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Miami’s Design District Revival

By Jen Murphy

Oct 18, 2013

From the November/December 2013 issue

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Name: Craig Robins
Age: 50
Occupation: President and CEO of Dacra, a real estate development company known for its cultivation of creative communities and integration of art and design. He is also a cofounder of the Design Miami conference.
Neighborhood: Design District, Miami, Florida

I was born in Miami and have watched the city change over the years. The Design District was once the premier place for people to buy furniture. In the 1920s, Miami resident T.V. Moore turned one of his pineapple plantations into what is now NE 40th Street and opened Moore’s Furniture Company. He hired interior designer Richard Plumer, and together they helped turn the area into a center for home design shops and showrooms. But by the late 1980s, the design companies had moved to Los Angeles, and the area had become blighted with tenantless buildings. At the time, I was working to restore the Art Deco District in South Beach, and I thought that the Design District presented a similar opportunity. Here was a neighborhood with a wonderful history, but the buildings had fallen into disrepair.

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I wanted the rebirth of this area to combine culture and commerce. My first step was to bring back the furniture makers and interior design showrooms. Next was art. In 2002, Art Basel, the international art fair, established a base here. The following year, I started Design Miami, a design event that is held concurrently with the Art Basel fairs in Miami and in Basel, Switzerland. Now, each year during the first week of December, we have the most important collectible art and furniture in the world here.

All of Miami is at its best that week. It’s an incredible moment when Miami converts from one of the most interesting cities in the United States to the global center of art and design. The Design District is the social hub that week. I welcome VIPs to the office of my firm, Dacra. Boutiques host pop-up art exhibits. And there are so many parties.

The rest of the year, this area can be quiet. I realized we needed more foot traffic and decided we should integrate more shopping into the district. I secured an agreement to bring Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier stores here. That led to more brands—Christian Louboutin, Céline, and Berluti—opening shops. By the end of 2014, the Design District will be home to nearly 50 fashion brands, as well as more restaurants. A boutique hotel will open in 2015.

Today, the Design District attracts the most sophisticated people. You can have so many experiences here now. The district has some of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants, including Mandolin and Michael’s, two of my regular lunch spots. Oak Tavern is my go-to bar when I want a vodka on the rocks.

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There are wonderful public displays of art and architecture. You could be walking down the street and see a sculpture by Zaha Hadid or Marc Newsom. The boutiques exercise creative license with their spaces. Louis Vuitton, for instance, has graffiti work on the facade of its store.

The neighborhood continues to evolve, so you always feel a sense of discovery when you visit. I’m currently focused on designing more public gardens. I find such satisfaction in transforming a rundown site into a place of functional beauty.

See all of Craig’s favorite places in Miami. Photo by Graciela Cattarossi.

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