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East of the racetrack, the Brunetti family and Prestige Companies plan to build 343 apartments on 12.6 acres

A public charter school and low-rise apartments are planned next to the Hialeah Park racetrack and casino, as the first phase of a long-term development of the 200-acre property.

The Brunetti family, which owns Hialeah Park, is developing the projects in partnership with Miami Lakes-based developer Prestige Companies and Mater Academy, which will operate the school.

City commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday night for a conditional use permit that allows development of a charter school, kindergarten through 12th grade, with a maximum of 2,950 students in the northeast corner of the largely vacant Hialeah Park Racing & Casino property.

The commissioners also gave initial approval on first reading to proposed development and design standards for a multi-phase development starting in the northeast corner of the Hialeah Park property. Along with the charter school, it includes 343 apartments.

In addition to state-licensed horse racing and casino operations, the special zoning district for Hialeah Park allows permitted uses that range from hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs to a supermarket, a bowling alley, and an equestrian hospital.

The Brunetti family owns Hialeah Park through Bal Bay Realty, Ltd., which is headed by John Brunetti, Jr. His father John Brunetti, Sr., who bought Hialeah Park in 1977, died in 2018. Hialeah Park is southwest of the intersection of East Fourth Avenue and East 32nd Street in Hialeah.

Mater Academy is a Hialeah Gardens-based operator of charter schools that runs 32 in Miami-Dade County, including eight in the Hialeah area, plus 10 schools Nevada and six others in Central Florida, according to its website.

“They know what they’re doing,” said Hernan Leonoff, a principal of Aventura-based MG|3 Developer Group, which has developed several charter schools in South Florida. “I cannot judge if [Hialeah Park] is an appropriate location or not, but Mater is a very experienced group,” he told The Real Deal.

The design of the 12.29-acre charter school campus at Hialeah Park will secure it and segregate it from the property’s casino and racetrack, said Javier Vazquez, a Berger Singerman attorney who represented Mater Academy at the city commission meeting.

“It’s no different from a school that is two or three blocks away from any other type of [property] use that would be concerning,” Vazquez said. “The important thing is that Mater has a system that is proven in other locations. Mr. Brunetti, in the operation of his casino, is obviously very sensitive to make sure that minors are not allowed there.”

Vazquez also told commissioners that the Brunetti family and its partners will retain, not replace, the casino and racetrack and other gaming infrastructure at Hialeah Park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Brunetti family has literally millions of reasons to preserve its cash cows from gambling at Hialeah Park, such as slot machines, which the venue introduced in August 2013. Hialeah Park’s net slot revenue after paying winning wagers and other expenses totaled $40.7 million in the 12 months ended June 30, 2020, according to an annual report from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

Gambling options at Hialeah Park include playing slot machines and card games in its casino, and pari-mutuel wagering on televised horse races. Hialeah Park also hosts live quarter horse races on its track, which still wraps around a National Audubon Society-certified habitat for pink flamingos featured in the opening credits of the old “Miami Vice” television show.

Just east of the racetrack, the Brunetti family and Prestige Companies plan to build 343 rental units in a cluster of two-story townhouses and three-story garden-style apartment buildings on 12.6 acres along East Fourth Avenue, between East 22nd Street and East 30th Street. The residential development would have 702 parking spaces and a 4,100-square-foot recreational clubhouse.

Multifamily properties in Hialeah and Miami Lakes have a 98.1 percent occupancy rate, the highest among 22 submarkets in tri-county South Florida, according to a mid-2021 research report by Berkadia.

About a five-minute drive north of Hialeah Park, Related Group and Fontainebleau Development broke ground last month on Las Carreras, a 642-unit garden apartment project at 7218 West Fourth Avenue.