With roots as a pineapple farm owned by T.V. Moore, the Design District’s early buildings — the Moore Building, originally a furniture store, and the post office – date back the 1920s. The district became the heart of the town of Buena Vista, which incorporated in August 1924 and was annexed by the city of Miami in September 1925, said historian Arva Moore Parks, noting that for a time the post office was also the city hall.
In the 70s and 80s, the Design District had become the wholesale center for furniture and design, until showrooms lost market share to a design center created in Dania. By the time Robins turned his attention to the area it had begun rundown.
Louis Vuitton Worldwide’s Burke said he has always been a believer that downtowns can be revitalized, and that the next generation of consumers will live and work closer to the city center.
“So I became an advocate for this project,” he said, of the Design District, calling himself the “midwife.”
At first, he said, “Craig was a little hesitant partnering with LVMH — he is a one-man band compared to LVMH, and we are a Fortune 50 conglomerate. It’s a perfect pairing because each brings something the other doesn’t have, but it’s not an obvious pairing.”
After a year of discussions, with a dozen meetings in Paris and Miami, the investment was sealed at the end of 2010. L Real Estate, whose investors include European family trusts, would not disclose the amount of its investment, nor would Robins. But Burke said the financial results are already beyond initial projections.
“It allowed a much more aggressive acquisition program, and gave credibility,” Burke said, calling LVMH the spark. “It allowed for the Hermès and Cartiers of the world to come in.”
In fact, LVMH brands Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Celine and Pucci have already left Bal Harbour, as have Hermès and Cartier. Since then, Bal Harbour Shops has brought in new luxury brands including Etro and Nest; and its overall sales are up almost 11 percent over the previous year, Lazenby said.
Other local centers — including Aventura Mall and the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables — count luxury retailers among their clients. And several planned developments — like Brickell CityCentre, in which the Whitman family is a partner, and a long-awaited Watson Island hotel-marina complex — hope to draw in luxury tenants as well.
The Design District has a jump on them all.
Hermès was among the first stores to announce it would open a flagship store in the Design District, moving out of Bal Harbour when its lease expired in January, and opening a temporary store on 40th Street in mid-February. When completed in early 2015, its permanent store will encompass 14,000 square-feet on three floors, with a rooftop garden, said Robert Chavez, president and chief executive of Hermès U.S.
A desire for more space to showcase its growing collections — particularly its home collection and women’s shoes — served as the catalyst for the move, Chavez said. In the Design District there will also be room for the first freestanding Saint Louis Crystal boutique in the United States, adjacent to Hermès, with a door adjoining the two stores.
“We are happy to make the investment, especially with Craig,” Chavez said.