Design District rekindled as Dacra plots more office space, showrooms
By Paola Iuspa
The developer behind the re-awakening of the Miami Design District said he has plans to add a half million square feet of office, retail and residential space to his inventory in the neighborhood.
Craig Robins, president of Dacra, said he plans to build more office space, showrooms, restaurants and lofts on vacant land throughout the district that he just acquired at about $10 a square foot.
Business owners said they are excited about the plans and the developer's vision for the area.
"He is going to build restaurants and cafes," said John Protomaster, owner of Protomaster & Co., 30 NE 40th St. "We only have two cafes and a restaurant now. In the '70s there used to be many fine dining places. Everything was happening here. But in the '80s, people started moving out of the district and restaurants had to close."
Mr. Protomaster, president of the Miami Design District Merchants Association, said businesses abandoned the area when the Design Center of the Americas, a mall with showrooms for interior designers, opened in the early '80s in Dania Beach.
Mr. Robins said he hired DPZ, a Miami architectural firm led by Andres Duany and University of Miami architecture dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Keenen-Riley, a New York firm, to come up with a master plan for the design of his new properties.
Mr. Robins said he estimates he will invest $75 million to $100 million in new Design District buildings. Construction, he said, is to start within a year and will be done in phases.
The 18-block district is bounded by Northeast 43rd Street to the north, 36th Street to the south, North Miami Avenue to the west and Interstate 195 and Biscayne Boulevard to the east.
Mr. Robins owns 20 buildings with about 1 million square feet of commercial and residential space in the district, most of them characterized by splashes of contemporary art such as sculptures in the lobbies and courtyards and murals painted on facades.
Eight years ago, buildings in the district were $8 a square foot, said Doris Suttin, owner of Doris Suttin Real Estate. "Now it ranges from $18 to the low $20s a square foot."
Ms. Suttin, who owns three buildings in the district, said she had sold properties to Mr. Robins, now the area's largest property holder.
She said Mr. Robins has been doing a great job promoting the district throughout the nation and abroad.
"He creates a lot of activities to promote the Design District," she said.
Dacra is one of three companies sponsoring a Design District sale this weekend, when more than 50 showrooms, art galleries and design studios plan to display products, marking down display samples as much as 75%.
Mr. Protomaster said the district is becoming well known among interior designers from New York, especially SoHo and Chelsea.
"Prices here are much more reasonable," said Mr. Protomaster, who said he relocated here from New York a year ago. "Many developers are currently negotiating leases with business owners from New York."
Some tenants that bring prestige to the area, he said, include Tui Pranich, who recently opened a home furnishing showroom; Holly Hunt, which carries a modern interior furnishing collection, Knoll and Waterworks.
Although clothing and jewelry designers have moved out of the area, art galleries are making it their new home, Mr. Protomaster said.
"We have over 12 art galleries," he said, "and more are moving in."
Mr. Protomaster said about 55 gallery owners and merchant association members are organizing a night of special events each month. There used to be a gallery night in the district.
Lilia Medina, senior planner with the City of Miami zoning & planning department, said the city has allocated funds to redesign the streetscapes, lighting landscape and utilities in the district.
She said a long-term goal for city officials is to build two parking garages in the area.
Mr. Robins said he also plans to do something to make parking more convenient for his tenants.
"We are going to provide valet parking for our buildings by December," he said.