Omni landlord to seek big-box retailers to fill downtown Miami's former mall
By Sherri C. Ranta
Owners of the empty Omni Technology Center are marketing the former upscale mall to national retail chains interested in the Biscayne Boulevard and South Beach markets.
"We have had discussions with a number of big-box retailers who are interested on two levels," said Mark Teitelbaum, COO of Argent Ventures of New York, mall owners. "They are interested in what's happening on Biscayne Boulevard as it relates to residential development and the construction of the performing arts center. They see it as a way to enter the South Beach market.
The private real estate investment company bought the vacant property at Biscayne Boulevard and 15th Street in November 2000 for $33 million. The 1 million-square-foot mall was then renovated for use as a telecommunications center - but tenants never came.
With the weakening high-tech market, Mr. Teitelbaum said, his company is looking to revive retail.
"The property has gotten stronger from a retail point of view," he said. "The area has developed. The performing arts center is being built nearby. Telecom or no telecom, I think this will be a very successful property."
In addition to big-box retailers - large national chains such as Sams, Costco and BJs - Argent officials are talking with entertainment companies, Mr. Teitelbaum said.
While Argent continues to try to lease most of the mall, its first new tenant, Miami's International Fine Arts College, is preparing 60,000 square feet for use as its primary campus.
In all, college President Erika Fleming said the school leased 100,000 square feet in the Omni with plans to later use another 40,000 square feet.
"We'll have labs, classrooms, office space, faculty space and a student union," she said. Workers are also building large display windows fronting Biscayne Boulevard and 15th Avenue to allow the public to view students at work.
The school's move will occur this fall, Ms. Fleming said, to be coordinated with the best interests of the students and faculty.
"Right now," she said, "we're very crowded. This expansion will be an opportunity for students - more labs and space for them - and also for the faculty and staff to be centrally located, rather than in four different buildings."
Based at the Miami Women's Club, 1737 N Bayshore Drive, the International Fine Arts College also has space at The Grand on Bayshore Drive. The college will likely maintain a presence in the buildings, Ms. Fleming said, until the leases expire.
The college also leases a small amount of space at 2125 and 2310 NE Biscayne Blvd., Ms. Fleming said, but expects to vacate that space this year.
"Most of the departments will move into the Omni regardless of the lease extension here" at the Miami Women's Club, she said. "The lease is not up for a few years."
Miami's International Fine Arts College was bought in January by Pittsburgh-based Education Management Corp. The governing board is considering a name change for the school, Ms. Fleming said, but a decision has not been reached.