Revitalizing Warehouse Districts: The Design District

November 30, 2010 34 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Going to the Miami Design District is a journey not only of place but also of emotion; imagine the delight of discovering something around every corner; a fascinating piece of art, an exotic dish or a chair you never knew you had to have.

About The Miami Design District

The Design District is a neighborhood north of Midtown in Miami, Florida, United States. It is within the Buena Vista and southern extremity of Little Haiti neighborhoods. It is roughly divided by NE 36th Street to the south, NE 43rd Street to the north, NW 1st Avenue to the west and Biscayne Boulevard (US 1) to the east.

It is home to over 130 art galleries, showrooms, creative services, stores, antiques dealers, eateries and bars. Every 2nd Saturday of each month a community wide Art & Design Night is held from 7-10pm. A popular event, Art Galleries and Design Showrooms open their doors to the public for music and refreshments.
Credited to starting the district is Craig Robins, who purchased many run-down buildings in the 18 square block area and persuaded many top designers, such as Alison Spear, Holly Hunt and Peter Page to relocate.

History of the Miami Design District

"During the 1920s T.V. Moore, the 'pineapple king,' transformed one of his pineapple plantations (the other was in today's Miami Shores) into what became downtown Buena Vista (NE 40th Street). His imposing Moore's Furniture Company opened in 1921. Buena Vista also had a large movie theatre called the Biltmore. Moore also built a large home and subdivided much of the area now called the Buena Vista East Historic District. In 1924 Buena Vista was incorporated as a town but was then annexed by the City of Miami in September 1925."
By the late Thirties much had changed: Moore focused less on growing pineapples and more on growing the neighborhood. He had help from Richard Plummer, an interior decorator who served the rich and famous new residents of Miami. The powerful influence of Moore and Plummer over the next several decades transformed Buena Vista into the Design District, a center for home furnishings. The Moore Building defined the District's center.
When hard times hit Miami in the Eighties, another set of developers lured businesses away from the Design District to a brand new "mall like" environment in Broward County called Design Center of the Americas (DCOTA). Featuring the ultimate in designer home products, DCOTA served developers in Broward while still easily accessible to the established customer base in Dade. The Design District declined.
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Redevelopment History

Within a few years other players joined the movement. Among the early and energetic associates was Craig Robins. Several years out of law school, Robins was bright, artistic, and hungry to learn. He quickly realized that he could accomplish extraordinary success by buying a critical mass of undervalued property then implementing a clear vision of what that property could become.
His role in reinventing South Beach made Robins keenly aware of the potential of the Design District, which he discovered when he helped a friend purchase property in the neighborhood in 1991. Three years later, Robins began to purchase buildings in the District for himself. In 1994 he bought four buildings for a total of 50,000 square feet. In 1995 he bought The Moore Building, bringing his total square footage to 100,000. The following year he added five more buildings, amounting to a total 250,000 square feet.
Over the next five or six years he collected another building or two every year so that his collection of eighteen small and mid-size buildings plus vacant land now adds up to nearly 500,000 square feet.
Craig saw the District as a self-contained neighborhood like South Beach. This time around, rather than a sandy playground, he says, his goal was "to create Miami's creative neighborhood." He planned to restore the Design District to its earlier function as a center for design and home furnishings. Because, he says, he wanted to "bring design to the street and out of the mall" he rejected the idea of making the center open "to the trade only." Instead he concentrated on making the district more accessible and inviting to the general public.
Craig identifies several milestones in the District's redevelopment: the arrival of Knoll Furniture in 1998, of Holly Hunt in 1999, plans for the South Florida version of Art Basel in 2001, and the move by the Latin Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences (the organization that hosts the Latin Grammys) to the neighborhood in 2003.

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Applying to Jacksonville

Blessed with existing infrastructure and available buildings, urban Jacksonville is home to many underutilized areas where the process that revived this South Florida neighborhood could also take place.  Here are five Jacksonville neighborhoods where an assortment of galleries, lofts and unique businesses could make sense for future utilization in the future.

1. Springfield Warehouse District

Blessed with a unique assortment of historic architecturally significant structures, this district will be the future location of a commuter rail station providing direct access to downtown and Jacksonville International Airport.

2. Riverside Brewing District

Already home to two popular microbreweries, this small district has a number of spaces still available for use.

3. Myrtle Street Warehouse District

Just west of downtown and I-95, this district contains a large number of underutilized brick building that are obsolete for today's warehousing and manufacturing needs.

4. LaVilla Warehouse District

After years of demolition, what's left of this former furniture district between the Prime Osborn and Duval County Courthouse may be the city's oldest remaining warehouse district.

5. Dennis Street Warehouse District

Still blessed with the majority of its mid-20th century building fabric in place, this forgotten area offers several possibilities for future reuse.

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Photos by Ennis Davis