Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Reviving a Gem

Randy Alonso, 38, recalls the Coconut Grove of his childhood as a tight-knit local community where his family, with roots in Cuba, enjoyed Sunday night dinners at the GreenStreet Cafe. Now, he owns and operates Mayfair Grill and Sipsip Calypso Rum Bar in the renovated Mayfair House Hotel & Garden — part of the renaissance of Coconut Grove and CocoWalk, its commercial center.

“It’s like you read a book in high school because you have to, but 20 years later, you read it again and you have a whole new perspective,” Alonso says.

Young people have been a driving force in urban resurgence for the past two decades, but studies of the shifting demographics of the times show Millennials are drawn to central urban neighborhoods significantly more than previous generations were at the same stages in life.

In Coconut Grove, that's apparent in the reinvention of CocoWalk, a retail, dining and office complex that had been home to national chain retail and restaurants common to suburban malls. Developer Michael Comras, whose specialty is turning around languishing urban centers, was a partner in the $88-million acquisition in 2015.

Comras says he looked around Coconut Grove and not only saw high-end neighborhoods, but also a plethora of schools and a need for office space. Busy families wanted a one-stop destination with a fitness studio, a music school, a theater, restaurants, a barbershop and an ice-cream shop. The walkability of the area also appeals to Europeans and South Americans with second homes in Miami.

“What you want to do is build something sustainable so that it doesn’t become a fad,” Comras says. “The whole idea is to stay out of your car.”

Stuart Biel, senior vice president at Federal Realty Investment Trust, the majority owner of CocoWalk, says office space also is a critical component.

“The pandemic in particular made people appreciate time differently. They want to do things closer to where they live but not give up the experiences or the amenities," he says.

David Martin, CEO of Miami-based Terra, says young customers value green space, resilient construction, transit connectivity and renewable energy. “They are discerning," he says. "The Grove ... is becoming one of those places people will want more – so they can shop here, work here, live here."