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$312M Makeover / Miami's Design District

Developer unveils project to transform Miami’s Design District into upscale pedestrian promenade


A proposed $312 million makeover of Miami’s Design District would carve out a mini-Lincoln Road mall with luxury fashion shops, restaurants and public spaces.

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Developer Craig Robins’ plan to turn Miami’s Design District into a super-high-end retail destination entails cutting a four-block pedestrian promenade anchored by two department stores through the heart of the compact neighborhood, which would also get an extensive green makeover — including rooftops covered in sod, gardens and mature shade trees.

The ambitious scheme, which gets its first public airing before the city’s planning and zoning board on Wednesday, would create a smaller-scale version of Lincoln Road Mall, though one lined with ultra-luxury fashion shops, and dotted with cafes and tree-shaded public plazas to encourage lingering.

Not coincidentally, the layout and scale of the pedestrian passageway also bear a striking similarity to those of Bal Harbour Shops, which is losing many of its luxury tenants to the Design District. But the plan weaves that enclosed-mall template into an intensely urban setting.

“We’ve picked up on the success of those two areas that we know have really worked,” Robins said during a presentation to reporters Monday at the art-filled Design District offices of the development group he leads, DACRA. “It’s about redefining retail and creating a mixed-use urban community at the heart of the city of Miami.”

The detailed blueprint, which DACRA submitted to the city last week as a “Special Area Plan’’ under the Miami 21 zoning code, also makes room for adding a hotel and around 100 units of housing in a mid-rise tower to what has been a commercial-only district. Both would be on the west side of Northeast First Avenue at 39th Street.

Although the hotel and residential piece would require a slight up-zoning, most of the plan — which covers 51 properties that DACRA controls, or roughly 65 percent of the entire area — fits within existing zoning and would preserve the district’s low-scale character, Robins said. But existing buildings would be supplemented by signature architectural designs, Robins said.

Robins, a key early figure in the redevelopment of South Beach and founder of the Design Miami fair, said DACRA’s plan builds on the architectural bones of the district, and its focus on designer furnishings and the arts, to create “a neighborhood authentically grounded in fostering creativity and not just merchandising.’’

“The neighborhood is wonderful already,’’ Robins said. “The transformation is going to be exponential.’’

The blueprint was drafted by the Miami firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk, also authors of the Miami 21 code. It’s the second, mold-breaking collaboration between the firm, which advocates traditional, walkable urban designs, and Robins, who extols contemporary architecture and design.

The Design District plan must be approved by the city commission. Robins hopes that will happen before the August break, noting it has the support of residents’ groups in adjacent neighborhoods.

Approval would clear the way for a $312 million project that comprises extensive renovations, 540,000 square feet of new construction and some demolitions, including those necessary to clear the way for the blueprint’s centerpiece: the 30-foot-wide pedestrian mall that would run north and south from 38th to 42nd streets. Some of that work, allowed by existing rules, has already begun.


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