in Miami

So you want to build a commercial building, but you don’t know where to start.  Let’s start with a discussion on location.  As Miami commercial architects with offices in Coral Gables, we can give you some initial information.

Step 1 – Location, appropriate zoning, water and sewer lines

Actually, the location of the building is one of the most important decisions you are going to make!  You may think the location is important because of the access your clients will have to you, or because of the proximity to other buildings, or because your employees will have an easy ride to work.

Whether a location has the appropriate zoning will determine whether the building you have in mind can be built at the location you plan to purchase.   However, today, there is another reason.  The sewer system in Miami-Dade County is over-extended and sometimes there are parts of the county that have a moratorium on building.   So before you do anything foolish like buying a property without researching this, check with Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer and the Department of Resource Management (DERM) to determine the condition of the nearby infrastructure, such as the pump stations, whether there are sufficient fire hydrants with the required flow or whether you will be required to add new ones, whether the water and sewer lines are sufficient or will have to be upgraded, and whether there is a moratorium in place.  If the water and/or sewer lines are non-existent, you may be required to install new infrastructure prior to building a new building.  This can be very costly, so you need to find out up front.

If the building is going to be of any size, for example, 3 stories or more, you will likely have to put in a sprinkler system.  This will likely mean that you will have to upgrade the water lines, if the nearby water lines are old.  Start by looking for information at their website here.

If you are unsure about a property, we can help you find the right property.  Maria Luisa Castellanos is a licensed commercial Realtor.  We can help you locate the property with the appropriate zoning for what you are trying to build.  See more on this at the Real Estate Services page.  Click here.

Step 2 - Soil Borings

Before purchasing the property, hire a soils engineer to evaluate the property.  You want to know before you buy the property whether your building will have to be built on piles.  Piles will add substantial cost to the future project.

Step 3 - Environmental Testing

If there are any contaminants in the soil, you want to know about it before you purchase the property.  Removing contaminants can be very expensive.  Whoever owns the property at the time the contaminants are discovered is responsible for their removal.  Avoid buying contaminated properties unless you have dealt with this kind of property before and are familiar with how to go about decontaminating the site and how to get funds for doing this.

Step 4 - Surveying
Make sure you hire a competent surveyor to produce a boundary survey and elevation certificate to the property.  In addition, make sure that all easements are shown.  Building is not allowed in the easements, and without this, the architect you select will not know where these easements are located.

Step 5 - Platting

Will the property need to be re-platted?  This can be a long and slow process because it involves so many county departments.  If it is already platted, so much the better.

Step 6 - Road improvements

Are there any proposed road improvements around the property?  If there are any road expansions into your prospective site, this may modify where you are going to be able to build and how much you can build.

Step 7 - Buying the property

Now that you have done the research on the property, you can buy it, if the price is right for you.

Step 8 - Interviewing architects

Select an architect based on qualifications and knowledge, not on price.  An architect may give you a very low price, but this may come at a very high cost.  The highest costs in any project comes during the construction phase, and if you get incomplete plans, you may end up with many expensive change orders.  Objectively speaking, the architect/engineering (A/E) fees are a small portion of the costs of a project.  Find an architect that you think will do a good job, not one that gives you a low fee.  In addition, select an architect that you think will work well with you.  Will your personalities get along?  This is important because design and construction take long periods of time.  Make sure the person has been in business for a while and did not just start his/her firm yesterday.

Step 9 - Phases of architectural design

Normally, I like to break up my projects into 5 phases:  Preliminary, Design Development, 50% Construction Documents, 100% Construction Documents, and Construction.  Each of these phases builds upon the previous one.  Normally, the architect is the only one involved in the Preliminary Phase.  But as the design progresses through the phases, more professionals will become involved.  Eventually, there will be a structural engineer who is responsible for the structural design, a mechanical engineer who handles both the air-conditioning and plumbing plans, and an electrical engineer who decides on the electrical engineering for the project.  Often on commercial projects, you will also need a civil engineer to do drainage, parking lot design, and the design to connect to the infrastructure of the county or municipality. If your building is in the City of Miami, you will need a licensed landscape architect, and an arborist if you have any existing trees on the site.


If the building is 3 or more stories, you will also have to hire a "threshold inspector" to do the structural inspections during the construction phase.  Normally, inspections in Miami-Dade County are handled by either the county or the municipality in which the building is located, but on taller buildings, the county requires threshold inspectors to execute the inspections.  These special inspections are normally done by the structural engineer-of-record, but the client can select a different structural engineer for these inspections.

Once the Design Development Phase is completed, architects and engineers charge extra for changes to the plans.  However, if changes are required, it is better to pay extra to the A/E team than to wait and make changes during the Construction Phase.  Changes during construction are very expensive to the general contractor, and therefore, they will be even more expensive to the owner of the building!

Step 10 - Building the project

Once the plans are completed, the contractor must get a building permit.  Sometimes he or the owner hires an “expediter” to process the plans with the building department.  When the building department issues comments, the A/E team responds or modifies the plans to comply with the comments.  Once all the comments are satisfied, the permit is issued and construction can commence.  It is through the construction process that the architect can be a real asset to the owner.  Many owners have never built before and don’t know what to expect or what to pay and when.  They may not know that they need to document any changes they order and that it is very costly to make changes during construction.  The contractor must seek approval for any change orders as they happen.  But asking for the architect’s help in making a decision on whether or not to initiate a change order is very wise and often saves the owner money.   Architects can handle the review of “shop drawings” to make sure that what was specified is what will actually be installed in the building.  And architects can also help with the billing and payment requests to make sure the owner only pays for work that has been done and the contractor is not “front-loading” the project to make the owner pay more money upfront than necessary.  In addition, because of the Florida Lien Law, it is important that releases of liens are obtained from each subcontractor and materialmen as the project progresses.  An architect can be very useful in navigating the construction project.  United Architects is particularly good at this, making the construction process easier to navigate. 

Step 11 - Closing out the project
Once the project is finished, the contractor must get a C.O. (Certificate of Occupancy) from the county or the municipality where he got the permit.  The owner must get final releases of liens from the general contractor and all subcontractors and materialmen.   If not, according to Florida law, the owner could end up having to pay again for those people who were left unpaid for their services and products.

How long will this process take?

A substantial commercial building will likely take two to three years to complete, however, in the City of Miami, it will take much longer.  Just getting zoning approval could take a year and after that it could take another 3 to 6 months to finish the plans.  And then the city is taking another year to complete their review.  I recommend to my clients to buy property outside the City of Miami.  The county's review process is much simpler.  Other municipalities have simpler processes as well. Miami Beach's process is also complicated if the building needs to go to a review board.

In summary

Although the architect is not responsible for the contractor’s work, a competent and seasoned architect can often help the owner navigate the sometimes difficult passages of a construction project.
If you are contemplating building a commercial building, school, or preschool in Miami, call us at 305-552-5465 or email us at  And if you are very busy and cannot handle all the steps above, we can do it for you and issue you periodic reports on the progress of the building.

This is a general outline of the process.  It is important that you consult with the appropriate professionals during each phase of this process.  If you want our help, just click below and send us an email.

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Call the principal of United Architects, Inc., Maria Luisa Castellanos, R.A., at 305-552-5465 or Email to discuss your exciting project ideas.

Photo of interior remodeling for Miami-Dade County Government  by United Architects, Inc.


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