Just months before groundbreaking, the developers of Miami Worldcenter say they’re ditching the massive enclosed mall at the heart of their $1.7 billion downtown project — and replacing it with an open-air shopping center along a Lincoln Road-style promenade.
The move comes at a time when major malls and department store chains around the country are slashing jobs and closing stores. Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s had signed on as anchor tenants for the Worldcenter project two years ago. But the new design means they may drop out.
“We would love to find a home for them here,” said Nitin Motwani, principal of master developer Miami Worldcenter Associates. “When we started developing, the perception was that you needed strong retail as anchors, even in an urban setting like Miami. But for a lot of different economic reasons that model is changing.”
Motwani said the redesign wouldn’t delay completion of the shopping center, still scheduled for fall of 2018. Retail giants Taubman Centers and the Forbes Company are co-developing the project’s retail component. They announced the new concept in a press release Monday morning
The plan calls for developers to build an open-air promenade lined with one- and two-story stores running from Northeast Seventh Street to Northeast 10th Street between Northeast First and Northeast Second Avenues.
The original structure would have been a 760,000-square foot enclosed mall. Macy’s and Bloomingdales would have accounted for about 300,000 square feet of that space, meaning the new design will be smaller if the department stores drop out.
“We’ve shifted the retail from a suburban mall to more of a high-street retail concept like you’d see in Union Square in San Francisco or SoHo in New York or the Design District,” Motwani said. “We’re taking the roof off and we’re going to create a very pedestrian friendly public space.”
Tough times for suburban malls
Online shopping, the increased urbanization of American cities and the popularity of “fast fashion” stores like Spanish retailer Zara have hurt traditional retail malls.
Tumbling sales at Macy’s led the company to announce last week it would fire or relocate 3,000 workers and close 40 stores.
The Worldcenter developers will be meeting with city of Miami officials this week to present the changes although Motwani said he believes the new plan falls within the original zoning.
The 27-acre mixed-use project in downtown Miami’s Park West district will include residential and other components.
A luxury condo tower, Paramount Miami Worldcenter, has already broken ground. Also in the works are rental towers and a hotel and convention center, which is seeking a subsidy deal worth tens of millions of dollars from an Overtown anti-poverty agency.
The mall received subsidies worth as much as $88 million from the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency in 2014. Motwani said the deal is structured so that the developers don’t get the money up front.
That means if the number of construction and permanent jobs ultimately created by the project fall short of the original agreement, the developers will get a lower payout.
This story will be updated.