The mirror in the restaurant at the about-to-open Miami Beach Edition was giving Ian Schrager pause. So were the glasses lined up in the lobby bar. And don’t even get him started on the gold-but-not-the-right-shade-of gold billiard balls on the pool table.
“I never know which detail is going to push it over the top,” said Schrager, the hotelier who redefined South Beach nearly 20 years ago with his launch of the Delano. “So therefore every detail is a matter of life and death.”
All around Miami-Dade — from posh hotels to upscale eateries to high-end retail outlets — the same kind of last-minute finishing touches have been underway for the last few weeks as businesses prepare for the annual invasion known as Art Week.
“Art Basel has become an essential business tool for developers and businesses in South Florida,” said Craig Robins, CEO and president of Dacra, which has overseen development of the Design District. “It gives everybody a deadline that they try desperately to meet and helps keep things on schedule.”
Missing that Basel deadline means losing out on potential windfalls in a week when visitors pay top rates for lodging, famished art lovers pack restaurants and well-heeled customers might snag jewelry along with a scultpure.
The action is centered in South Beach around the main Art Basel Miami Beach fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center, but satellites have spread to Wynwood, Midtown, Downtown, mid-beach and North Beach. And museums, galleries, private collections and public spaces as far north as Palm Beach County all try to get in on the buzz.
More than 1,000 galleries and other exhibitors from around the globe come to town. About 75,000 people attended the main fair in 2013, and 1,800 journalists, both local and from far-flung locales, were credentialed.
The numbers hint at the spending power of the world's largest art gathering, which has mushroomed in size and importance since Art Basel Miami Beach debuted in 2002.
The economic impact of the main fair and its offshoots is difficult to measure; Art Basel does not release information on sales and officials do not guess how much spending is generated as a result of the show.
But undoubtedly, the week of events has pumped life into a formerly sleepy week on the tourism calendar, driving hotel rates to sky-high levels and stirring up business for everything from local party planners to caterers and valet parking companies. Foreign galleries spend $150,000 — or more — to exhibit at various fairs, with at least a portion of that budget going to businesses in Miami-Dade (see chart, page 17).
Beyond the money that trades hands during the week itself, observers point to a larger long-term impact.
Speaking to WLRN’s The Sunshine Economy, auto magnate Norman Braman said recently that before the fair came to town, there were only six major art galleries in Miami-Dade County. Last year, he said, that number topped 130 — an increase he attributed to Art Basel Miami Beach. Realtors claim the exposure brought by the fairs has been a major factor in the region’s rise as a luxury second-home haven.
“For anybody who wants to showcase themselves, it’s a phenomenal opportunity; there’s no better time to showcase your business to an international audience than that one week,” Robins said. “It really is a prime time to do business, certainly for anybody in retail business, especially if it’s around luxury or sophisticated taste.”
For arts organizations as well, the timing is crucial. The new Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami will open the doors of its temporary facility in the Design District on Dec. 3, and will announce its plans for a permanent location on Monday.
While Robins said the art fair has given local businesses a reason to rush for the last 10 years, the volume of new openings has multiplied. In the Design District, he said 45 different stores have been working all year to open in time for the busy winter tourism season — though not all will make the Basel deadline.
“There’s a lot more vitality in Miami in general right now; quantitatively there’s more things happening and therefore more businesses are oriented toward the deadline,” Robins said.
One of those businesses is Chrome Hearts, a Los Angeles-founded jewelry and accessories boutique, café and fine art gallery that opens Monday at 4025 NE Second Ave. in the Design District.
“We kind of wanted to be opened a little bit earlier, maybe like a week ago to work out a little bit of the kinks,” said co-owner Laurie Lynn Stark. “We’re definitely right up to the wire now. We’ll be open on Monday no matter what. It’s kind of a race to the finish line.”
Stark and her husband, fellow store owner Richard Stark, bought the Design District property four years ago but rented it to a tenant until the beginning of this year. In February or March, they decided to try to open by the end of the year.
“I felt like if we passed one more Basel season without having that space open, it would a have been a letdown for me,” she said, adding that customers had been asking when the high-end brand would have a Miami location. “It’s almost like now or never, you just have to do it.”
While Stark said the Miami location will be one of the company’s “most high-ticket” stores, the potential for sales isn’t driving the rush to open.
