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Miami Beach: Hot Again

By Donna Freydkin

MIAMI - South Beach is sweltering. And no, it's not just the soaring temperatures.

After the slaying in 1997 of fashion icon Gianni Versace and a post-9/11 slump, the Miami playground is hopping again. Beach hotels are busier than in recent years; hotel occupancy for April 4 through May 1 is up 9.5% from the same period last year, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau says.

The dining scene now boasts such sophisticated eateries as Nobu, Ago, Bond St. and Emeril's Miami Beach, all opened within the past few years. And as proof of its cachet, the city is hosting the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 29, the first time they are not in New York or Los Angeles.

"The city's hot," executive producer Salli Frattini says. "It's where people go to be who they are."

Propelling the sizzle? A new flood of celebs, led by hip-hop's royalty.

Ten years ago, Madonna was the mistress of Miami. Today, you're much more likely to run into actress Tara Reid (who hits the town to party), Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (who recently bought Tommy Mottola's house), Jennifer Lopez (who owns an estate reportedly valued at $9.5 million) or Beyonce Knowles (who owns condos on Collins Avenue). Indeed, stars from all walks of life jet into town, scoop up homes and frolic in the surf.

"We're getting a new and younger crowd," says big-name club promoter Ingrid Casares, who first spotted a turnaround last September, when she helped publicize the new club Prive and saw "it was packed from the minute I opened it. I realized Miami was back."

And right now, they're partying in South Beach, the lively 1-square-mile area at the southern tip of Miami Beach. Singer/actress Knowles relishes "the ocean, the air, the sunshine. I love Miami. It doesn't feel like America. I feel like I'm away from everything.

"People don't bother me here," she says. "They give me my space."

Adds rapper/actress Eve, a regular in town: "Miami takes you out of the person that you know you should be, and you just turn into this total different person. When you're totally stressed out, you get a bunch of friends together, go down for the weekend and just, you know, go crazy."

Here, then, are the A-list spaces where you're most likely to spot Knowles, her beau, Jay-Z, and the other stars who are shining their light on this balmy enclave.


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