BY MIKA MATTINGLY SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALDAPRIL 19, 2019 06:00 AM, UPDATED APRIL 19, 2019 02:20 PM
In cities where real estate drives the economy, there is always a new neighborhood on the radar of deep-pocket developers and investors with patient capital. Over the past five years, they have increasingly targeted downtown Miami, especially along the historic Flagler Street, as a new frontier for redevelopment. Following decades of neglect and lack of private and public investment in that part of Miami, it is fair to say that downtown Miami has become developers and investors’ “New Darling.”
In early 2014, I began farming downtown Miami to learn as much as possible about its run-down buildings and their potential. I quickly fell in love with those hidden gems waiting to be rediscovered, cared for and preserved. I knew developers would love them too if they would understand the nature of downtown Miami. Most people thought I was a dreamer, but five years later I am proud of the developers and investors we have been able to bring to downtown Miami.
Here’s why suddenly developers and investors from across the U.S. want to own a piece of downtown Miami.
Zoning: In the past two years, investors have acquired $3.2 billion of real estate along Flagler Street and surrounding streets. Almost half of that capital comes from New Yorkers who have acquired at least 1.3 million square feet of building space and at least 1.1 million square feet of land between the Miami River and Northeast Sixth Street and between I-95 and Biscayne Bay. One reason for this surge of investment is due to the zoning overhaul, which created Miami 21. Miami 21 allows for the most mixed-use developments, stories, and units-per-acre possible.
Demographics: Downtown Miami is growing fast, becoming younger, wealthier and more educated. In 2018, more than 92,200 people called greater downtown Miami home, up nearly 40 percent since 2010, and expected to exceed 109,000 by the year 2021. The median household income is also increasing, up 55 percent since 2010. A significant chunk of these residents are young professionals with disposable income. They seek an urban core lifestyle, choosing to live downtown over the beaches or Brickell. New services and development are pouring into downtown Miami to meet the needs of the shifting demographics.
Connectivity: Brightline is creating ways for South Florida residents and visitors to beat traffic and solve a major transportation headache — seamlessly connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and eventually Orlando. Showing a huge vote of confidence, transportation giant Virgin Group entered a strategic partnership to rebrand the service as Virgin Trains USA later in 2019. MiamiCentral, home to Brightline, also offers other public transit options, like the Metromover, Metrorail, and future Tri-Rail Downtown Miami. These options are literally creating new pathways for downtown residents, employees and visitors to embrace and experience the perks of city living.
Walkability and history: Flagler Street, at the heart of the historic downtown Miami, is the original Main Street. The area is home to some of Miami’s most iconic architectural and historical fixtures, including the Freedom Tower, Olympia Theater, Gesu Church and the DuPont Building. Those buildings have woven their stories into the vibrant patchwork of downtown Miami. This rich history, central location, and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks are contributing to the rapid evolution of our downtown.
The next five years will be key for the future of Downtown Miami. Many of my clients are creating a vision for the area that goes beyond developing one building at a time. Their new concept will bring housing for workers in downtown Miami, creative spaces for the arts and tech, and an environment conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship, all while protecting the history of downtown Miami.
Mika Mattingly is the co-leader of Colliers International South Florida’s Urban Core Division specializing in urban renewal, off-market sales, and assemblages across core South Florida neighborhoods. She is based in Downtown Miami.