Real Estate

Meet the future Miami Design District

With the support of L Real Estate, developer Craig Robins’ vision for Miami Design District’s off-kilter luxury enclave is coming to life.


True grit lies beneath the increasingly well-manicured streets of Miami’s Design District. While luxury shoppers might visit the area’s graffiti-covered Louis Vuitton store — and some of them might even move into the condos next door — genuine graffiti is surely being sprayed somewhere nearby. In 2010, the median income in the Design District was $39,112, about $13,000 below the US average. But this area, once barren, save for a few home design stores, art galleries and DASH — the city’s renowned design and architecture high school — is changing, and fast, thanks to public art displays by the likes of Zaha Hadid, locavore restaurants, hip new condominium buildings, and, of course, plenty of places to buy clothes. Expensive clothes.

But like a good piece of art, that slightly unsettling edge — a flash of spontaneous graffiti here, a raw loft space there — will continue to permeate the Design District. That is, if Craig Robins, the developer behind the neighbourhood’s decade-long transformation, has anything to do with it.

Over the past decade, Miami has gone from a second-tier American city — a place where Northerners might spend a weekend to even out their tans — to one of the country’s most exciting cosmopolitan hubs, thanks to an influx of foreign visitors and residents. Cuba’s longstanding influence is undeniable. But high-net-worth types from places like Russia and Brazil are now giving Miami a more moneyed air. And that nuevo wealth, of course, has attracted new restaurants, condos and, of course, luxury retailers.

The 2009 opening of concept boutique The Webster breathed new life into South Beach’s increasingly commercial Collins Avenue, while Alchemist on Lincoln Road, opened in 2010, still feels special next to the Banana Republics and Pottery Barns that line the outdoor mall. But Robins — a legendary developer in a city of legendary developers, who helped revitalize South Beach in the 1990s — saw a bigger opportunity: an alternative to Bal Harbor Shops, an open-air shopping mall, opened in 1965 near Miami Beach, and the city’s preeminent destination for luxury retail, with some of the highest sales per square foot in the world. But Bal Harbor had such a stronghold on the market that it forbade brands who leased space there to have stores within a 25-mile radius.

“While Miami is an enormous market for luxury fashion — one of the top markets in the US — it was incredibly underserved,” Robins says. “Bal Harbor offered success, but because of the exclusivity clause, it didn’t offer a choice.”

Robins’ interest in the Design District emerged about 10 years ago. “I realized early on that, while the neighbourhood was known for its furniture design and furniture companies, furniture doesn’t really attract people,” says Robins. “People redo their houses every 10 years. They go to restaurants often. They go shopping more often.”

In 2005, he launched Design Miami, a furniture and industrial design fair that runs alongside (and in collaboration with) Art Basel. Throughout the aughts, Robins purchased properties in the area. And by 2009 he was ready to propose his intentions to luxury retailers, who are the first to support art projects such as Basel with one-off events, sponsorships and collaborations.

His first stop was Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke, who was, at the time, CEO of Fendi. “He’s a very, very savvy real estate person, and he immediately saw the opportunity,” Robins says. “As did the team at L Real Estate. Some of the brands needed more representation.”

L Real Estate, a private equity fund sponsored by Groupe Arnault and LVMH, bought a 50 percent stake in the project in 2010. With L Real Estate involved, getting brands owned by LVMH on board was certainly easier (though plenty of PPR, Richemont and Renzo Rosso-backed brands have signed on as well).

“The biggest challenge was to get the brands to agree to take the chance on a new neighbourhood — to vacate what is one of the most beautiful and successful malls in the country,” Robins admits.

Louis Vuitton Design District

Bal Harbor’s roster of stores remains impressive; it counts Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and Marc Jacobs amongst its current retailers. But the mall’s strict exclusivity codes were suffocating for many brands. And, in contrast, Robins and L Real Estate allow brands who lease space in the Design District to run concessions at the city’s Saks Fifth Avenue — which has reportedly benefited greatly from this opening of the floodgates — or even operate standalone stores in Miami’s Aventura Mall, which conveniently happens to be owned by the family of Robins’ girlfriend, Jacquelyn Soffer. Louis Vuitton, for instance, has opened in both Aventura and the Design District. And the flexibility of these arrangements makes betting on the Design District — which has suffered from lack of foot traffic during off-seasons — a little easier.

Robins was not the only developer to take notice of the Design District. Asi Cymbal acquired land in the neighbourhood around the same time, bringing on architect Enrique Norten, as well as New York-based Robin Zendell, a founding partner at Retail Space Partners, to “curate” the project, using her extensive Rolodex to lure luxury retailers. Zendell, who is best known for bringing luxury brands to Soho, was drawn to both the district’s Soho-in-the-early-days-feel and the city’s overall growth potential as a luxury market. “Before, Miami was a place to unload your summer gear,” she says. “Now even cashmere sells in Miami.”

