The western edge of Miami’s ritzy Design District is being turned inside out — literally — to create a new wing for the luxury shopping and design neighborhood.
The Market at Miami Design District, a joint venture between the New York-based Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance and the Miami retail leasing and development firm The Comras Company of Florida, will take 16 existing commercial properties spanning nearly a full city block and convert them into an open-air marketplace, with paseos and corridors carved out of the existing structures and storefronts on multiple sides of the buildings to give the area the feel of a village.
“The idea is to do something a little more elevated than Wynwood, but not with the luxury vibe of the Design District,” said Michael Comras, president and CEO of The Comras Company, who is overseeing the leasing and redesign of the area. “I want to create something between those two and maybe attract people from Midtown.”
Comras said the first phase of development will consist of adaptive reuse and reconverting the vacant buildings for multiple purposes — food and beverage, showrooms, office spaces and pop-ups — with an emphasis on home furnishings. The new landscaping, lighting and conversion of existing buildings is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
“We want to create an identity over the next 3 to 5 years and attract people to the District,” he said.
The long-term master plan for the project could include as much as 600,000 square feet of residential, hotel and commercial. The project is also located inside an Opportunity Zone, which offers investors deferred taxes on their capital gains. A final budget for the entire development is not yet available.
Comras said the first tenants will get the sweetest deals — between $60-$80 per square foot in rent, considerably lower than the District’s current rate of $160 per square foot.
“The new owners [Apollo] and I talk regularly,” said Craig Robins, CEO and president of Dacra development, which owns 900,000 square feet of land and one million square feet of buildings in the open-air Design District, along with rights to add another two million square feet. “They couldn’t have better timing, since our leasing post-pandemic has been more robust than any time in the last five years. I’m sure they’re going to be successful and it will be great for the District to have those properties activated.”
The Design District spans 18 square city blocks north of downtown Miami, from Northeast 38th to 42nd Streets between N.orth Miami Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard. The shopping haven is home to 211 luxury shops and boutiques and is famed for its upscale tenants — Gucci, Prada, Louis Vitton — and its architecture, including the 13,000-square-foot three-story flagship store for the French luxury fashion retailer Hermès. The District is also home to restaurants, ice cream parlors and two art museums.
A welcome change
The Market at Miami Design District stretches from Northeast 39th Street to Northeast 41st Street, between North Miami Avenue and Northeast First Avenue, nestled between the two existing Museum Garage and Parkview Garage parking garages. The Market already houses the home furnishings and decor store Nisi B Home and the German Kitchen Center, creator of customized kitchens of European design.
“I think what Michael is doing is so smart,” said Nisi Berryman, who opened Nisi B Home, located at 39 NE 39th St., at the southern edge of The Market 16 years ago. “He has a vision about this and it will enhance the appeal of the Design District. I’ve been waiting for five years for the former owners to say ‘This is your last month’ because they had a different plan with a big building. I just hung in here. But it’s been terrible because all the other buildings were left vacant since they wanted to proceed with their residential project.”
The assemblage of buildings that will comprise The Market was originally put together by the New York-based RedSky Capital and JZ Capital Partners firms at a total cost of $236 million in 2015. They leveraged the properties for a $220 million loan from Apollo Real Estate Financing in 2016, according to The Real Deal. Various projects were considered, including one large mixed-use development that would have included residential, office and retail.
But after defaulting on a loan for a project in Brooklyn, RedSky was forced to liquidate its assets. Apollo assumed ownership of the properties in April and brought on Comras, whose experience in retail includes large projects on Lincoln Road and the ongoing redevelopment of Sunset Place in South Miami, to conceptualize and lease out The Market.
The Market is expected to be a three- to five- year interim project before the final plan for the neighborhood is begun. But experts say the development ticks off all the boxes for the ongoing reinvention of retail around the country: Go smaller, pay less overhead and specialize.
“When you look at the Design District, you see a lot of downsized stores and ground-floor showroom boutiques,” said Zach Winkler, South Florida senior vice president retail lead for the commercial real estate firm JLL. “Back-channel logistics have gotten so much better that a retailer can have a smaller stock of their product onsite in the back of the store and replenish it quickly and easily.
“The great thing about the Design District is that it casts a much greater shadow than other neighborhoods do,” Winkler said. You have people from Coconut Grove and Brickell going there for a night out with friends. It draws tourists and day trippers. Because North Miami Avenue really is the western edge of the District — everything beyond that is residential — The Market will be as walkable as the rest of the District, which bodes well for its sustainability.”