Beyond South Beach: Miami’s downtown booms
MIAMI—At 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, 55 people are locked in a downward dog pose in a downtown pavilion by Biscayne Bay.
It doesn’t matter that it’s uncharacteristically cold and rainy. Instructor Paul Richardson is committed to keeping the yoga class going for the full hour and 15 minutes.
I am on my way to Epic Miami, a Kimpton Hotel, for a drink. But the price for this yoga class is better than any happy hour deal at the bar. It’s free. So I grab a yoga mat.
The thrice weekly yoga classes have become a tradition in downtown Miami. Since the first class Sept. 12, 2005, until last week, 123,631 people have done planks and Warrior poses at the park, says Tim Schmand, executive director of Bayfront Park.
“At the first class we had eight people, and at the most recent class we had 120,” he says.
If anything is a sign of urban progress, it’s yoga classes filling up. The success of the Bayfront Park yoga classes reflects the success of all of downtown Miami. In the last decade, downtown has gone from boom to bust to boom again.
“It’s from night and day,” Schmand says. “If you go back to 2005, downtown was just beginning with a nascent residential population. We went through the frenzy of 2002 to 2008 and then the crash. Now there’s been a resurgence.”
Downtown Miami was traditionally a place where people flocked to by day for work and abandoned at night. In recent years, in part because of the infusion of foreign investment, 23,000 condos have been built, doubling the population to about 80,000. Many of those new residents are young professionals between the ages of 25 and 40, says Javier Betancourt, deputy director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority.
“They like to shop and to dine and to go to bars and to go to entertainment centers, and that has brought a new energy to downtown,” he says.
The number of restaurants downtown has almost doubled in the last five years to 360, he says. Hotels such as YVE Hotel Miami have opened, as has the Perez Art Museum Miami and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.
And there’s more to come. Billions of dollars’ worth of hotel, retail and entertainment developments are in the works, including the Brickell CitiCentre anchored by Saks Fifth Ave and Miami Worldcenter, complete with the 1,800-room Marriott Marquis World Convention Center Hotel.
“We’re more than a beach,” says William Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People also want to get out and explore other neighborhoods.”
I start my own exploring at the construction site of the SLS Lux Brickell, a luxury hotel and residential development by hotelier and nightlife mogul Sam Nazarian. The property, set to open next year, will have 84 designer suites and 450 condos.
Outside the sales office is the more than 10-foot tall bronze sculpture called “Male Torso” by renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero. It’s been exhibited in Paris, London, Tokyo and other major capitals of the world. If that’s any indication of what’s to come, the SLS and its surroundings will certainly live up to the lux name.
“This is the New York City of South Florida,” I overhear a real estate agent tell prospective customers about the neighborhood.
What makes downtown Miami seem more New York than South Beach is the public transportation. Getting around by foot is made easy by the Metromover, an elevated electric bus system that loops around downtown. It too is free.
“That’s cool isn’t it?” says Steve Heal, who is visiting from Wilton Manors, Fla. “That makes for a real nice ride.”
I take the Metromover to the Perez Art Museum, which opened its campus in Museum Park in 2013. Its 200,000 square feet of galleries and outdoor space contain works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Willem de Kooning. The building itself, by the Pritzker prize-winning Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, is an impressive work of art.
The art museum will be joined by the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and a city park next year.
To explore more of the arts scene, I head to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The center has six stages, including the 2,400-seat Ziff Ballet Opera House, a new restaurant called Brava!, and a café housed in the historic Carnival Tower. Performances include everything from drama to jazz to cabaret to comedy.
“We really like to see our center play the role of town square,” says Scott Shiller, executive vice president of the center. “We want to make sure all members of the community feel welcome here.”
Richardson, the yoga instructor, certainly feels welcome on “the mainland,” as he calls it. He moved to the Brickell neighborhood after living in South Beach for 19 years.
“I love having access to the metrorail and all the free local transportation,” he says. “The restaurants and nightlife are amazing over here and we have the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the new Perez Art Museum and soon the new science museum.”
A few of those restaurants are actually amazing. Celebrity chefs such as Daniel Boulud are seeing potential downtown. Lunch at his db Bistro Moderne includes a decadent sirloin burger stuffed with foie gras and black truffle.
For dinner, I try Moye, a new Italian restaurant in Brickell. Chef Pietro Vardeu’s menu showcases Puglian cuisine. The Puglia region of southern Italy, I learn, is known for olive oil and burrata cheese. Of course, I have to try both, and they are divine. Cacio e pepe, a simple pasta dish made with cheese and pepper, is just as satisfying.
For a nightcap, I head back to my hotel, the Epic, where my room has a view of the famous I. M. Pei-designed Miami Tower. Zuma, a Japanese restaurant and bar, is filled with beautiful food, beautiful cocktails and beautiful people.
Parked outside are not just fancy cars but fancy yachts.
“We’re seeing this complete turnaround in fortunes downtown,” says local historian Paul George. “It’s a monster transformation.”
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