South Miami

How this block went from cow field to famous bakery to mall after mall. Now, there’s more

An architectural rendering of the redeveloped Shops at Sunset Place shows expanded sidewalks, shade trees and a planned new green plaza opening to Red Road with a band shell and amphitheater at the rear.
An architectural rendering of the redeveloped Shops at Sunset Place shows expanded sidewalks, shade trees and a planned new green plaza opening to Red Road with a band shell and amphitheater at the rear. Zyscovich Architects

The owners of the Shops at Sunset Place have said the only way to save the South Miami behemoth is to “de-mall” it.

You know, like the corner of Red Road and Sunset Drive was a couple generations ago when a cow pasture-turned-Holsum Bakery cast its delightful aroma across the University of Miami area on the border of South Miami and Coral Gables.

The Holsum Bakery was a beloved neighbor off U.S. 1 from the FDR administration in the early 1930s to the Ronald Reagan era in 1982.

Recently, the South Miami commission approved a plan to tear down half of the Sunset Place mall and replace it with three apartment and hotel towers along South Dixie Highway. The AMC movie theaters and an LA Fitness gym that still attract patrons would remain — albeit with a facelift.

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Sounds like the it’s-here, it’s-gone, it’s-back, it’s-gone-again Bakery Centre that sat in the same space from 1986 to its demolition a decade later.

Long-time residents might remember these faces worn by that city block. Let’s take a trip back through the Miami Herald archives.

The Bakery Centre

CENTRE’S OPENING AT HAND

Published Feb. 6, 1986

The 64 businesses planning to move into the Bakery Centre Friday are enthusiastic about opening in the long-awaited mall.

Some small businesses in South Miami’s downtown are equally optimistic, hoping to draw customers from the pink-and-gray mall.

But other merchants, many of them with deep roots in the area, are less than thrilled.

Skyrocketing rents and traffic problems have driven some out, and others are running scared.

A seven-screen movie theater is the first business to open Friday in the $15 million mall. Six art galleries and four restaurants could generate considerable night life in the neighborhood.

“It promises to be a great attraction,” said John Sorgie, past president and current board member of the Red-Sunset Merchants’ Association. “It will bring a lot of people back to South Miami.”

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The steel figure at the former Bakery Centre in South Miami greets a passerby in this June 6, 1986 file photo. Alberto Coya Miami Herald File

Nevertheless, Sorgie admitted the mall, 16 months in the making, has caused some frayed nerves.

“It’s obvious construction has sent some people away from the area.”

Landlords who have raised rents say they had no alternative in their efforts to offset higher property taxes.

Steve Hessen, owner of 23 shops on Red Road a block from the Bakery Centre, raised rents 20 per cent in 1984. Hessen’s son Andy said property taxes nearly doubled between 1983 and 1984.

The Bird Cage pet store, a fixture at 5742 Sunset Dr. for more than 30 years, moved to the South Miami Shopping Center at 6220 S. Dixie Highway a few weeks ago. Owner Ivonne Dickman feared she could no longer afford the rent, which was to jump an additional $1,235 a month to $3,000 a month in June when her lease was to be renewed.

While most of the 236 businesses in the Crossroads area are staying, many are complaining about escalating rents, which range from $12 to $20 per square foot, according to Lee Waronker, a South Dade appraiser.

Rents inside the Bakery Centre start at $20 a square foot.

Dickman said parking and frequent traffic tie-ups were also a problem for The Bird Cage when it was across the street from the Bakery Centre construction.

“Now customers we haven’t seen in a long time are coming back,” she said from her new location.

Stuart Cohen, the main architect for Bakery Centre, has a ready answer for the concerned merchants.

“They’re going to have more traffic, but more business,” he said. “They shouldn’t complain about the rent.”

The 700 new Bakery Centre spaces may ease parking downtown if shoppers use it to hop from the new mall to surrounding stores. Almost everyone agrees that the 214 parking spaces in the downtown area — 125 of them near the Red-Sunset intersection — are woefully inadequate.

