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More than 7% of Miami Beach storefronts are vacant. Local artwork will help beautify them

Vacant storefronts in Miami Beach are getting a touch of color.

Thursday, the City of Miami Beach will introduce five new designs created to beautify buildings with empty shops. The city’s economic development team hopes the vibrant designs will create a more positive impression in a city where many storefronts are vacant.

“The city was worried that the commercial vacancies would create a negative impression of the district and wanted to minimize the negative economic impacts of the level of vacancies by introducing art,” Martinez said.

Officials asked students from Design & Architecture Senior High in fall 2018 for visual concepts. They received 20-plus designs and selected five to be used as the standard pattern options. The designs have been printed on window film that is available through the city for the first few requests.

“We think this would be a dramatic improvement over the brown paper covering the store windows today. We wanted to make sure that we work with our student artists to bring back a cohesive and lively design to the street and in turn more interest from potential business prospects and entrepreneurs,” said Martinez.

For the past several years, Miami Beach’s rising retail rents have driven some smaller shops out of business. A citywide survey in July 2018 — the last count available — found 117 storefront vacancies around the city. Today, 7.4% of the city’s commercial spaces are empty, according to Bo Martinez, the city’s economic development director.

The retail market vacancy rate increased slight by 1.7% in 2019’s second quarter over the same period in 2018. “Vacancy rates can fluctuate, and 7.4% is still a healthy rate,’’ wrote Martinez via email. “Recent vacancies are expected to be absorbed in the near future.”

Still, a recent market report by Marcus & Millichap forecasts lower vacancy rates in other cities and nearby municipalities. By year end, retail vacancy rates are projected to be at 3.6% in Boston, 6.4% in Chicago, 4.5% in Los Angeles and 4.1% in New York City.

Francisca Henrys, MB storefront.png
The City of Miami Beach selected Francisca Henrys design to decorate vacant storefronts. Vacancies has plagued the city for several years and 7.4% of its commercial spaces remain empty. City of Miami Beach

Other local municipalities are expecting lower vacancies, with 5.1% in Miami-Dade 4.9% in Fort Lauderdale and 5.2% in West Palm Beach by December.

The Finance Citywide Projects Committee created the beautification program in October 2018. Commissioners allocated $35,000 for the project.

Property owners can use the designs for free but must pay for installation. After the initial budget of $35,000 has been spent, property managers will need to purchase the wraps. Use is optional, but Martinez is working with the Business Improvement District to encourage their use.

The city will unveil the new storefront designs Thursday at 439 41st St. , one of the first locations to use the window films.

“It will make a nice first impression and make it appealing when you pass by a vacant space,” said Millennium Management Property Manager Mendel Garfinkel, which handles the space. Despite a lower-than-average asking price of $40 per square foot, the space has remained vacant for four years. The average market rate is $83.56 per square foot.

Garfinkel blames a decrease in foot traffic along 41st Street.

“We show the property often. It’s just the walking traffic on 41st Street, it’s just not the same.”

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