Dacra's Craig Robbins is turning a blighted Miami area into an international destination -- again.
By David Villano
In 1987, fresh out of law school, Craig Robbins sank $20,000 into a venture to acquire two aging properties insurance in Miami Beach's seedy southern end. Friends called him crazy. Today they call him a visionary. His Dacra Development Corp. has led much of the revitalization of South Beach, now one of the world's most recognizable tourist stops. With South Beach bursting at the seams, Robbins, 37, is turning his attention across the causeway to Miami's Design District. Like South Beach in the mid-1980s, the Design District is a low-rent neighborhood that suffers from years of neglect and a reputation for crime. To the north sits the city's low-income immigrant enclave of Little Haiti. To the west are the chronically blighted black neighborhoods of Liberty City. "A lot of people have said this may not work," says Robbins. "But, of course, that's what they said about South Beach."
The Design District gets its name from the interior design showrooms that flourished there in the late 1970s. The opening of the mammoth Design Center of the Americas in Broward County, coupled with the city's devastating race riots in the early 1980s, drove away tenants. By the early 1990s, half the commercial space was empty.
Robbins proposes a working center for design professionals and merchants that doubles as a tourist draw for the well-heeled and the fashion-conscious. To that end, Robbins has sparked a revolution in the design industry nationwide by persuading high-end furniture showrooms and galleries in the area to open their doors to the public. Typically, only interior designers, architects and other design professionals are granted access.
Since 1994, Robbins has put $25 million in the area, acquiring 18 buildings totaling about 500,000 square feet of mostly commercial space. He's sprucing up the streetscape with public art, and he helped persuade city officials to fund a $100,000 master plan. The efforts are paying off: A few cafes have opened, artists and other professionals are moving in, nightlife is returning and real estate values are rising. "Our model has always been to create value by elevating the neighborhood as a whole, not just adding more product," Robbins explains.
Real estate analyst Michael Y. Cannon of Integra Realty Resources says the Design District's location -- just north of Miami's new arena and planned performing arts center and 10 minutes from South Beach -- is ideal for an urban shopping and entertainment destination.
Robbins says his investment so far is "extremely profitable." Since 1998, more than 50 new stores have opened. Among them: Chicago-based designer Holly Hunt, Milan-based Dilmos and office furniture maker Knoll. Lease rates in some buildings now exceed $20 a square foot, up from $5 in the mid-1990s.
If the district's turnaround remains on course, expect similar design-centered entertainment zones in other cities. Robbins says his company is both eager and "very well-poised" to replicate the concept. "It's amazing to think that this little neighborhood in Miami is changing the very nature of the design industry."
In the News
Boca Raton -- After a yearlong investigation, the Federal Trade Commission has sued nutritional supplements maker Rexall Sundown (Nasdaq-RXSD), alleging the company falsely touted the benefits of its cellulite-reduction remedy. Federal officials say the company's popular Cellasene pills, which can cost more than $200 for the recommended eight-week dosage, have not been scientifically proven to work.
Fort Lauderdale -- With its stock price tumbling, Gerald Stevens (Nasdaq-GIFT) has cut a quarter of its management staff, combined its two Broward headquarters and scaled back expansion plans. The nation's largest flower retailer, with 340 locations in the U.S. and Canada, initiated the cost-cutting measures in response to its announcement that the company expects to break even in the third quarter.
Miami -- Indonesia's Adrian Zecha, founder of ultra-exclusive Amanresorts hotel chain, is joining forces with New York's Metropolitan Development Group to bring a high-rise hotel-condominium to South Beach's Collins Avenue. Room rates at other Amanresorts properties reach as high as $1,000 a night. Although the project is at least two years from completion, some hospitality analysts wonder if the market can support another high-end hotel. At least three other upscale hotels are in development on South Beach.
Tough times at Natick, Mass.-based Boston Scientific mean good news for Miami. As part of a cost-cutting program, the medical devices manufacturer will cut about 1,000 jobs (7% of its worldwide workforce) and shift at least 100 positions to its underutilized Miami-Dade plant. The company employs 750 in Miami.
Florida International University landed a record $58.4 million in scientific contracts and grants in 1999-2000, a 31% jump over last year. Noteworthy among FIU's federal funding is a $4.2-million, six-year National Science Foundation grant to study the environmental health of the Everglades.
Paper products distributor Dade Paper & Bag Co. made its first acquisition ever, buying Atlanta Broom Co. for an undisclosed amount. The 61-year-old Miami company, which has $150 million in sales and 475 employees, is hoping to expand its reach throughout the South. Atlanta Broom has 64 employees.
Miami-Dade -- Miami-Dade is home to one of the nation's only gay and lesbian chambers of commerce. The Miami-Dade & South Beach Business Guild, with 100 members, was founded to promote members' businesses and to attract gay and lesbian tourist dollars to the area. "The gay community has a well-deserved place at the table of Miami-Dade politics and business," says guild President David Treece. "Our community contributes monumentally to local economics."
Tamarac -- In a major coup for Tamarac, City Furniture has announced it will build a 917,000-sq.-ft. multi-use facility in the city's southwest corner, moving its headquarters from nearby Sunrise. When completed next June, the $25-million, quarter-mile-long building also will include a retail showroom, public restaurant and regional distribution center. The company estimates it will need 500 workers then and another 500 by 2006.
Cuba Law Tossed Out
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AutoNation: More Change Under Way
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