Ed Greenberg, owner of Oakes Apparel, formerly located at 7214 Red Rd., moved his shop to Vero Beach last November. His rent had just doubled, he said, and parking problems were already keeping customers away.

“Parking in South Miami has always been bad. The Bakery Centre can only make it worse.”

Concerned merchants admit there’s little they can do to soften the blow of the rent increases.

“We were talking about forming a tenants’ association but we can’t get any unity. People are afraid of the landlords,” said Gunther Muller, owner of Puritan Cleaners at 7390 Red Rd.

Muller said his rent has also shot up and he can’t afford to pass the increase along to customers and still remain competitive. “It’s getting out of hand. How far can we go and pass the buck to the customer? It’s rough for the small merchant.”

Others are more optimistic.

Ned Fleishman, the owner of Ned’s Antiques, 7328 Red Rd., said his rent had gone up considerably — “a good 30 percent” — in September, as opposed to a normal 6 percent per year.

But he is hoping that Bakery Centre customers will be coming his way to offset the difference.

Sorgie said the merchants’ association has discussed getting landlords involved in its organization to resolve this and other problems.

Curt Sibley, the president of the merchants’ association, said rent is a matter between landlords and tenants and the association doesn’t plan to have a role in it.

But parking is a problem the association has been concerned with for some time.

“Parking always has been a problem in South Miami, and as it grows it will continue to be a problem. The association is addressing the problem with the city all the time.”

Sibley also said the businesses that have signed Bakery Centre leases will be invited to join the merchants’ group, making the organization stronger.

“I’m really pro-Bakery Centre,” says Sunset Drug Store owner Herbert Margolis. “People always resist change, but we keep on growing. People will get used to the Bakery Centre.”

Except, people didn’t get used to the Bakery Centre, which underwent renovations in failed attempts to lure people inside.

SON OF BAKERY CENTRE’ SOUTH MIAMI HOLDS BREATH FOR NEW MALL

Published March 3, 1996

In a concrete cityscape of mega-malls and shopping strips, downtown South Miami is a fragile oasis, a stubbornly small town.

Urban Dade bears down from all sides.

But along the bustling avenues that fan out from the Red-Sunset axis, life revolves around an intimate mix of commerce in small, owner-run shops.

The town’s character rests upon many pocket-sized cornerstones: The warm baguettes each afternoon at Gardner’s Market. The cedar-scented air inside The Hanging Basket. The overstuffed bookshelves at A Likely Story.

“We have a gem here,” says Lydia White, owner of Robert’s Western Wear on South Dixie Highway. “In other places, you’ll find man-made copies of hometowns. Ours is the real thing.”

The real thing is about to meet the real world.

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Like the Coliseum in Rome, the ruins of the Bakery Center stand as a monument to another era in this file photo from June 24, 1996. Raul Rubiera Miami Herald File Photo

In the coming days, wrecking crews are scheduled to have their way with the old Bakery Centre at the corner of Red Road and Sunset Drive. No tears will fall when this failed shopping mall — dubbed the “dead white elephant” by local merchants —is slowly ground into dust.

What may go up in its place — “Son of Bakery Centre,” quipped one city planner — has downtown anxiously holding its breath.

A group of developers, led by Mel Simon, one of the Big Daddies of American shopping malls, plans to replace Bakery Centre with a veritable phoenix of specialty shops, hip restaurants and rental apartments.

Several names — including Sunset Court or Sunset Place — are being kicked about.

“Cheering the “de-malling of America,” they promise the complex will complement South Miami’s small-town sparkle.

They predict an economic smash hit, even without a major retail anchor. They swear they won’t launch another Cocowalk on a sea of margaritas and testosterone. They say the layout will be open and airy as Swiss cheese, the antithesis of the claustrophobic design that doomed the Bakery Centre the day it opened its doors in 1986.

“It’s going be a great thing,” Simon bellowed into his speaker phone the other day from his base in Indianapolis.

In mall circles, they call the gregarious builder and former movie producer “meshugge Mel” — crazy Mel in Yiddish. Some consider him an urban visionary for his malls like the snazzy Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, built on the premise that you’ve got to entertain shoppers to keep them shopping.

