SFBJ: Buzz Builds In Downtown Miami As Region’s International Hot Spot

Buzz builds in downtown Miami as region’s international hot spot. Could it be the Arsht Center? Museum Park? New restaurants? Affordable condos? Lebron James and the Heat? Luxury hotels? Read today’s South Florida Business Journal to find out why downtown’s population has increased by more than 81 percent over past ten years.

Miami modern

Buzz builds in downtown area, but a place to buy groceries helps, too

by Bill Frogameni and Oscar Pedro Musibay

Grocery stores, new hotels, a tunnel project and revitalized bayfront parks are adding to the portrait of a maturing downtown Miami, which already has a row of luxury condominium towers, Broadway shows at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and, oh, some guys who play basketball.
While Miami is sometimes portrayed in the national media as the epicenter of the real estate downturn, the number of downtown residents has grown an estimated 81 percent, to 71,000, since 2000. There is a sense that downtown Miami is an exciting place to be, evidenced most recently by LeBron James’ arrival to the Miami Heat, says Neisen Kasdin, vice chairman of the Miami Downtown Development Authority, a business advocacy organization.
In the 1990s, downtown was largely deserted at night and only saw 8.4 percent growth, according to the DDA. Retail has followed the population, with 42 new retail businesses opening downtown since 2009. Additionally, downtown Miami’s retail vacancy rate of 5.06 percent is among the five lowest in the nation’s 50 largest markets, according to an Integra Realty Resources survey. Downtown Miami can claim several groundbreaking projects, including the cleanup of Bicentennial Park in preparation for construction of the Miami Art Museum. The vision for the park, which also includes the Miami Science Museum, is to create a public space that will be the focal point of leisure activity.
In addition to the opening of boutique hotels at the Marquis and Epic condominiums, a new tower with two brands is slated to launch near the mouth of the Miami River in the coming days. Alicia Cervera Lamadrid, of Related Cervera Realty Services, said she’s reaching out to the camps of all the Miami Heat players, including James. Not only does she want players to buy condominiums at Marquis, which she represents, but she expects Heat fans to keep Marquis’ Tempo Miami Hotel, just a few blocks north of the American Airlines Arena, at full occupancy.
Where only a few months ago, residents living downtown had to travel miles to shop for groceries, the development of a Publix has been announced just north of the Arsht Center, and Whole Foods Market is negotiating a lease at the Metropolitan Miami project. The result is that downtown Miami is starting to show the type of overall balance already found in the Brickell Avenue neighborhood south of the Miami River. The DDA has also launched an effort to determine the viability of a conference facility that could include hotel rooms in downtown Miami.
The JW Marriott Marquis Miami is planning to open Oct. 22. The 357-room property, located in a stand-alone tower in the Wells Fargo Center, is one of only a few hotels of its class in the downtown area. Others include the Epic, Tempo Miami in the Marquis condominium and the InterContinental Miami. The JW Marriott will target business travelers, said Paul Pebley, director of sales and marketing. Leisure travelers will probably only comprise about 10 percent to 15 percent of the hotel’s business, he estimated. With prices starting at $329, the hotel will cater to upscale corporate travelers but, with 80,000 square feet of meeting and event space, group business will also play an important role, Pebley noted. In addition, the JW Marriott will offer a special floor – the Hotel Beaux Arts Miami, a “hotel within a hotel” – that provides an even more exclusive experience, including separate registration and concierge service. Room rates start at $400.
Pebley said that the JW Marriott will do well downtown Miami since the area is becoming more of a business and cultural destination – thanks, in part, to the buzz around James and the Miami Heat. “Our feeling was that there was a lack of modern meeting space in the downtown market,” he said. “It’s really been the most significant meeting space added to the market in many years.”
There are not many high-end hotels in downtown Miami that cater to the business traveler, but it’s not hard to find those properties nearby, either in the Brickell area or Miami Beach, said hotel consultant Scott Brush, president of Miami-based Brush & Co. Still, the hotel will do well based on the strength of the Marriott name and the proximity to business tenants in the Wells Fargo Center, he said. “For a property in a building like that, a lot of the business comes from the tenants in the building,” he said. “It is so much easier to stay in a hotel and just walk over to your meeting than it is to get in a cab and go.”