With even bigger partnerships and plans on the horizon, Craig Robins is poised to make the Miami Design District a premier luxury shopping destination in Florida and beyond.
Craig Robins in front of R. Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome in Palm Court in the Design District.
As CEO and president of the forward-thinking South Florida real estate firm Dacra, Craig Robins helped transform a fading 1980s South Beach by rebuilding Lincoln Road and Española Way, marking the rebirth of America’s hottest city. Then Robins crossed the bridge to rejuvenate the abandoned Miami Design District. Over the past decade, he has set the stage for the formerly forgotten neighborhood to become one of the country’s preeminent luxury shopping destinations, with over 100 international high-end retailers set to open in the District by 2016. Here, Robins discusses his success and partnerships, and how the growth is just beginning.
When did you first know the Design District had the potential to be what it is today?
In the mid-’90s—once we started acquiring and developing buildings on Lincoln Road, it was clear to me that the next place [Miami] needed to grow was across the bridge. What I liked about the Design District was that, like South Beach, it was an important historical neighborhood, and because of the geography of the expressway and Biscayne Boulevard, it’s really a nice self-contained area.
What was the key step to getting the Design District off the ground?
Historically, [it’s where] furniture design had been, and basically all those brands had been induced to leave and go to a mall. I thought there was a real opportunity to bring furniture design back. Within four or five years, the [neighborhood] really became the number-one place for furniture design in South Florida again.
How did it transition to other high-end retail?
First we began to do a lot of cultural events during [Art Basel], then also year-round. There were a lot of artists that were working in the neighborhood. When we started becoming very successful as a cultural destination, restaurants started opening, like Michael’s [Genuine Food & Drink]. Once we had art, design, and food, I realized that if we could also integrate fashion, then the neighborhood would really come together in a powerful way.
Rendering of a building designed by the renowned architecture firm Aranda/Lasch, part of the evolution of the Design District.
Why is art frequently a kick-starter for an up-and-coming neighborhood?
I think a lot of people use the same words to mean different things. To me, what we try to do is to make sure that the places we’re working with are as much about advocating, supporting, and benefiting from culture as from commerce. In the case of the Design District, there are very extensive public art, design, and graphic design programs throughout the neighborhood. We have our Zaha Hadid installation in the Moore Building, and Marc Newson’s fence, and there’s a ton of other spectacular projects—R. Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome, the Konstantin Grcic installation, the huge mural by John Baldessari, and a public graphic design installation with homage to the Wynwood Walls by graphic designers.
When it came to retail, was there a brand that really paved the way for the Design District?
First I entered into a partnership with a group called L Real Estate fund that is minority owned by LVMH. Part of the reason that L joined the partnership is because the group knew the LVMH brands wanted to [open in the Design District]. When we announced that all the LVMH brands, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Céline, Marc Jacobs, Bulgari, and many others, were coming to the District, that gave us some credibility. A really big break and major validation for us was when Hermès said that it wanted to come.
What’s in the future for the Design District?
In June, we delivered 15 buildings for another 45 stores. We already have about 10 to 15 stores in the neighborhood, so those new buildings will add to the mix. In January or February, we’ll start 20 more buildings for another 60 stores, and those will include a hotel and beautiful condominium tower; those stores will open at the end of 2016. By March, there will be about 45 or 50 stores open in the neighborhood, including Hermès, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Céline, and Tom Ford. We’ll also still have the furniture brands. The great restaurants are here like Michael’s and MC Kitchen. There’s also some really wonderful restaurants that are opening, including ABC Kitchen, my favorite restaurant in New York.
photography by justin namon/ra-haus