Bal Harbour Shops vs. the Design District

on Oct 29, 2014 in Shopping

From For decades the Whitman family–owned Bal Harbour Shops stood as an impenetrable fortress of high fashion, ruling over its occupants with a diamond fist. Until recently, that is, when labels like Louis Vuitton, Céline and Dior led a mass exodus to the burgeoning Design District and rewrote the rules for retailers in Miami. Listen carefully. Beneath the murmuring surf and rustling palms are less soothing sounds: Construction cranes, not flamingos. Concrete mixers pouring condos, not plastic buckets shaping sand castles. Sniper fire drowning out children’s laughter. Sniper fire? Miami’s sultry calm deceives. A guerrilla war rages, fueled by the city’s epochal growth. In the last dozen years or so, inspired in no small part by Miami’s re-branding as a winter wonderland for the international art elite, tidal waves of wealth have washed up here: Latin-Americans­ coming north, Europeans and Russians flying west, northerners seeing it all fresh. And the newcomers and their new money have the giants of luxury retail—Vuitton, Cartier, Hermès, all of them—in a state of battle readiness. The prize is a bigger share of what all concerned consider one of the top three luxury retail markets in America (after New York and, arguably, L.A.). And that’s ignited a retail free-for-all, nowhere more evident than in the cloak-and-dagger conflict pitting the Bal Harbour Shops above Miami Beach, long the most productive and admired mall in America, against an under-construction upstart. Though it’s been a troubled, if much-publicized, work-in-progress for more than a decade, the Design District, nine miles away, in Miami proper, is now emerging as a real threat to Bal Harbour’s only half century of dominance. Their respective owners—Bal Harbour’s farsighted Whitman family and the Design District’s developers, Craig Robins, a Miami law school graduate-turned-profit-making historic preservationist, and his partner, LVMH, and its chairman, Bernard Arnault—profess great admiration for each other. But truth be told, theirs is a struggle to the death between committed opponents, each utterly convinced of their right to rule Miami retail. The man behind the Design District gives the impression he’s as low-key as his press clippings say he’s not. Bald, bespectacled Craig Robins, 51, is dressed in browns and purples, albeit ones labeled­ Lanvin and Hermès, as he warmly welcomes a visitor to his art-stuffed offices in the heart of his ’hood. But he also allows glimpses of sharp angles. For instance, one piece of his staggering contemporary art collection, a canvas hung in the lobby of Dacra, his self-described “creative development” company, references an old-school rap with the painted words “We don’t need no water/let the motherfucker burn/THE END.” No shrinking violet, our Craig. His self-confidence stands on a foundation of achievement. One of two sons of a successful Miami real estate developer, he grew up on the exclusive Star Island, fell in love with art and urban design during a year in Barcelona, parked himself in law school in the mid-’80s because he felt too young to go into business, and emerged wracked with doubt about whether either of his passions, art and real estate, would be a viable career. The first was impractical, the second boring. Then he met Tony Goldman and saw how to combine them into a life that would be anything but. Goldman, the New York developer credited with reviving SoHo, was buying up large swaths of what would soon be known as South Beach. In 1987 Goldman became “my partner and a mentor,” says Robins, and he and his brother soon became “the most significant property holders in the revitalization” of the neighborhood. When their acquisitions ended, they owned about 60 buildings. From Goldman, Robins learned that if he invested in culture, commerce would follow. He rented studios to artists at cut-rate prices and claims Keith Haring was his first commercial tenant. By the mid-’90s, Robins was looking elsewhere. “I realized there was no place for South Beach to go except over the bridge” to the adjacent city of Miami. “People thought we were totally crazy.” He started buying vacant properties on 12 square blocks, bordering Wynwood and Edgewater, that had been a wholesale furniture district for decades until a mall in Fort Lau­der­dale lured most of its vendors away. Rob­ins vowed to bring the furniture back to what had long been called the Design District. The interior design industry was “a racket,” he says. The public wasn’t allowed into showrooms, and decorators who were got kickbacks from manufacturers. “I thought it shouldn’t be hidden away and jacked up; it should be on the street,” Robins says. He started restoring old buildings (to date, about 20 have been refurbished), and by 1998 the showrooms were returning; when Holly Hunt, a designer for interior design collections, opened one in 2000, “that immediately legitimized us,” he says. But legitimacy didn’t bring South Beach–like crowds. Critics felt the sun-blasted urban district, surrounded by poverty-stricken, crime-ridden neighborhoods, was desolate and unwelcoming; as bad as South Beach had once been, it still sat on the beach. But Robins had a different vision: “We needed a creative lab where interesting things could happen,” so he again lured artists, commissioned architecture and public art and, most significantly, helped organize Art Basel Miami Beach, which launched in late 2002. Robins staged events for the fair in the Design District, promoting both. Three years later Robins started Design Miami, a design-as-art show, as an adjunct to Art Basel, and put his...

