A lively, new brewery and bar is set to open in a historic downtown Miami building, but the previous tenants who helped restore the century-old building were left crying in their beer.
Biscayne Bay Brewing, a fast-growing Doral-based brewery, signed a deal to open a brewery and taproom on the third floor of the Old U.S. Post Office, a 116-year-old building on the National Register of Historic Places. Biscayne Bay will brew experimental, small-batch beers there — and, they hope, give locals and visitors another reason to stay downtown after dark when it opens this winter.
But to make room for new projects in the historic building, the landlord, Stambul Ventures, didn’t renew the lease for the Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the tenant on the first two floors. The nonprofit spent more than $300,000 to renovate the first two floors of the building in 2013 to open the Miami Center for Architecture and Design, and they could have remained alongside the new brewery on the third floor. The cultural spaces held exhibitions, film screenings, lectures and guided walking tours of downtown’s other historic, early 20th century buildings.
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But just six months after the MCAD held its first exhibition in December of 2013, developer Scott Robins, the previous owner, sold the building to Stambul for $11 million — nearly 10 times his original investment, according to property records. And when the AIA’s five-year lease ran out in December of last year, the nonprofit was out. Stambul representatives did not return phone calls for comment.
“I cried a lot of tears over it,” said Cheryl Jacobs, the AIA’s executive vice president, who oversaw the building’s renovation. “But when you’re a small nonprofit and you don’t own your real estate, you don’t control that at all.”
Robins had agreed to a five-year deal with the architecture organization in 2013. The South Beach developer had bought the 43,000 square-foot building in 2000 for $1.65 million, restored the facade, and maintained it while he waited to turn it into condos.
Until then, the building had remained empty, after serving as everything from a bank to an Office Depot.
The AIA changed all that. They raised money, installed a $150,000 audio-visual system and secured a $50,000 grant from the Downtown Development Authority to renovate a building designated historic in 1989.
They tore up vinyl floor to reveal marble. They removed an ugly drop-ceiling to reveal majestic arches and 16-foot-high ceilings. Columns and vaulted ceilings were updated with contemporary touches, including glass interior walls. A new staircase of welded steel plates wound its way to the second floor.
Downtown celebrated the reopening of the limestone-clad building with classically inspired Italianate design.
"The AIA wanted to make a statement in a landmark building," Robins told the Miami Herald at the time. "Miami is coming of age culturally and architecturally, and I think it's finally time for downtown Miami."
Six months later, he sold it. Daniel Peña, the director of Stambul Construction, also bought and renovated another building on the National Register of Historic Places, at 121 SE 1st St., into the Langford Hotel in 2016. Inside, he opened a restaurant, PB Station, and a rooftop bar, Pawn Broker, both of which have since closed.
The nonprofit has moved into a temporary space across the street until it moves into its new home at 310 SE 1st Street. But that building is also slated to be torn down and renovated, Jacobs said. She said she will spend the next two to three years looking for a new, permanent home.
The brewery did not make the same mistake. Biscayne Bay signed a five-year lease with two 5-year tenant options.
With foresight, owner Jose Mallea turned a warehouse in Doral into large-scale, brewery with a nautical-themed tasting room. Their beers — from a hoppy pale ale to refreshing lagers to rich porters — are now available throughout South Florida, from Key West to Indian River County, including in six packs at Publix.
Biscayne Bay will brew downtown on a small, four-barrel system, where they will experiment with barrel-aged beers and sours — tart, refreshing beers, similar in flavor to ciders, which are all the rage among craft beer drinkers.
“I always wanted to have a brewery in the heart of the city,” Mallea said. “It was the right time for us.”
It will be the first craft brewery in downtown Miami, near new developments such as the Brightline train station, MiamiCentral, three blocks away. That will also have a food hall, with local and national restaurant names, that Mallea hopes will help his brewery take off.
“It’s going to be an active, vibrant scene in the next one to two years and that’s perfect for us,” Mallea said.
It’ll be convenient for nearby architects who could use a drink.