In February 2012, Cymbal sold his project to Robins for $11 million, earning a $9 million return on his 2009 investment of $2 million.

Four years, a Céline boutique and a Buckminster Fuller dome later, Robins’ $320 million master plan to transform the city’s Design District into the neighbourhood of choice for luxury retailers seems to be working. By the end of 2015, 100 brands will have stores in the Miami Design District, including Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Cartier, Tom Ford, Emilio Pucci, Berluti and Fendi. Importantly, the mixed-use neighbourhood will blend commerce with culture, welcoming new restaurants — 15 to 20 over the next two and a half years — upscale condos, and 12 public art installations.

“It offers a wide variety of different types of experiences,” Robins says. “When you come here there will be a lot of art, anchored by the Rosa de la Cruz collection and my own collection. The restaurants [including The Federal and Blue Collar] are already great, and there already several stores opened.”

So, Robins was able to build it. But are they coming?

Christian Louboutin, one of the first brands to get on board, offers a decent proof of concept. The company launched its first-ever Miami boutique in the district in 2009, spending significantly more money on the store’s concept and design than usual, hiring frequent collaborator Eric Clough of 212box to create an orchid-lined outside wall and a spider web of hosiery that is suspended over the shoe displays. “We really believed in this project,” says Christian Louboutin’s chief operating officer Alexis Mourot. “In Vegas, there is no alternative but to go to the mall or the casino. But in other cities, we’re always looking for a cool place to build our stores — it’s important for the brand.” Today, the Miami Design District store is one of the top five grossing Christian Louboutin boutiques in the country.

Cartier, which opened a temporary store in the neighbourhood in September 2012, with a two-storey flagship planned for 2014, has benefited from being able to run an outpost in Aventura Mall, as well as the Design District. “We’re ahead of expectations,” says Emmanuel Perrin, president and chief executive officer of Cartier North America, who says the Design District store saw a big “pick-up” in January and February, after Art Basel. “When we were approached, the project was still in its infancy, but Craig had a vision, and he was clearly looking at the relationship as a partnership.”

Zendell, for one, has every confidence in the future success of the Miami Design District. “I’m betting on Craig’s past successes, his legal mind, his tenacity, his alliance with Aventura, his vision,” she says. “And L Real Estate’s expertise, money and brand power.”

Disclosure: LVMH is part of a consortium of investors which has a minority stake in The Business of Fashion.

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Source: Miami Design District

Economy Entrepreuneurship Real Estate

Louis Vuitton Opens in Design District

The Louis Vuitton Design District store opens with much fanfare.

Illustrious graffiti? Check. Well-heeled revelers and free-flowing bubbly? Check, check. Live beats?

The talk-of-the-town grand opening soiree of the Louis Vuitton Design District store on the eve of Thursday, Oct. 18, proved to be quite the over-the-top affair with a guest list boasting the President and CEO of Louis Vuitton North America Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet and Miami’s socialites and influencers.

In celebration of the opening, the French Maison commissioned famed Los Angeles-based graffiti writer Marquis Lewis, known as RETNA, to paint a mural on the store’s façade. In fact, this is the first time Louis Vuitton has ever commissioned an artist to create an original work on one of its storefronts. “It is an honor to work with Louis Vuitton. Louis Vuitton has a deep appreciation for art and the creative process,” RETNA says. “Using their store’s exterior as a canvas for street art is exceptional and truly inspiring for me as an artist,” he adds.

The new Design District door offers a unique experience for shoppers. The main entrance possesses a specialized Travel Room teeming with classic trunks, luggage and travel-specific accessories — ideal for bon vivants. Replete with antique Parisian furniture, the ground floor houses a curated selection of men’s and women’s leathergoods, ready-to-wear, shoes, fashion jewelry, eyewear and textiles. A private salon on the second floor — voilà — exudes a more intimate experience for clients, also featuring RETNA. Très magnifique!

Louis Vuitton Design District is located at 170 NE 40th Street, Design District

[bingMap location=”170 NE 40th Street Miami, FL 33137″ maptype=”RoadWithLabels” zoom=”15″ description=”Louis Vuitton Design District”]

by Maria Tettamanti

Economy Real Estate

More luxury retailers moving to Design District

The Miami Herald

Plans to turn Miami’s Design District into a high-end fashion destination are quickly gaining critical mass with more than two dozen luxury retailers like Fendi, Zegna and Bulgari on the way.

