April 1, 2004
From Paradox To Paradise
By Nicki Artese
MIAMI BEACH, FL - When Kevin Tomlinson first started selling residential real estate in the Mid-and North Beach neighborhoods nearly ten years ago, people laughed at him.
Thanks in part to its Art Deco, Miami Vice-induced celebrity, South Beach had emerged as the trendy, upscale place to live and play.
"Meanwhile, I'm up at 63rd and Collins, in no-man's-land, and people are wondering what's going through my head," says Tomlinson, a broker for Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell [EWM].
Eric Sheppard, president of Miami Beach's WSG Development, the company building Canyon Ranch Living here, was born in the North Beach area.
"It was a very dynamic, family oriented and safe community until about ten years ago. Then it took a downturn," he says.
Back then, even Millionaire's Row, the north stretch of Collins Avenue between 44th and 59th Streets known in the 70s and 80s for its pricey waterfront condos, had become neglected and poor.
That's because all eyes were on South Beach, the sexy, fun-in-the-sun adult playground that the film and fashion industry favored as its Art Deco backdrop.
Tech stocks were booming, and young Internet entrepreneurs and other hipsters took their money to SoFi, or South of Fifth.
More big-name celebrities started coming, too, adding to South Beach's worldwide fame as a resort historic district.
The Turnaround Begins
In 1995, Don Peebles, president of Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation [PADC], came to Miami Beach for a visit from his home in Washington, D.C.
Seeking a luxury vacation retreat with his wife, Katrina, they met Tomlinson, who brought them to a condo at La Tour.
During one of Peebles' trips in 1996, Tomlinson sold him the Shorecrest Hotel in South Beach.
Even with drug dealers in its corridors, and chickens running through the lobby, both men saw one thing: hope.
The same year, Peebles moved his home and business here, and started developing the Shorecrest and the Royal Palm Hotel into the Royal Palm Crowne Plaza Resort.
It was with this optimism that Tomlinson persevered in North Beach and Millionaire's Row.
"I started in 95 with La Gorce Palace. I had a hard time selling these condos in the beginning, although they were very inexpensive, because nobody wanted to live there. It wasn't chic," he says.
Tomlinson adds even brokers didn't care about the building, which he describes as edgy in a once stodgy, unexciting area.
The Blue and Green Diamond condos were next on Tomlinson's hot list, a 2000 project he says solidified that something good was going on in the Millionaire's Row area. Last year, he sold 43 percent of their units.
Tomlinson felt that South Beach lacked the kind of upscale properties that its sophisticated, jet-setting audience was starting to demand. The market was maturing, and needed a quieter place to vacation, and to live.
In 2001, the visionary Peebles saw it, too. He said PADC looked at what was missing in Miami Beach, which was larger units, with all the amenities of a single-family estate lifestyle, without the complications or sacrifices.
Enter their elite Bath Club at 59th and Collins.
"After a decade of neglect and playing second fiddle to South Beach, the Mid-and North Beach neighborhoods are perfectly poised to regain their Millionaire's Row title."
Kevin Tomlinson, Real estate broker for EWM
"There was a huge, pent-up demand for higher quality products, both from locals and visitors," Peebles says. 'Our concept was to build to the highest end of the market, to provide an exceptionally high level of services, which was also missing in the projects in Miami Beach."
Peebles wanted to attract buyers that would see The Bath Club as a primary residence where they wouldn't have to accept smaller quarters and a decline in lifestyle.
He saw downsizing empty nesters with money seeking three or four estate-sized bedrooms, a large room for entertaining, formal dining room and a library.
The Bath Club was first in the area to provide such large units, and with 12-foot ceilings, the highest around, notes Peebles.
Scheduled to open this December, 80 percent of the 112 tower residences are pre-sold, as are all six villas. The two to five bedroom units are 1,900 to 8,200 square feet and cost $600,000 to more than $7 million, prices no one thought PADC could get.
At more than $1,200 per square foot, Peebles says The Bath Club is getting top dollar on the beach by a three-to-one margin.
One of its many attractions is a very low density of people per acre. "You're not bumping into neighbors constantly,'' he says.
