Lincoln Road Mall is a hotbed of multi-million dollar real estate investment which transitions South Beach’s prime retail district from a destination for the arts, culture and community straight into the world of extremely high stakes commercial development. For some locals, this turn of events feels like a profound loss of our history and identity, but travelers to South Florida love to shop. Historic preservationists launched protests and lawsuits to stall the destruction of art galleries and church gardens being razed to make way for retailers with very deep pockets. Their efforts have proven futile in the face of intensive global investment from some of the world’s biggest players.
Global Brand Placement is the name of the game in South Beach as a handful of cultural sites including a historic church surrender to skyrocketing property values and yield their prized mall frontage to the highest bidders. In recent weeks, a Spanish fashion tycoon who owns Zara stores spent nearly $400 million to purchase 75,000 square feet of buildings along Lincoln Mall between Lenox and Michigan Avenues; properties which cost the sellers just $12 million in 1999 according to the website Real Deal. That kind of monumental increase in price per square foot edges smaller retailers out of the market and ensures only top tier tenants can afford exhorbitant rental rates.
Not long ago, Lincoln Road was home to quirky design shops, funky vintage dealers and small art galleries who have been forced to close or move to less costly locations. The non-profit ArtCenter South Florida offered studio space to emerging artists and art classes to area residents at a 17,000 square foot wrap-around gallery space on the corner of Lincoln Road and Meridian Avenue. When Tri-Star Capital offered $88 million for the building which faces one of the busiest intersections on the beach, ArtCenter board members and staff could not refuse that kind of cash infusion. Considering the creative arts organization paid under a million dollars for the gallery in 1989, the return on investment is a highly significant gain.
Perhaps the most controversial multi-level development deal getting underway on Lincoln Mall is David Edelstein’s plan to turn a verdant courtyard adjoining the historic Miami Beach Community Church into 16,000 square feet of glossy retail stores. Originally built by city father Carl Fisher in 1920, the quiet church garden is as attractive to Tri-Star Capital as the Art Center property nearby. Members of the church congregation voted to allow the grounds to be leased to the developer in exchange for millions of dollars over the course of 80 years. Area preservationists, the Miami Beach City Commission and the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board exchanged cross words and lawsuits to block the deal, but the future of the mall’s only green space seems destined for development.
The stretch of Lincoln Road shops now owned by Zara’s Amancio Ortega (ranked by Forbes Magazine as the world’s fourth richest person) is home to a brand new two story GAP, the contemporary sportswear chain Intermix, the upscale athletic brand Athleta and the highly popular Apple store. The anchor space at the corner of Lenox Avenue and Lincoln Mall once housed Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn, but is currently under construction to make way for a 30,000 square foot multistory Niketown which will include a rooftop basketball court where shoppers can test drive their pricey sneakers.