Development Booms on Biscayne Boulevard
by sean mccaughan
The Related Group’s Baltus House is one of the first of its kind in the area, and ushers in another new era for the neighborhood.
The revival of Miami’s Upper East Side, a collection of historic residential neighborhoods connected by the ribbon of Biscayne Boulevard and its offbeat boutiques, eclectic restaurants, and funky retro motels from 36th Street to the city’s border at 87th, has been a long time coming. What was in the 1950s a booming suburban boulevard of funky mid-century motels and modern shopping plazas, then later a hotbed for Miami’s seedy underbelly, is on the rise again. Though the area seemed to stall with the 2008 recession, now a few high-profile residential projects like The Related Group’s Baltus House and lots of new independent creative retailers indicate the neighborhood is making the comeback it deserves.
That’s not to say the Upper Biscayne Boulevard corridor didn’t have hidden pockets of cool for a while. The area’s tonier residential enclaves east of Biscayne Boulevard led by Morningside, the City of Miami’s first historic district, along with Belle Meade and Shorecrest, gentrified decades ago. Cultured young professionals, many from the beach, moved in and lovingly restored the Upper East Side’s beautiful old Mediterranean Revival and Art Deco houses. Yet the Boulevard itself remained randomly sketchy.
The historic Coppertone sign at its new location on Biscayne Boulevard.
The comeback can be most easily traced to 15 years ago, when a small cluster of restaurants moved into an inauspicious triangle developed by local restaurateur and Morningside resident Mark Soyka. Since then, other locally run restaurants, bars, and boutiques filled in retail pockets along Biscayne Boulevard’s commercial stretch, an area that would soon be known (and officially designated) as Miami’s MiMo Historic District.
A neighborhood on the rise, the MiMo District’s identity consolidated as the iconic Coppertone sign came to the area, saved from the scrap yard, and the Admiral Vee, one of the area’s most dramatic motels, was revived as Glasshaus Studios, a photo and film production facility. Michelle Bernstein opened Michy’s on 69th Street, funky boutiques moved in next to motels still rented by the hour, and decades-old neighborhood classics like Lambda Passages, one of Miami’s pioneering gay bookstores, remained. Finally, with recent announcements within the last year that various mixed-use and residential projects are moving in, and an increase in commercial and retail life on the corridor, the Upper East Side seems to really be getting the upper hand in the market.
Rendering of the lobby at Baltus House.
Just north of the Design District, The Related Group recently launched sales for Baltus House (info@BaltusHouse.com), a design-inspired luxury condominium on 43rd and Biscayne that will wrap around a 1960s-era office building and provide expansive bay views of neighboring Bay Point. Its 167 units range from studios to three bedrooms at 1,720 square feet; some units have oversize balconies up to 860 square feet.
Further up Biscayne Boulevard, husband-and-wife team Ruben and Gladys Matz are working with Tony Cho of Metro 1 Properties on the Morningside Center, a 20,000-square-foot retail complex designed by Dean Lewis at 54th Street. “It’s gritty, real, and has cool architecture. The dynamic of the Design District being so near is having a positive effect,” says Cho of the area.
Moving on, Chariff Realty Group has drafted renderings of a 10,000-square-foot retail construction at 64th that will include a MiMo outpost of Miami specialty roaster Panther Coffee. A newly constructed furniture showroom in full futuristic MiMo swagger already spans the block between 61st and 62nd Streets, and a formerly beleaguered Kentucky Fried Chicken on Biscayne and 75th will metamorphose from fried to fresh as South Beach-based juice bar Jugofresh will soon take over the spot.
MiMo retail space at 62nd Street.
A few blocks north, developer Avra Jain has purchased the Vagabond, the boulevard’s most iconic mid-century motel, along with the neighboring Royal and the Stephen’s International Motel a bit farther south. Originally designed by B. Robert Swartzburg, the architect of South Beach’s Delano Hotel, the Vagabond is being returned to its MiMo-fabulous glory days via a new restaurant with a sunken bar in the motel’s revamped lobby, outdoor dining and deck games in the old motor court, and a redux of the original pool bar. Jain is also moving the motel’s neon signage to its original roadside location and re-creating a mermaid mosaic in the pool. She plans to have the Vagabond’s public spaces ready to fête Art Basel this month.
The parade of new projects and historic rehabs continues. On the southwest corner of 79th Street, the Fifteen Group plans to gut and adaptively reuse the former INS building as a residential tower with a new tower built behind. The expansive but slowly crumbling Biscayne Plaza shopping complex on the northwest corner of Biscayne and 79th is also getting an overhaul, with some of its funkier elements being restored and a CVS moving into the corner spot. To the east, at 79th Street and Biscayne Bay, the Adler Group broke ground this past April on its Shorecrest Club, two 20-story towers encompassing 455 apartment units at the base of the 79th Street Causeway. After decades of evolution, from midcentury pizzazz to urban grit, Biscayne Boulevard is looking up and perhaps even regaining its old stride.