When author Gertrude Stein wrote one of her most-quoted lines — “there is no there there” — she was alluding to her hometown of Oakland, California. Stein’s aphorism might have applied just as well to Doral, Florida.
Nearly 15 years after it was carved out of a sprawling, disjointed agglomeration of warehouses, gated communities, office parks and strip malls, the suburban city without a focal point finally has not just one “there,” but two of them.
The first, which made its debut at the end of last year, is the initial phase of Downtown Doral, a meticulously planned town-within-a-city that puts residents in traditional, walkable proximity to main-street shops and dining, a supermarket, school, offices, a park and green spaces, not to mention the civically resplendent Doral City Hall.
On Friday, Downtown Doral will be joined by the new and nearby CityPlace Doral, a 55-acre urban center off Doral Boulevard that marries offices, million-dollar homes and 300 apartments built atop main-street shops to an intensive dining and entertainment hub, designed in a sharp contemporary style by Miami-based Arquitectonica. At its center is a large, oval public plaza with an oversized, computer-controlled “show” fountain that CityPlace’s developers say cost $4 million.
“This is Doral’s living room right here,” said Steve Patterson, president of Related Development, an arm of Miami developer Jorge Perez’s Related Group, as he walked visitors down CityPlace’s main street. Early this week, the roadway was buzzing with scores of construction and restaurant workers getting ready for the formal opening. Related built CityPlace in collaboration with Shoma Group’s Masoud Shojaee, who launched the project with a single office building several years ago.
Both Downtown Doral and CityPlace have their genesis in longstanding plans by the city’s founding administrators to establish a true urban center and identity. That’s something Doral has lacked since the area was part of unincorporated Miami-Dade and ruled by the county’s anything-goes zoning. The result was a series of residential enclaves sitting cheek-by-jowl with warehouse districts and next to landfills, a garbage-to-energy plant and massive county maintenance yards.
The city’s downtown mixed-use approach, dubbed Sprawl Repair by planners, entails undoing single-use, auto-dependent suburban zoning in strategically selected areas to permit the traditional intermingling of housing, work and shopping that has defined cities since the Middle Ages, Doral planning chief Julian Perez said.
The goal, said Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez: a “vibrant downtown” to serve not just Doral, but a broad swath of western Miami-Dade.
That downtown mixed-use zoning, he noted, is an integral part of a broader economic strategy to lure top employers and skilled workers to Doral, once best known for the golf club that gave the city its name — today Trump National Doral — and the warehousing and industrial districts that arose decades ago to serve Miami International Airport.
The key is improving the quality of offices and commercial spaces, expanding the range of housing types and prices, and improving the city’s quality of life — which means good schools and sought-after amenities like parks and dining and entertainment that don’t require getting in a car to reach, he said.
“It’s very nice to see some of these efforts come to fruition,” said Bermudez, who first set the stage for downtown-style developments during a previous turn as mayor, the city’s first. “It was a game plan, with the aim of getting some sense of order out of this hodge-podge we were left by the county.”
Shojaee said he began contemplating what would become CityPlace Doral soon after buying land from Ryder Systems in 1999 to erect an office building. Over a period of years, he negotiated additional purchases from the company, eventually amassing almost 55 acres.
Shojaee saw opportunity in the bevy of well-to-do Venezuelan professionals and families settling or setting up businesses in Doral to escape economic and political turmoil at home. He realized many of them would want to live close to work and the airport. He could also offer close-in options for affluent Doral residents and business people who would drive far afield for dining or entertainment.
“They were spending all their time here in Doral, and basically traveling to Coral Gables, to Brickell, to go to dinner, or to go home to sleep. Many have offices in Venezuela and here and were traveling back and forth,” Shojaee said.
“I thought if you create an area that’s desirable, where they don’t have to drive all the time, there would be a market. My vision was right.”
His plan, first laid out by Zyscovich Architects, was stalled by the great economic recession after he completed the office building. But after the recovery, he built 150 luxury houses, with prices starting at more thab $1 million, and The Manor, a low-rise complex with 396 apartments, next door. He then joined with Related, which had the retail expertise he lacked, to build out the commercial hub and the two Flats apartment towers that rise over the main-street shops.
Related, too, saw opportunity in the growing popularity of urban shopping and dining — think Lincoln Road, Patterson said, or the reviving Miracle Mile in Coral Gables — and the thousands of people who daily drive along Doral Boulevard.
That translated to some 40 dining, shoppping and entertainment options. Those range from fast casual to fine-dining restaurants, live music and comedy venues, a CinéBistro seven-screen movie theater with food and a bar, and a club-like bowling alley, Kings America. A stand-alone Fresh Market, an upscale supermarket new to Doral, fronts on Doral Boulevard.
Small shops line the main street, including apparel boutiques and a nail spa, because Related decided to stay away from large chain retailers as shoppers increasingly migrate online for those, Patterson said.
“You can’t buy online what we have here, which is fun,” Patterson said.
