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Miami Commission approves Design District makeover

Plans to transform Miami’s Design District into a super-high-end retail destination are one step closer to becoming reality.

The Miami Commission on Thursday gave the first stamp of approval to an edgy, $312-million proposal from Craig Robins, principal of the development group DACRA. Robins has dreamed up a pedestrian-friendly concept that would bring ultra-luxury shops, cafes and public plazas to the once-blighted Design District. The environmentally sound proposal also includes a hotel and mid-rise housing.

Robins called Thursday’s vote an important step for the project.

“It shows that the entire community is united behind a common vision to do something great in the city of Miami,” he said.

Commission Chairman Francis Suarez said he was awed by the concept, which calls to mind a modern European city.

“It’s incredible what Miami can be,” Suarez said. “It takes visionaries like Craig and the private sector to make it a reality.”

Robins has a history of turning once-troubled neighborhoods into trendy destinations. He is largely credited with being a key figure in the redevelopment of South Beach.

The Design District is already home to some top restaurants and high-end retail, including a Christian Louboutin boutique. The new project would build on that foundation. Already, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Bulgari, Christian Dior and Pucci have signed on.

Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, whose represents the neighborhood, had pushed for assurances that the project would create jobs for residents and help surrounding neighborhoods prosper. She said she was pleased to cast her vote in support of the plan Thursday.

“This is not just wonderful for my district, is wonderful for the city,” she said.

In other business, the commission approved a request from Spence-Jones to spend $18,000 on a Fourth of July celebration at Hadley Park.

Spence-Jones brought the request as a pocket item at the end of the meeting, meaning it was not included on the published agenda. The move drew some criticism from Commission Vice Chairman Marc Sarnoff.

“We’re voting on a pocket item that is an allocation of money, even though we said we wouldn’t do that,” Sarnoff said.

Spence-Jones said she sought to get approval before spending some special-events money that was leftover from previous festivals and parades in her district.

Thursday also marked the start of a new citywide campaign known as Operation Clean Sweep. The initiative will target individuals who illegally dispose of trash and other debris within city limits.

“We are going after those people who are dumping garbage in the city of Miami, whether those people are residents or absentee landlords,” Mayor Tomás Regalado said.

As part of the campaign, city officials will re-open a small dump at 1390 NW 20th St. In addition, a handful of private banks have agreed to help take care of abandoned properties, which sometimes become mini dumping grounds.