European retailers flood Miami market
By Marilyn Bowden
Globalization is bringing more European retailers to the US, and once they are here, Miami's economy, demographics and location make it an attractive choice for expansion.
"We're seeing globalization all over," said Michael Comras, principal of Comras Cos. "Major investment into the US is going to continue as our market continues to evolve and European markets stagnate.
"At the same time, a lot of our domestic retailers have seen their growth top out domestically and are looking at South America, Asia and Europe to expand into their brands."
For years, said Lyle Stern, a principal at Koniver Stern Group, Italian and Parisian restaurateurs have been opening businesses in the area.
While it's tough for European retail brands to do a one-off store here, he said, Miami "is definitely a must-have community" for those who already have a presence in the US and are looking to expand.
"In retail as in commercial, office and residential," he said, "South Florida's recovery is ahead of the curve. Certainly east of I-95, from Aventura to Coconut Grove, it's one of the leaders in the country. Any retailer looking at expansion is going to look where the economy is strongest."
Spanish fashion retailers such as Zara and Custo Barcelona, Sweden's H&M, several London brands and others, Mr. Comras said, as well as European restaurants, lounges and bars, are interested in high-density areas such as Brickell, South Beach and, for fashion houses, the emerging Design District.
Expanding to South Florida is "a pretty good strategy," Mr. Stern said, "because it is multinational, not based on a specific industry, and mall sales and street sales are very strong."
While boutiques in Bal Harbour Shops have carried European labels since the 1960s, "certainly by the time the 1980s began European designers had started to expand outside of New York and come here," said Operating Partner Matthew Whitman Lazenby, a grandson of the mall's developer, Stanley Whitman.
Since January, he said, five new European-based retailers have opened their doors: British fashion designers Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, Italian menswear company Canali, French clothing manufacturer Moncler and Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen.
Bal Harbour's location at the north end of Miami Beach appeals to European brands, Mr. Lazenby said.
"Our research shows that when leisure consumers decide where they will travel, the top two factors are climate and shopping," he said. "The appeal of Miami Beach as an international leisure destination is clear. As the broader community becomes more diverse, Miami Beach remains the epicenter of that."
About half of Bal Harbour Shops' planned expansion, which will add about 230,000 square feet of retail to the existing 450,000 square feet, will accommodate expansions of existing stores, Mr. Lazenby said. "The other half will accommodate new brands that want to be here. A healthy percentage of them, if not the majority, are European labels."
Jolyon Culbertson, vice president of retail leasing at Swire Properties, said while conversations with potential tenants at Brickell CitiCentre have just begun, "Our conversations with Europe are generally positive." The project, which broke ground last month, is tentatively scheduled for opening in the fourth quarter of 2015.
"Many premium or luxury brands are definitely looking for an opportunity to have better representation in South Florida and in Miami particularly," said Mr. Culbertson, who says he has dealt with most of the well-known European brands while working out of Hong Kong on a number of Asian retail projects.
"The message I am getting from Milan, Paris, Rome, Madrid and so on is that they are looking to expand in North America rather carefully, but Miami is a feature for expansion where possible."
Miami, he said, "is getting to look more and more like Hong Kong. It's the gateway between North and South America, which is very similar to the role Hong Kong plays with China and the rest of the world."
While Europeans represent only a portion of the retailers he is talking with, he said, Miami's retail geography makes Brickell attractive to all.
"At the luxury end, they have only had Bal Harbour to the north or, to the south, Merrick Shops as their outlet," Mr. Culbertson said. "Now it's time to open in the middle."
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