Just to the north of Doral Boulevard, and worlds away from CityPlace’s razzle-dazzle, is Downtown Doral, a more stately community laid out along the lines of a traditional town and primarily oriented around family living.
Like CityPlace, Downtown Doral has been in the works for years under a comprehensive plan developed by Codina Partners, a firm run by well-known developer Armando Codina and his daughter, Ana Codina-Barlick.
The elder Codina, who built the Beacon office and industrial parks in Doral and west Miami-Dade, began laying out a vision after purchasing a dying 120-acre suburban office park north of the Doral golf club’s old White Course. He tore down all but four of its 32 buildings, which were cheaply built and designed mostly to house government agencies.
The Codinas hired Duany Plater-Zyberk, the Miami-based planning firm famed for traditional town designs, to outline a master plan. The blueprint calls for several mid- and low-rise apartments and condos, a commercial main street, a park, a school and new office buildings. All are located within easy walking distance of one another, connected by a network of sidewalks, a paseo with a broad green median, and bike lanes.
Codina Partners completely redid the old office park’s poor infrastructure, and built an elegant new LEED-certified city hall for Doral after winning a bid. The firm also built the three-acre park and commissioned a $1 million “shade” sculpture, an arch that mimics limestone, from Michele Oka Doner.
On the eastern end, they built 456 low-rise apartments. On its west side, facing an entrance to the Trump Doral golf course, is the formal entrance to Downtown Doral and its main-street district, inspired by Miracle Mile and flanked on two corners by angular red steel sculptures by prominent artist John Henry. The downtown retail, developed with Lennar Commercial, focuses heavily on neighborhood services: a bank, a dentist, a dry cleaners, a wine and liquor store, among others. The block will be extended in the project’s next phase.
For dining, there’s high-end Asian at Dragonfly and Peruvian at Pisco y Nazca, Spanish tapas at Bulla Gastrobar and Cuban food at a new outlet of the popular Las Vegas restaurants. An urban-style, 50,000 square-foot Publix with concealed parking on a second story is under construction.
To replicate the organic development of a real town and avoid homogeneity, the Codinas hired different architects working in styles ranging from contemporary to mid-20th Century modern and Mediterranean. Luxury condo specialists Sieger Suarez Architects, for instance, designed a pair of now-finished 20-story condo towers — the first of several planned for Downtown Doral — in a contemporary style.
The linchpin of Downtown Doral is an elementary charter school developed and run in partnership with Miami-Dade schools and designed by Zyscovich to recall the classic Miami schools of the 1920s, crowned at the entrance with a mural by Richard Haas. The school, which is supplemented by a private preschool, has been a smashing success since opening in 2015, with 700 kids enrolled in a dual Spanish and Portuguese language program that’s earned an A rating.
Because Downtown Doral residents get a preference in the school lottery, it’s proven a magnet for Codina’s residential developments, helping fill its 422 condo units and 85 luxury townhomes.
The walk-everywhere lifestyle is also a big draw. Marina Mangupli and her husband, who own the Skyros running store on main street, have their two kids in the charter school and live in a townhouse two blocks away.
“I do everything on foot or on a bicycle. I barely use the car,” she said. “Now that the Publix is coming, I will use the car even less.”
The Codinas are far from done. Next are two more residential towers, a library and more offices, and the firm is also planning a supported-living facility for seniors. Codina Partners also bought the White Course, for $96 million, more than doubling Downtown Doral to 250 acres, and will split it with Lennar.
The White Course blueprint, under review by the city, calls for a mix of projects that include single-family homes, low-rise apartments, more townhouses and a charter middle school and high school. The new development would be fully integrated into Downtown Doral and also oriented around pedestrians and bikes, the Codinas said. Eventually, Downtown Doral will have some 20,000 residents.
“This is what the world is moving to,” Codina said of the walkable urban design. “I thought this was an opportunity to give Doral a heart and a soul.
“It’s a legacy thing for us. This was a labor of love. We are building a community.”
OPENING MARCH 17
CityPlace Doral, 8300 NW 36th Street, will host a free public opening celebration starting at 7 p.m. Friday with a concert by the Gipsy Kings and the Gipsy Kings Family. That will be followed by entertainment and music from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
The city of Doral and the Rhythm Foundation will host Ritmo Doral, a free Latin music concert, at Downtown Doral Park from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
Restaurants, shops, offices and entertainment venues at Doral’s two new pedestrian-oriented urban centers, CityPlace Doral and Downtown Doral, will serve Doral’s current population of 56,000 and the growth spurt expected with completion of nearly a dozen new housing developments.
According to Doral’s planning department, some 7,600 new units of housing are under construction or planned in addition to 1,200 planned for CityPlace and 5,500 planned for Downtown Doral.
Additional projects include:
▪ Landmark, 1550 townhomes, apartments and single family homes; and Grand Bay, 2000 plus units; by Lennar.
▪ Doral Modern, 664 townhouses, by Terra Group
▪ Midtown Doral, 1,550 apartments, by Century Homebuilders
▪ Residences at InterContinental Village, 332, by Ram