Simon says he wants the South Miami project, like each of his works, to dovetail with its environment, not squash it.

“It’s going to tie in with the neighborhood down there,” he says. “We designed it with streets running through it. This is not a mall. This is the future.”

Here’s what the future looks like, based upon a snowbank of architectural drawings: Ten acres bounded by Red, Sunset, Dixie and Southwest 58th Avenue; a multiterraced facade of 80 individually designed storefronts rising 62 feet in some spots, a good bit taller than the 45-foot-high Bakery Centre; 10 restaurants; and 40 rooftop rental apartments.

Inside, three small avenues carved into the middle of the site; 24 movie screens run by AMC (the only tenant officially signed up so far), eight devoted to foreign and art films; a mega-music store with drop-dead classical and jazz collections. And coffee bars pumping enough cappuccino to drown a white elephant.

Plans call for parking for 1,800 cars in an expanded garage (the only Bakery Centre structure to be kept); and a 65/35 tenant mix of national chains and local shops.

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How the Shops at Sunset Place once looked during its run from 1999 to current plans to drastically redo the South Miami city block. Miami Herald File

Simon and his crew are keeping quiet about which tenants they’re close to bagging.

They say they’re “talking to” bookstore operator Barnes & Noble, as well as the owners of Rainforest Cafe about opening one of their ultra-hip eateries (a new one’s going in, for example, at The Disney Village in Orlando).

They say superchef Wolfgang Puck may be interested in opening a brew pub and cafe.

Perhaps most intriguing, developers say they’ve had talks with the Discovery Channel and the Fox entertainment people, although they won’t say what about.

With permits in hand, demolition is set to begin later this month. The AMC multiplex — the last business still operating in the mall -—closed last week.

Construction should start in April and last two years, said J.B. Turbidy, one of the developers. Price tag: $100 million and up.

And how is the future playing in South Miami? Much like it did a decade ago.

“In the early 1980s, when the original Bakery Centre was proposed, there was a lot of consternation and excitement, just as there is now,” said Victor Dover, a South Miami urban planner who helped devise the so-called “Hometown Plan” to renovate the business district. “But it turned out that the excitement was built upon false hopes.”

Merchants say the design they got was not the one developers had promised.

Then, shortly after it opened, the Bakery Centre bombed.

Except for the movie house, the Miami Youth Museum (which hopes to find a home in the new complex), a gym and a few shops, it has remained a ghost town for the past seven years.

“We lost a lot of customers the first time and it took awhile to get them back,” said White. “Nobody wants to go through that again.”

Most people are cautiously optimistic about the plan, but there’s a long list of concerns:

Traffic. Merchants say the town’s main streets, Sunset and Red, already are clogged. Planners say the original Bakery Centre plan, which included a hotel and two 24-story office towers, was approved by the state and county and that Simon’s plan puts far less stress on area roads.

Much of the new traffic will come during evenings and weekends, traditionally quieter times in downtown South Miami.

Developers say proposed alterations of lanes and traffic signals will help discourage commuters from cutting through the business district. They also promise to run most construction vehicles into the site from Red Road, rather than tying up busy South Dixie.

Parking. “It’s a mess right now,” said David Smith, president of the High Pines Property Owners Association. “It’ll be worse during the coming construction.”

Developers say parking won’t be a problem, with 1,800 spots in the new garage and another 1,000 on nearby city lots. Foot traffic to and from those lots will help local businesses.

Higher rents. Travel agent and longtime South Miami property owner Marshall Harris fears some smaller businesses will suffer if the mall becomes the main draw to South Miami, especially if the rest of the district is not spruced up according to the Hometown Plan.

Worst-case: “You could see some businesses go under,” Harris said. Turbidy, though, said, “With the complex bringing more people downtown, a good merchant in the area will take advantage of it and have the opportunity to do more sales.”

Sales or not, many merchants share a common dread: the Coconut Grovization of South Miami. They vow to make sure Simon and his group put their mall where their mouth is.

John Edwards, owner of The Copper Kettle on Red Road, knows firsthand the threat that a monster development poses to a small shopping district.