Louis Vuitton and Hermès were the first to announce plans last year to close stores at the Bal Harbour Shops and open in the Miami Design District.

Now, developer Craig Robins has confirmed the long-anticipated deal with parent company Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy to bring another 11 brands beyond its namesake company to the burgeoning area on the northern fringes of downtown Miami. They include Christian Dior, Fendi, Bulgari, Pucci, De Beers, Celine and Marc by Marc Jacobs.

Robins also officially announced the opening of Cartier, which will be one of 10 Richemont brands opening in the Design District. Other new tenants: Tom Ford, Zegna and Burberry, according to Robins.

“This demonstrates the viability and potential of the Miami Design District,” Robins said. “Our neighborhood has the potential to help redefine how fashion is merchandised in this country.”

Last year, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Dior closed their boutiques at Bal Harbour; Vuitton opened at Aventura Mall. Most of the other LVMH brands are expected also to leave Bal Harbour and relocate to the Design District, while some will also open second locations in Aventura.

The departures haven’t seemed to hurt Bal Harbour, which had its best year in 2011, with annual sales of more than $600 million and average sales per square foot of $2,369 — the industry’s highest. New tenants recently opened or on the way include Alexander McQueen, Canali, Panerai, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and La Perla.

“In a strange way, Louis Vuitton closing created an opportunity for folks that would otherwise not have found a home here,” said Matthew Whitman Lazenby, Bal Harbour’s operating partner and the third generation of the Whitman family to run the business. “There’s no shortage of fantastic luxury tenants.”

Currently, Bal Harbour contracts include a “radius” clause that limits tenants from opening additional outlets within a specified number of miles. Management allowed waivers years ago for some tenants to open at the Village at Merrick Park and is considering a similar idea that would allow tenants to open in the Design District if they are willing to go to the second floor at Bal Harbour or move to a future expansion wing, Lazenby said.

Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Hermès, Celine, Pucci and Cartier are all expected to open at least temporary locations in the Design District by the end of this year. By 2014 Robins expects to have between 40 and 50 luxury retail brands, representing nearly 400,000 square feet of shopping space spread throughout the neighborhood.

The effort is intended to create a Miami version of New York’s SoHo or Meat Packing District.

“The Miami market is so underserved that there was a lot of interest in being able to do something new and add second locations,” Robins said.

“While the Design District is unproven, its central location and historic neighborhood make it a prime location for art, design, food and now fashion.”

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Real Estate

Louis Vuitton moving to the Design District

Louis Vuitton’s plans could play a major role in putting Miami’s Design District on the fashion map and helping raise Aventura Mall’s luxury profile.

Louis Vuitton is ready to redesign South Florida’s luxury retail market.
Executives of the French brand known for its trademark handbags and accessories said this week they will leave the Bal Harbour Shops at the end of June and move to Aventura Mall where they will eventually more than double the size of their store. Also on the agenda: opening a second store in the burgeoning Miami Design District by 2014.
The news is a blow to the dominance of the Bal Harbour Shops, which in 1965 created the concept of luxury retail in South Florida and has consistently ranked as one of the industry’s top performing malls.

Louis Vuitton’s arrival will help Aventura Mall continue to elevate its merchandise mix. For Miami’s Design District this could be the catalyst to turn the area into a fashion destination akin to SoHo or New York City’s Meat Packing District. Expected to follow Louis Vuitton’s lead are at least some—or possibly all—of the other brands owned by parent-company Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy that currently have stores at Bal Harbour.

The chess moves begin when Louis Vuitton’s lease at the Bal Harbour Shops expires at the end of June. Louis Vuitton then opens a temporary store at Aventura on July 1, with plans to begin construction of a two-story flagship store at Aventura to open in Fall 2012. Plans for the Design District are still being finalized.

Geoffroy Van Raemdonck, president of Louis Vuitton North America, said the brand decided it needed a bigger store in South Florida than Bal Harbour could accommodate and also did not want to be limited to one store in the market. Bal Harbour’s leases prohibit tenants from opening a second store within 20 miles unless Bal Harbour’s owners receive a percentage of the additional store revenue.

“We believe that this market deserves more than one free-standing store,” Van Raemdonck said. “We feel that we are not reaching the customers if we have only one store in the market. We want to give them multiple chances to experience the brand in its full notoriety.”
The move is particularly dramatic because Louis Vuitton was one of Bal Harbour’s oldest and most successful tenants. The brand has been there for about 30 years, when it chose the site for its first U.S. location outside of New York.

