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Books & Books coming to Arsht Center campus in downtown Miami

A rendering shows a planned outdoor seating area for the new Books & Books restaurant moving in to the Arsht Center.
A rendering shows a planned outdoor seating area for the new Books & Books restaurant moving in to the Arsht Center.

Theatergoers, office workers and residents of Miami’s Omni area will have a new place to grab a bite — or a book — by the end of the year.

South Florida literary stalwart Books & Books is moving into the historic former Sears Tower on the campus of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the two parties told the Miami Herald. The bookstore’s cafe, with indoor and outdoor seating for about 100, will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

“I think it’s just a win-win for everybody,” said Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan, who grew up in Miami not far from the tower. “I’m thrilled.”

He said Arsht Center representatives approached him with the idea and suggested Books & Books could do “something very special” with the tower, considering it has already set up stores and restaurants in historic buildings in Coral Gables and Miami Beach.

“My philosophy is that I just want to be in interesting places,” Kaplan said. “I don’t sort of go actively looking, but if someone comes to me with a really, really interesting proposal or suggests something, we will jump on it. This is one of those. I wasn’t even aware that that was even a possibility, and when I heard that it was, it just fit so easily.”

John Richard, president and CEO of the Arsht Center, said the institution — which positions itself as Miami’s “new town square” — has been searching quietly for the right match to take over the space in the Carnival Tower, as it is now known.

“The idea here is to develop a concept for the Café at Books & Books that would be a destination in and of itself on our campus,” he said. “So the idea of two Miami household name brands teaming up and then bringing new life to the corner of 13th and Biscayne Boulevard, in our view, is the cornerstone of the town square effort of activating the neighborhood.”

Like the Arsht Center itself, the tower is owned by Miami-Dade County and operated by the Performing Arts Center Trust. Books & Books will have a “market-based lease,” Richard said, for a three-year term with the option to renew for another three.

With 2,500 square feet inside and about 6,000 square feet outdoors, the restaurant and shop will have a greater focus on the cafe than other Books & Books locations in Coral Gables, Miami Beach and Bal Harbour.

Chef Allen Susser, who oversees food at the book chain’s other locations, is working on the menu and said it will include a “whole array of snacks, burgers, artisan tartine, paninis and salads, big plates, breakfast.”

Parking will be free in the center’s Lot C before 10 a.m. on weekdays, and those coming for lunch or dinner will pay metered parking rates in that lot unless a performance is going on, when the rates increase.

Susser said a coffee bar with some seating will be set up near Biscayne Boulevard and tables will be available on the promenade next to the Ziff Ballet Opera House. For patrons coming to a show, the restaurant will offer pre-show, fixed price menus and grab-and-go snacks for those in a rush.

A full bar will be set up on the tower’s second level.

The Carnival Tower has been empty since the Bombay Sapphire Lounge closed almost two years ago. That venue was open only before and after shows on performance nights. And the Arsht Center hasn’t had an on-site restaurant since Prelude by Barton G closed in June; a separate agreement is being finalized with a new partner to operate an on-site restaurant and handle catering and concessions.

For the new Books & Books, Kaplan said the two-story space mostly just needs cosmetic remodeling to prepare for its new life, but no real heavy-duty construction.

In an ideal scenario, the shop and restaurant will open in late November.

“I would like nothing more than to open by the time the book fair opens,” he said, referring to the Miami Book Fair International in downtown Miami that he co-founded. Kaplan said he anticipates programming some events in partnership with the Arsht Center as well.

The restaurant and store will be the latest addition to the stretch of Biscayne Boulevard near Interstate 395, where the Pérez Art Museum Miami opened last year and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science is under construction. A residential project is being built next to the Arsht Center.

“It just feels so good to be on the move with this being on our campus,” Richard said. “And I just think the timing of our neighborhood is right.”

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