“We went through the beautification of the Grove,” Edwards said. “We had a considerable rent increase and a couple years of reduced income because of construction and streets torn up.”

Edwards worries that some of his fellow merchants are sheep being led to economic slaughter.

“I can’t say the same thing will happen here as in the Grove, but I’d like everybody to know what they’re getting into,” he said. “Too many of them are too comfortable and won’t realize what’s happening until they get hit with a big, fat rent increase. And then it’ll be too late.”

Akinyele Adams, the new owner of space on Ocean Drive, says he just wants to open a soul food restaurant. He feels residents have jumped to conclusions because he’s black and was formerly associated with the King of Diamonds strip club.

The Holsum Bakery

SOUTH MIAMI TREAT FOR THE NOSE BAKERY WAS A 50-YEAR FIXTURE

Published Jan. 20, 2002, in a Miami Herald column called Rewind

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A story about the new Holsum Bakery in South Miami in The Miami Herald on Oct. 15, 1934. Miami Herald File

If you lived, worked or visited South Miami between the 1930s and the early 1980s, you probably remember the smell.

Everyone remembers the smell.

It drifted aimlessly through the streets, greeting everyone in its path. It was sweet, warm and inviting and everyone knew where it came from — the Holsum Bakery Company.

“We just knew what was coming,” said Kim deLisser of Perrine. “The smell gave you a warm feeling inside. Our dentist was across the street from the bakery. After, we would go to the bakery’s thrift shop. It was the only way my mother could get us to go to the dentist.”

Charles Fuchs Jr. founded Holsum Bakers in 1912 in Homestead.

The bread business grew quickly and within a few years, Fuchs needed a larger space to keep up with the demand for fresh baked goods.

Holsum Bakery came to South Miami in the mid 1930s, expanding from its headquarters in Homestead into the building of the original Riviera Theater on South Dixie Highway and Southwest 58th Avenue.

The movie theater had a short life. It was built during the real estate boom of the 1920s and closed a few years later when the boom bottomed out.

After several months of renovation, the business of baking got underway and Holsum opened its doors and ovens.

The bakery and its building became a South Miami landmark, eventually expanding down U.S. 1 to Sunset Drive and covering 10 acres of land.

It was an impressive structure with high beams, arched doorways and ornate painting.

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A 1952 Christmas display at the Holsum Bakery building on US-1 in South Miami. Miami Herald File

Gigi Turkel of Miami Shores grew up in Coral Gables and remembers the building took on a special glow during the holidays.

“As a kid, I remember driving down U.S. 1 and seeing the building; it almost looked like a stage, completely decorated with characters and lights — it almost looked like Disney World.”

The bakery also became a popular field trip for South Florida students.

Ed Boas, owner of Lanes clothing store at Sunset Drive and Red Road said, “I do remember in grade school taking a tour through. I remember seeing the machines and the wonderful smells — we miss it.”

Growing up in the family business that has remained in the same location for more than 40 years, Boas also remembers the continued re-development of the land that went on once the bakery left South Miami.

Over the years, business continued to grow for Holsum and by the early 1980s the company was making plans to move to a larger, more modern plant in Medley.

By 1983, after 50 years in South Miami, Holsum’s ovens went cold and the bulldozers moved in to make way for a multimillion dollar office and commercial development called the Bakery Centre.

There was no bakery at the Bakery Centre when it opened in 1986.

In fact, there was little business going on at all and within a few years the owner defaulted on loans and a new set of developers stepped in to unveil a new project with shops, restaurants and a movie theater.

In 1999, The Shops at Sunset Place debuted. Even though the bakery has been gone from South Miami for nearly 20 years, some people say the smell still lingers.

DeLisser sums it up this way: “You knew the building wasn’t there, but you were so in tune to expect the smell of bread, it’s like you just reverted back. I remember thinking: ‘So what is South Miami going to smell like now?’“

Stores that have been staples of the American shopping tradition for decades are closing in large numbers. Take a closer look at the reasons why it’s so hard for retailers to stay open.

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Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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