Alan Faena, the Argentine developer-alchemist who stoked the transmutation of Buenos Aires derelict Puerto Madero district into real-estate gold, stands chatting on a corner on a desolate stretch of Collins Avenue thats been leapfrogged by Miami Beachs rampaging redevelopment.
Someone speeding by might mistake the spindly Faena, whos garbed head to toe in his trademark white loose, tunic-like white shirt and trousers, white fedora for a wayward santero. Hes not.
Faena is the man who aims to singlehandedly turn sleepy mid-Beach into the citys resplendent new epicenter.
Since he began gobbling up whole city blocks along Collins last year, Faena has engaged in a dizzying contest of Can you top this? with himself.
First he acquired the gutted but landmark oceanfront Saxony Hotel, added the modest Atlantic Beach Hotel across Collins, and hired the hotter-than-hot New York firm of Roman and Williams to design opulent new interiors for the former.
Next he signed up two of the starriest of celebrity architects to design a set of three new buildings that, together with the existing hotels, would constitute what hes branded as the Faena District Miami Beach: A beachfront condominium by the firm of Britains Lord Norman Foster, and, spanning two blocks across Collins, a public cultural center and a robotic parking garage by Rem Koolhaas leading-edge Office of Metropolitan Architecture.
The announced asking price for the Faena Houses two-story, 18,000-square-foot penthouse? A neat $50 million.
But he wasnt done yet.
Last month, Faena and his financial backer, Ukrainian-American billionaire Len Blavatnik, dropped $100 million to buy the adjacent Versailles Hotel, another vacant Collins landmark.
And then he announced the hiring of film director Baz Luhrmann, of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby fame, and his wife and collaborator Catherine Martin, for a yet-unspecified creative role at the Faena Saxony Hotel.
I try to work with the best minds in the world, said Faena, who likens his role as developer to that of a creative director. I am not a big businessman. This is all about having a dream. I worked hard and had a vision.
In Puerto Madero we created a neighborhood. Our dream is to do here what we did there. To really create something special. A mix of architecture, of art, of taste, of food.
Behind Faena, cranes rise into the sky. The streamlined, 18-story Faena House tower is rising steadily and renovation work is well under way at the Saxony, which had been reduced to a shell when a previous restoration attempt stalled.
The city has approved the OMA designs across the street, which include the conversion of the low-rise Atlantic Beach into an open courtyard building housing upscale shops, as well as an ambitious plan to join both blocks through an underground parking garage and passageway that will run beneath 34th Street, all to be finished by fall 2014, Faena says.
The Beachs famously finicky planners and historic-preservation officials applaud Faenas big-picture ambitions. They say they appreciate that Faena will not just resuscitate the Saxony whose architecture marked the shift from Art Deco to the resort modernism of the Beachs famed mid-century hotels but supplement it with an ensemble of sharply contemporary, individualized buildings that subtly pay homage to its MiMo design.