December 14th, 2008
South Florida Business Journal
Design Miami plus Dacra equals design district success, locals say
by Julia Neyman
Miami's design district used to be reserved exclusively for trade people. Unless you were an interior designer eyeing a $5,000 sofa, or a developer looking at lighting fixtures, there was little reason to venture in.
Now, the arrival of several new restaurants, the opening of a celebrity Japanese clothing designer's first outpost in the United States and a flowering of more affordable, consumer-friendly furniture outlets is threatening to convert district into destination.
"Just in the last year, the change has been enormous," said Scott Engelman, owner of Brosia, a Mediterranean restaurant opening in the design district on Dec. 17. "Before, it was just for the trades, but now we're drawing people from all over."
Real estate values climb
And rents are climbing, too. CB Richard Ellis broker Paco Diaz pegged retail rates at $30 to $35 a square foot. Commercial buildings that sold for $50 a square foot five years ago are asking $250 and up a square foot, design district Realtor Doris Suttin said.
"I see people in better cars, with better clothes walking around," she said. "These are artistic types, travelers and tourists you didn't see around here that much before."
Art Basel didn't drive the revitalization, but it helped in a big way by shining an international spotlight on a largely unknown area, brokers said. For one weekend, the design district is the world's nexus for art and design.
"Because of Design Miami, you literally have 20,000 people in the design district in one weekend," said Michele Burger, a consultant who helped create the first design district exhibitions in conjunction with Art Basel. "There's a reason why Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan come to the design district during Art Basel. They are here to look at great stuff, but they're also here to snoop around."
Design Miami may draw collectors and celebrities, but before that, there was Craig Robins. To most, Robins is "Mr. Design District" - and Dacra Development is his vehicle for transforming abandoned factory buildings into hip, spacious showrooms that house his own extensive collection, as well as the work of local artists.
Robins' visionary role
"Craig Robins is the visionary there," said Hank Klein, a Cushman & Wakefield broker and chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. "He stepped forward and bought the properties when nobody else wanted them, and he had the patience and the time to convert them."
In 1995, Robins started buying derelict shells of the design district's 1920s and 1930s glory days. Tenants weren't clamoring to move in, so Robins started opening up showrooms. As the buzz around the district heightened, local designers relocated from the Design Center of the Americas (DCOTA) in Dania Beach, and out-of-state businesses started scouting.
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, a national furniture chain that has taken up residence in the district's historic Buick Building, is a testament to the neighborhood's diversification. Co-founder Mitchell Gold had visited during previous Art Basel festivals and was impressed the stream of wealthy, design-conscious shoppers, whom he describes as "the right clientele for the company."
Burger said that while the district has a ways to go, the confluence of Design Miami and Dacra has put it squarely on track.
"The first phase was to encourage fantastic showrooms [like Knoll] to come back to the neighborhood, and the next phase is restaurants and retail," she said. "It's baby steps, but it's creating a neighborhood."