Miami Attracts Luxury Travelers
Development in the sunny, seaside, southeastern Florida county of Miami-Dade, with Miami the epicenter, catches your eye the second you land at Miami International Airport. Don’t be shocked by the number of airlines flying these blue skies. It’s the only airport in the United States served by more than 100 airlines — and that’s just the start of its bragging rights. The city estimates hotel inventory will increase by 9,000 rooms over the next few years as luxury hotels, upscale attractions and haute brands sweep this morphing landscape. Easy to get to, an international destination with a convention center expansion underway, Miami positions itself as it eyes conventions that can afford the upscale hotel product mix. The big tropical city already claims fame for the fabulous Art Deco District in South Beach, and its competitive foodie scene has tongues wagging. Port Miami is revered as the Cruise Capital of the World, and the sweetheart fest of the city remains Art Basel Miami Beach. “Our tagline is ‘It’s #SoMiami,’” said William Talbert III, president and CEO, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The world just can’t get enough Miami right now.” He recited a hefty project list from developer darlings like Craig Robins and Alan Faena. Robins, the maverick behind the international design show Design Miami, is rebirthing the once-derelict downtown Design District in a $2 billion project, the first Gold LEED-certified neighborhood development in Florida to bring art, design and luxury goods to the masses. Renowned architects such as Sou Fujimoto are creating mind-bending façades in the Design District, assembling artistic oeuvres for luxury retailers. On a morning walk, I discovered the only freestanding Tom Ford shop in the United States sitting among a Givenchy flagship boutique, Louis Vuitton and Giorgio Armani. Green rooftops, the first in Miami, mix with Cartier, Bvlgari and Hermès among an expected total 35 flagship luxury brands. They all glisten in this compact, ultra-rich hub with the futuristic Fly’s Eye Dome from Buckminster Fuller gracing the entrance to a covert underground parking garage, another city first. The 1920s-built Moore Furniture Shop, the city’s first furniture store, sits among Robins’ rehab projects. Starchitect Zaha Hadid designed Elastika, a magnificent installation that radiates inside the old showroom now used for private events.The Magic City waved its wand on other fantasy-turned-reality projects, among them a new superyacht marina and Argentinean developer Alan Faena’s rebuilding of six blocks along iconic Collins Avenue. “This is an evolution of our community that are privately financed developments,” said Talbert, who added Miami is one of the world’s most popular luxury destinations today. Located in the Arts & Entertainment District, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science is scheduled to open in the fall. The gargantuan complex will include an exclusive planetarium, aquarium and science center. “It was designed to be an exhibit in itself. It’s a living, breathing building,” said Joseph Quinones, marketing manager, Frost Science. The $307 million complex will accommodate private events. Over by Brickell Avenue — which Forbes dubbed “The Wall Street of South America” for the plethora of Latin American banks in Miami’s financial district — I arrived by free public transit and exited at the gleaming new Eighth Street Metromover Station to visit the Brickell City Centre. This $1.05 billion project touts the new 40-story EAST, Miami, a 352-room luxury business hotel with its sublime Uruguayan restaurant, Quinto La Huella. The once-drab main drag of downtown is also evolving into chic-dom with the revival of Flagler Street and the South Miami Avenue streetscape. At the historic Miami National Bank building, developers are resurrecting the 1920s Beaux-Arts beauty into the new Langford Hotel, a 126-room property opening in winter. “There is a need for this type of accommodation in the downtown,” said Debra Klemm, director of sales and marketing, who described the landmark property as downtown Miami’s first historic luxury boutique hotel. Conventioneers carefully eye the Miami Beach Convention Center’s $500 million expansion with a 2018 completion date, projected to draw conventions from the pharmaceutical, medical, technology and automotive industries. “I would anticipate we’re going to be one of the top facilities in America,” said Ileana Garcia, director of sales and marketing for the center. “In addition to the renovation, the full infrastructure will be enhanced.” The re-imagined facility will include a 60,000-square-foot ballroom; 500,000 square feet of exhibition space; and an 800-room convention hotel. Back at my temporary abode, the new Hyatt Centric South Beach, the beach city took on still another persona at night. Nearby, the new Drinkhouse Fire and Ice bar was pulsating. “We’re open year-round,” said Jacqui Janis, events and sales manager, who noted Miami’s only ice vodka bar is ideal for private events. At a steady 23 degrees amid ice sculptures and ice glass-toting guests donning faux-fur coats and gloves provided by the bar, yes, it’s #SoMiami.
Think of a National Scenic Byway with alligators, cypress trees, the Everglades and the nation’s smallest post office. The Tamiami Trail, slicing across the peninsula, packs these roadside attractions. The 129-mile drive on either Interstate 75 or U.S. Route 41 between Naples and Miami starts in downtown Miami on S.W. Eighth Street. Pack binoculars. Highlights include Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. Head south from city views along Rickenbacker Causeway and pass through celebrity-rich Coconut Grove and Coral Gables for an old-timey sightseeing trip along Old Cutler Road, where big banyan trees add instant shade. Drive by the historic Ransom Everglades School, known for its 1912 pagoda featured in historic photos of South Miami, now on the Register of National Historic Places. Drop by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden; the Deering Estate for its environmental, historic and archaeological preserve; and Matheson Hammock Park for relaxing away from Miami’s dizzying nightlife.