Development Blooms Again in Miami Beach

MIAMI, Fla. ( MainStreet) -- On a Monday morning in Miami Beach the sidewalks swell with the party crowd as the noise of bulldozers and cranes fills the air along Collins Boulevard like a techno soundtrack. Building sites are covered with glossy new ads of real estate developments to come, replacing the ripped and torn ones that -- much like the projects they promoted -- didn't make it through the worst real estate slump in recent history. But that was then, and now Miami rises again with bold hotel and condo projects that look to take advantage of a strong tourism demand and steady stream of buyers from South America.

According to STR, Miami has shown one of the strongest increases in revenue per available room in the country for the first two months of 2012, with year-over-year room rates up 15.8%, to $148.71. A respite in hotel openings in recent years saw many ambitious hotel projects, such as the Cipriani, come to a standstill, and left historic buildings such as The Saxony in dusty concrete surrounded by chain-link fence.
Miami is building again, including at the former Ritz Plaza, putting up bold hotel and condo projects on renewed strength in tourism and a steady stream of South American buyers.

For the former Cipriani, better days are indeed on their way; an ambitious project unfolds by Buenos Aires fashion-designer-turned-hotelier Alan Faena, who's ridden a less-than-direct wave to success with his Faena Hotel + Universe -- a top hotel draw in the Argentine capital. Despite his own real estate missteps, including a scrapped Rio property that ultimately became Fasano Hotel Rio, Faena is a master of reinvention. His work includes a $350 million revamp of this Art Deco waterfront palace rebranded as Faena Saxony Hotel.

In lieu of a canopy of cranes, only the perimeter of the hotel shows sign of a name change, with its colorful graphic windscreen gripping a chain-link fence around the building like a fashionable belt. All proposals for the Faena Saxony Hotel are in the development phase, but plans submitted to the city include a glamorous condo tower by Foster + Partners that puts a retro nautical spin on a tapered midrise structure that would be suspended over a living water garden. Given the strong demand by South American buyers in today's resurgent Miami condo market, the name Faena would add even more allure.

Just down the street, closer to the heart of South Beach, another starry developer is a bit closer to opening: LA-based SBE and its Miami Beach debut, the SLS South Beach. The Miami take on the L.A. hotel made famous by top Hollywood nightlife proprietor Sam Nazarian (behind such brands as Katsuya and Hyde) comes to a prized section of the historic beach town near such posh neighbors as the Delano and Raleigh and in the former Ritz Plaza Hotel, a landmark complex with an iconic tower silhouette. It's been fully reworked with the help of Philippe Starck to create a luxurious party atmosphere with a designer touch.

Accepting reservations as of June 14, SLS South Beach will be an embassy of starry names including James Beard Award-winning chef Jose Andres, who will put a Miami beat on his whimsical Spanish tapas menu at The Bazaar -- still one of L.A.'s top restaurants after almost four years. And no L.A. tribute would be complete without a sushi restaurant (and a great one at that) with Katsuya offering a sexy dining and lounge space led by chef Katsuya Uechi.

The resort area of the former Ritz Plaza has been reworked with two-story annex jutting out of the main building with a slatted wood facade and flat roofline that faces two resort pools. The hotel will be also home to a new Hyde Day Club, a splashy spinoff of the owner's notorious VIP nightclub, which will also have an outpost inside the Miami hotel. Rooms put a 2012 stamp on classic Starck, with minimalist white spaces echoed in Louis XVI details that adapt well to Miami Beach.

Meanwhile in Miami's booming Design District, international conglomerates such as Louis Vuitton have ditched their longtime digs in famous Bal Harbour to join the likes of Hermes, Dior and Fendi establishing permanent locations in the once derelict area. The upscale brands join existing designers such as Martin Margiela, Christian Louboutin and Christian Liaigre, who have long-established storefronts in the neighborhood. The popularity of the Design District has been a boon for real estate owners in the once down-and-out area, which now commands some of the highest retail rents in the city, but at the same time driving out independent retailers such as Tomas Meier, who will relocate this summer.

Other ambitious developments across Miami include Resorts World Miami's revamped proposal to build a $3 billion luxury mixed-use development on land occupied by the Miami Herald building. With plans for a casino sidelined, the famous parcel along Biscayne Bay with 800 feet of water frontage would be home to an impressive condominium project designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica as well as a five-star hotel with mixed retail and entertainment complex that could be one of the largest real estate projects to hit Miami in decades.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.