City sees retail boost in opening Grove storefronts to office use
By Risa Polansky
In what Grovites hope will be a catalyst to add daytime activity in the central commercial district, office uses are to be allowed on street level in areas of Coconut Grove where only retail, restaurants and entertainment venues had been permitted.
The change is meant to fill empty storefronts, with the hope that office workers also become local restaurant and retail patrons.
The measure will "bring a daytime office population to the Grove, which would actually help the other businesses," Zoning Administrator Lourdes Slazyk told Miami commissioners last week.
They unanimously approved the ordinance without discussion.
It provides for office uses in storefronts along:
The south side of Oak Avenue between Virginia and Mary streets.
The north and south sides of Florida Avenue between Virginia and Mary
The east side of Virginia Street between Oak and Florida avenues.
The east and west sides of Rice Street between Oak and Florida avenues.
The west side of Mary Street between Oak and Grand avenues.
nThe north side of Grand Avenue from Mary Street extending a half block
Offices there must maintain a storefront appearance along the ground floor of pedestrian pathways. Window displays are to be "designed with artistic treatment," the ordinance says, and remain illuminated until at least midnight.
"Tenants are leaving, and empty spaces are happening," said Michelle Niemeyer, chair of the Coconut Grove Village Council.
The new ordinance, she said, "will help — it's going to bring a little more life to that area."
A March entry on the Coconut Grove Grapevine blog, http://coconutgrovegrapevine.blogspot.com, hails the measure as a revitalization tool.
"Anything is better than the empty storefronts. The current Grove stores and restaurants are sure to welcome all the new people in the area," it says. "Also, the new tenants will be required to have the lights on until midnight, which would light up all the dark areas and add more life to the Grove. That old Borders Books area, on the corner of Mary and Grand, needs it bad."
In the 11 years he's been watching, David Collins, executive director of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement Committee, said he's noticed the Mayfair in the Grove, largely a hotel and retail complex, and the surrounding area, have had "difficulty sustaining tenants" when it comes to retail and restaurants.
Ms. Niemeyer said that, as South Beach exploded into the local hotspot for dining, shopping and entertainment, Coconut Grove retailers and restaurateurs began missing out not only on sales but on the brand visibility the once-bustling Grove brought in years past.
As leases expire, the stores don't renew, she said, citing the Banana Republic on Grand Avenue as a recent example.
It has since been replaced by independent bookstore and coffee shop The Bookstore in the Grove. But other empty spaces have not filled so quickly.
The new office ordinance allows the Mayfair to fill its vacant ground-floor space with offices. They have already converted about 45,000 square feet of former retail. Upper levels are home already to companies such as developers Swerdlow Group and advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky.
Sony BMG is set to relocate from Lincoln Road on Miami Beach to 20,333 square feet of offices at the Mayfair, according to a report by CB Richard Ellis, the commercial real estate firm that handles leasing there.
The report shows also the Grove's office market as one of the tightest in Miami-Dade County, finishing last quarter with only 3.2% vacant.
Allowing new offices could bring a bit of relief to the snug market.
And for the Grove itself, allowing such uses is "a good move, a happy move," Mr. Collins said, adding it "worked in the Gables" as means of bringing a daytime population to the area.
"If Mayfair is more viable as an entity," he said, "the Grove will flourish, stand a better chance of flourishing."