Louis Vuitton’s Miami-Dade presence beyond Bal Harbour had been limited to departments within Bloomingdale’s in Aventura and Neiman Marcus at the Village of Merrick Park. By comparison, Palm Beach County has three stores: Worth Avenue, Town Center at Boca Raton and The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens.

Industry experts view Louis Vuitton’s decision as a sign of things to come with luxury brands under pressure to grow.

“It may not be as sexy today to have Aventura on your bag as it is to have Bal Harbour,” said Arthur Weiner, principal of AWE Talisman, a Coral Gables firm that handles retail leasing and development. “In these days sexy gets put in second place. Sales and profitability get in first place. If Louis Vuitton trades a single-store strategy for a North and South location, there is no doubt that their sales would increase by three or four fold.”

On a temporary basis, the Louis Vuitton store at Aventura will be located in the former Barney’s Co-Op store. The permanent Louis Vuitton store will be more than twice the size of the existing Bal Harbour location, with a grand staircase connecting the two floors.

But even more dramatic will be Louis Vuitton’s move to the Design District, which in recent years has grown its reputation as a destination for dining and upscale home décor. Yet, despite the best efforts of developer Craig Robins, the mix of luxury fashion brands has been limited with the most noteworthy being Christian Louboutin and Marni.

“We believe that the Design District has huge potential,” Van Raemdonck said. “We feel that we can be the first large brand to go in there and we have no doubt that others will follow.”
At least some of those followers are expected to come from among the nearly dozen other LVMH brands that currently have stores at Bal Harbour, a lineup that includes Dior, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, Celine, Emilio Pucci, Thomas Pink and De Beers.

Matthew Whitman Lazenby, one of the owners of Bal Harbour, says his family was told by LVMH executives that the company plans to pull all brands out of the shops as their leases expire. But Lazenby also said they have been told by individual brands that is not the case.

The only other LVMH brand with a lease expiring this year is Dior, whose lease expires at the end of May. Dior has not renewed its lease with Bal Harbour, and the mall is taking steps to find another tenant for the space, Lazenby said.
“We don’t really know what will happen until it happens,” Lazenby said. “We’re making provisions for both sets of circumstances. There has always been a long waiting list of tenants to get into Bal Harbour. The more LVMH brands that depart, the more opportunities we create.”

LVMH executives declined requests to talk about future plans for any of its other brands in South Florida.
Bal Harbour’s owners used news of Louis Vuitton’s imminent departure earlier this month when it presented plans for expansion to the Village Council. Bal Harbour claims it had no space for Louis Vuitton to expand. Stanley Whitman, who built the 46-year-old project, told the council that if he could not expand he ran the risk of losing tenants to Aventura Mall, South Beach and other locations around South Florida.

Preliminary plans call for adding another department store to the Bal Harbour Shops, as well as 50 luxury fashion retailers, an upscale movie theater and an event space by party impresario Barton G. The plans have not been officially submitted to the Village Council for review.

The last time Miami’s luxury retail market faced a potential shakeup along this order came with the construction of the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables. Merrick Park’s developers sued the Bal Harbour Shops’ owners over the radius restriction clause. The case settled, and Bal Harbour Shops agreed to waive the radius restriction with respect to Merrick Park. But for retailers like Gucci and Tiffany that opened second stores in Merrick Park, the owners of Bal Harbour Shops relocated them to the mall’s second, less desirable floor when their existing leases expired.

Industry experts say that just like with Merrick Park’s opening, Bal Harbour Shops will adjust even if it means its sales numbers come down from the stratosphere. The shopping mall’s sales in 2010 were $2,013 per square foot; that’s more than five times the national average and believed to be the highest at any mall in the country.
“Bal Harbour is not going anywhere,” Weiner said. “It’s a sparkling jewel. There will be brands that come and go. The difference is that those brands will now have choices.”

But the winners in all of this are Miami-Dade’s latest real estate power couple: Dacra’s Robins and Turnberry Associates’ Jackie Soffer.

“Having Louis Vuitton validate the Design District is a great step forward for the neighborhood,” Robins said. “I’m hoping it’s the beginning of several major international fashion brands committing to join the great businesses that are already in the neighborhood.”

For Soffer it’s the next step in the evolution of Aventura Mall, which has been gradually becoming more upscale over recent years. The mall’s most recent luxury addition is Burberry, which joined a mix that includes other newer stores like Lacoste, Michael Kors, M Missoni and Facconable. But additional proof of the market demand has also come from the success that Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom have had with luxury brands.

“There’s a pent-up demand that we know exists,” Soffer said. “We’ve proven that when we put in these better brands they are producing the sales. Our customers like brand names. That’s what sells.”

By Elaine Walker

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