August 13th, 2003
The Miami Herald
$40M Plan announced for District
by CHRISTINA HOAG
It's been a long time coming, but developer Craig Robins believes the time is right to launch his $40 million renaissance plan for Miami's Design District, a plan that aims to turn the area into an architectural showcase.
"Every neighborhood has its process of evolution," said Robins, president of the Miami Beach-based Dacra Properties, which owns one-million square feet of downtown land, including 35 buildings.
"What is so critical about the Design District is that we've revitalized it by restoring existing buildings," he said, "and now the neighborhood is ready for new construction."
The plan involves 15 buildings, totaling 500,000 square feet of space. The style is what Robins has dubbed "the Miami School," a contemporary look with Mediterranean revival influences.
The first phase ? seven buildings slated for completion by the end of next year include two prototypes of architecturally funky houses, a new street, an oak-lined square, a retail/office/studio building and a restaurant location. Construction has begun.
The cornerstone will be Oak Plaza, a square to be built around existing oaks. Robins is constructing a street to access the plaza. The aim: to make the city blocks shorter and, in so doing, create a "pedestrian-friendly environment."
The new street is to traverse the blocks between Northeast 39th and 40th streets at Northeast First and Second avenues. The restaurant and small multiuse building will front the plaza.
The houses, too, promise to be eye catching. The two-bedroom, 2 1/2-bathroom dwellings will boast three courtyards, with living areas off the front courtyard, bedrooms off the middle one, which will include a small swimming pool, and kitchens off the back one. Glass walls between the courtyards will allow a full view of the house from the entrance.
Robins said he sought innovative architecture in order to underscore the area as a "laboratory for creativity."
"We thought it was important to make an international statement about housing," he said, adding that the houses are to be "affordably" priced.
The long-planned revival of the Design District, angled on an arts theme, is key to the city's plan to breathe new life into downtown Miami. It has been slow to catch on, but in recent months restaurants, art galleries and businesses, including a film-production company and a hip-hop jeweler, have leased office space.
A big boost came when the Latin Grammys relocated their headquarters in the area.
"It's taken a very long time, especially with the economy," Robins said, "but the neighborhood is gaining momentum."
Housing, though, may be the hardest part of the revitalization to get going.
"The idea of bringing housing back downtown is great; there's a lot of pent-up demand," real estate analyst Andy Dolkart said. "Question is: After the first few projects strip that demand, how deep is the market? Downtown is not growing as a job market. Why are people going to stampede downtown when they're not getting closer to work?"
Robins is banking on the idea that creative types will be attracted to "the District." The area's live-in/work-in studios, he noted, are proving popular.