Winter Vacation: Family Fun in Grand Cayman

on Oct 2, 2014 in Travel

As there are so many different, family friendly things to do in Grand Cayman, vacations there are always memorable. It is no surprise that families of every size enjoy vacationing on the island during the winter holiday season.

Hot Spots to stay in NYC

on Jul 28, 2014 in Travel

Chelsea Hotels is an exclusive group of properties in New York which all have a story of their own. To date, they all offer superb service and amenities for their guests under leadership of CEO Ed Scheetz. Over the years, the changes and transitioning have created something that is talked about and recommended by those who have knowledge of their history and what they have to offer.

New Seaplane Service to Open Up Greek Islands

on Jul 15, 2014 in Travel

How many travelers have embarked on an adventure from Athens’ Piraeus port planning to explore the Cyclades, Ionian and Dodecanese archipelagos, only to realize they’ve just got time to grab a Greek salad in Santorini before catching the boat home?

Grand Cayman’s Best Dining Options

on Jul 10, 2014 in Food

This world-class vacation spot is home to not only 50,000 residents, but also stunning beaches, top-tier hotels, countless watersports and a large selection of fine dining. Some of the most popular restaurants in Grand Cayman are found right around Camana Bay.

Transformation in the Miami Design District

on Jul 7, 2014 in Shopping

After LVMH became involved in the deal, the two decade long battle fought by Robins began moving at a fast pace, which included the purchase of a number of properties and the launch of the first luxury Miami fashion stores in the district. With the promise of LVMH funding in place, Christian Louboutin became the first luxury retailer to open in the Design District in 2009.

Summer Attractions in the Big Apple

on Jun 18, 2014 in Travel

What better time than summertime to go out and explore NYC. Tickets definitely go fast in the city that never sleeps, but if you plan accordingly you can ensure a memorable outing. After a lot of research and exploring in the city, we have three summer activities for you. High Line The High Line is a hidden gem in the concrete jungle. This public park is built on top of a freight rail line in Manhattan directly above the streets of the West Side. It is free to go to the High Line, which definitely is a plus in a city that is quite pricey. There are several gardens, food vendors and mobile shops along the High Line. One of my favorite food vendors is People’s Pops, which has the freshest popsicles and shaved ice– perfect for a scorching day! Empire State Building The Empire State Building is a world famous landmark, which deserves to be visited time and time again. What better season than summertime to get the best view of the city from the Empire State Building? Whether you are on the top deck at the 102nd floor or the main deck on the 86th floor the views are unmatchable (to purchase New York tickets, click here). The Empire State Building is the perfect spot for a summer date, especially between midnight and one AM you can enjoy a more private setting. Boating in Central Park Central Park is a quintessential part of a visit to New York City. Many people do not think to take advantage of boating in Central Park. You can rent a rowboat from the Loeb Boathouse from the months of April to November from 10 AM to six PM. The Loeb Boathouse is equipped with 100 boats, all of which seat up to four people per boat. This is the perfect afternoon activity, which doesn’t require walking and is a little more exciting than tanning. On a sunny summer day, boating around the lake in Central Park is one of the best ways to enjoy the terrain of the park. Image from...

Grand Cayman’s Fabulous Shopping Scene

on May 29, 2014 in Shopping

Shopping on this warm weather island is as popular as any other activity visitors may enjoy during their stay. The variety of name brand and local boutiques paired with duty-free shopping makes Grand Cayman a shopping paradise.

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