“The sales part comes when it comes,” she said. “It’s more about reinforcing what our vision has been.”
Other new outlets in the neighborhood will include Hublot, bringing in Olympic champion sprinter (and brand ambassador) Usain Bolt to celebrate its opening of a new concept store selling limited-edition watches; Bulgari; German luggage brand Rimowa and jewelry store Yvel. Farther north, Italian fine jewelry boutique Buccellati just opened at the Bal Harbour Shops, and three luxury stores — Tiffany & Co., Bulgari and Chloé — have opened or will open during Art Week.
In Miami and Miami Beach, new restaurants push hard to open in time for Art Basel, hoping to capture the attention and dining dollars of the fair's well-heeled clientele. That has especially been the case this year, with no fewer than a dozen hotel and standalone restaurants opening in recent weeks and in the coming days.
They include everything from the fast-casual, health-conscious Freshii in Wynwood to tony steakhouse Stripsteak at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.
“We focus on healthy options for people on the go — perfect for gallery- and fair-goers of Art Basel," said Matthew Corrin, founder and CEO of Freshii, who was in Miami last month for the grand opening of his fast-casual chain's newest location, at 2300 NW Second Ave. in Wynwood. “This audience lives a global lifestyle, and we hope they will spread our mission in their travels.”
Carlos and Maryam Miranda opened their Seasalt & Pepper seafood brasserie by the Miami River (422 NW N. River Dr.) during last year's Art Basel. To mark the restaurant's one-year anniversary, and to up their game for this year's crowds, the Mirandas are opening a new concept, called Modern Garden, inside the existing Seasalt & Pepper space.
Set to debut Wednesday, Modern Garden has been in its final throes of construction and kitchen fine-tuning.
“The beauty of Art Basel in Miami is that its effect lingers far after the fair ends,” Carlos Miranda said. “It is shaping the way Miami embraces art on an everyday basis. Our goal with Modern Garden is to create an environment where art is infused in every layer of the dining and entertainment experience.”
Several new restaurants are housed within just-open hotels, including Michelle Bernstein’s Seagrape at the Thompson Miami Beach and Matador Room, from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, at the Miami Beach Edition.
For those hotels, missing out on the fair means losing out on thousands of dollars of revenue a night, not to mention food and beverage sales and special event fees.
The Edition, which also has its official opening Monday, was listing a standard double room with “limited views” for $1,029 a night during the fair — and was “almost sold out” at that rate last week, according to the hotel’s website. Also nearly sold out: the $2,700-a-night bungalow oceanfront suites.
Schrager said the 294-room hotel was hosting multiple events during the week, even if the timing between launch and full-on, sold-out insanity was a little close for comfort.
“Usually you like to open up so you can shake the hotel out and get ready,” he said. “It would have been a missed opportunity with all the great people here.”
Gale South Beach, a hotel just a few blocks from the convention center, opened just in time for Art Basel two years ago. This year, a 25-unit addition — Kaskades Suites at Gale South Beach — will open on Monday, again cutting it close.
“I don’t know how they did it,” said Jared Galbut, managing principal of Menin Hospitality, which owns the hotel and several others in Miami Beach. “Those guys are working day and night to get it done.”
There was no option not to open, since the suites had sold out months earlier at rates between $800-$1,100 a night.
One of the company’s other properties, the Shelborne Wyndham Grand, opened in late September after an extensive, $90 million restoration, but just had its official grand opening in mid-November. That hotel will also be fully booked.
“It’s going to be a successful Basel even before it starts,” Galbut said.
He said the full rooms are great for business, but the benefits last longer than Art Week.
“You’re kind of showcasing your new product to the world and to some of the most affluent travelers and art buyers that are coming in,” he said. “You want to be there to show off your new product, your new hotel to the world and let them start talking about it.”
At the 380-room Thompson Miami Beach, which opened Nov. 21, area managing director Brett Orlando said the attention was valuable — but so was the importance of making a good impression.
“We strategically made sure we didn’t overdo it,” he said, scheduling one event per night and not focusing on selling out.
Orlando said he wants visitors to be wowed at the level of service, despite being brand new to the scene.
Even more, he said, he wants them to leave with this thought: “I’m coming back.”