Private elevators for the apartments help, too. Bath Club pre-sales will close at the end of April. Peebles will hold back some units because he's confident his final product and its demand will exceed expectations.
Peebles says he was the first area developer to volunteer a property for historic preservation. His is a 1926 bath and social club.
"First-class projects like Bath Club and AQUA have accelerated the Millionaire's Row area comeback," says Tomlinson.
Positioned as a Modernist urban oasis on the private 8.5 acre Allison Island, Tomlinson says AQUA is about appreciating architecture as art.
Equally balancing luxury and sophistication, the gated waterfront neighborhood promises an unparalleled tropical lifestyle. AQUA residents will move in late this year.
Bringing It Home
Canyon Ranch was considering major cities around the world for its first living community, but WSG thought North Beach was the optimum location.
After they acquired the oceanfront property at 68th and Collins, Sheppard's partner Philip Wolman initiated the pitch to Canyon Ranch officials.
Told he would have three minutes, the first meeting lasted three hours. And the rest is history.
Sheppard adds that it was more than highly desirable real estate and a booming development community that secured the deal. Their philosophies about health and wellness also aligned.
"We really believe in the passion and vision of Canyon Ranch, and what it represents," he says.
Scheduled to open in the fall of 2005, Canyon Ranch Living combines a condo-hotel with two residential towers on the six-acre site of the Carillon Hotel. The property has been closed since 1987.
"We're maintaining its history because we're from the area, and it's nostalgic for us," says Sheppard, noting WSG will replicate Carillon's 1950s accordion wall.
There's a monumental shift in the way people are living and developers are building, he continues. It's not just concrete buildings with little fitness centers.
Properties will have to have serious amenities, and cater to people's health.
And cater Canyon Ranch Living does, with 83,000 square feet of resident services, 60,000 of which comprise the Spa and Fitness Center.
Sheppard says they've pre-sold 85 percent of the first phase's 377 units, with prices ranging from $355,000 to $2.5 million.
"The Canyon Ranch name has just brought such tremendous clout, and such tremendous credibility to this marketplace. I don't think even people in Miami Beach understand it yet," he remarks.
Tomlinson says full-scale projects like Canyon Ranch indulge the new way people want to live: come home, leave your car, and don't drive it until the next day.
Cameras Changing Focus
"You can't enjoy the elements of oceanfront living in a nightclub district," explains Peebles, who is also chairman of the board of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. "North Beach residents want the opportunity to go to South Beach, but not live in it."
The entertainment and fashion industries are starting to "go North Beach" too, for TV, film and photo shoots, according to Christina LaBuzetta, president of Location Resources.
"Some are starting to recognize MiMo [Miami Modern] architecture. They don't necessarily recognize the name yet, but they're looking for 50s-60s modern stuff," she says. "People most ahead of the curve are seeing it."
A big coup for North Beach was when LaBuzetta landed CSI: Miami last year by introducing MiMo's funky space age shapes, tile mosaics and period glamour.
"Everybody loves the Deco, but it's been done. CSI: Miami wanted a look that is distinctive, and not something everyone's seen in Miami Beach," she says.
Other recent North Beach bookings for LaBuzetta include a bathing suit shoot for DETAILS magazine and the spring catalog for American Eagle Outfitters.
She believes CSI: Miami and MiMo will do for North Beach what Miami Vice and Art Deco did for South Beach: generate great exposure and publicity.
Arts, Parks, Streets and Retail Stepping Up
Now that the North Beach Resort Historic District has been officially designated to preserve MiMo architecture, Jeannie Tidy looks forward to several things.
More support for the arts, improved recreation and transportation, and better retail, to make this family-oriented community even more attractive.
Tidy is the executive director of the North Beach Development Corporation [NBDC], a watchdog for the neighborhood since 1988.
Her vision is starting to come to fruition. The city is renovating the Byron Carlyle Arts Center to host movies and live stage theater. "I think North Beach is going to become a new artists' mecca," Tidy says, hoping the Arts Center may later include residences, rehearsal and set design space, and galleries.
The city has invested more than $100 million in parks, tennis and basketball courts, road improvements and streetscapes to make the area a nice place to raise a family.
"As soon as retailers understand the number of upper-end [living] units, they will change the retail picture," says Liz Plater-Zyberk, principal of DPZ architects, and dean of the school of architecture at the University of Miami.
Much of the real estate development is happening where Mid- and North Beach converge at West 63rd Street, notes Tomlinson, who also feels Millionaire's Row should be extended from 59th to 70th Street.
This neighborhood may still be a little rough around the edges, but with close to $1 billion in new projects, and more than 3,000 units planned for a ten-block area, many costing several million each, the Millionaire's Row area is truly reclaiming its super-luxury status.
"We're very excited about our project, but we're also very excited about the North Beach area. Canyon Ranch Living just solidifies the area as a neighborhood that is changing the landscape of North Beach. It's a great area that's really changing tremendously."
> Eric Sheppard, WSG Development
"Bal Harbour was previously serving the more mature clients, but those buildings were built in the late 80s, early 90s, and were considered more geriatric, more isolated. That created the need for the resurgence of Millionaire's Row. With all due respect, Art Deco weekend is a great event, but look what it draws compared to Art Basel."
> Don Peebles, PADC
"In the next five years, Miami Beach will be a cross between Beverly Hills and New York City. Right now, we have some properties that aren't even built yet that are selling for well over $1,000 per square foot. When you consider that prime real estate in Manhattan is going for around $1,300 per square foot, you can see how quickly this area is gaining ground."
> Kevin Tomlinson, EWM
"It takes an organization like the North Beach Development Corporation to push and be the agitator...to make that oyster into a pearl. We've implemented a master plan, and we make sure that all the developments that come here are really first-class."
> Jeannie Tidy, North Beach Development Corporation
"It may seem cumbersome in the beginning for builders, but once people see the value of MiMo and it gets momentum, they'll start coming here. The North Beach Resort Historic District will become a destination."
> Christina LaBuzetta, Location Resources
"New Urbanism espouses reinvestment in the urban areas to make them pedestrian and transit friendly...to give people a sense of place and community and connectedness. Walkable urbanism is important to maintain. We shouldn't need cars for everything."
> Liz Plater-Zyberk, DPZ and Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Miami
North Beach Development Corp. - A Vision for North Beach
North Beach desires to become a quality, culturally and economically diverse, stable, safe, family-oriented residential community.
Retail, cultural, educational and entertainment uses will be geared to meet the needs of its residents while drawing visitors whose expenditures can add to the community's economic base.
Attractive, landscaped streetscapes will establish pedestrian-friendly and vehicular linkages among the different centers of activity and will provide easy access to the area's abundant recreational amenities.
Convenient, affordable, well-designed parking will be available to residents and visitors alike. North Beach Development Corporation's next big step is to work on a conservation district.
"We won't have major retailers like Givenchy without stable businesses. I can already see that businesses coming here now compared to a year ago are much better."
"They see an area that's being renovated and revitalized, and see businesses already making money, which makes them more willing to bring the big bucks here."
"South Beach has become so trendy and hip that it's isolated the artists and others who started it. I think North Beach is going to become a new artists' mecca.''
> Jeannie Tidy, Executive Director, North Beach Development Corporation
A 15-foot-wide concrete pathway for pedestrians, bicycles and rollerblades will soon be under construction at Allison Park and 64th Street. It will run north to 79th Street, where it will connect to the pathway that was recently completed inside North Shore Open Space Park. It's a piece of an overall project that will eventually connect the entire city, according to Joyce Meyers, planning coordinator for North Beach.
Altos Del Mar
In the first project of its kind in Miami Beach, General Real Estate Corporation [GREC] owns and is developing single-family oceanfront homes from 77th to 79th Streets, between Collins Avenue and the sand dune.
GREC purchased 12 of the 24 beachside and oceanfront lots [6,250 SF/16,000 SF] in Altos Del Mar, according to Juan Carlos Toca, director of development/project manager. Four homes have already been approved for architecture. Oceanfront dwellings average 8,000 SF; beachside properties top out at 4,500 SF.
GREC is working with several acclaimed architects to preserve the history of Altos Del Mar design styles: Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, Spanish Revival, Florida Vernacular and International.