South Florida has long been a shopping destination for locals and international travelers alike with high-end luxury brand stores dotting the coastline from Palm Beach to Miami. The Design District in Miami became a global stand-out by creating a space to shop, eat and view world-class art, adding to the shopping experience.
In the Conversations with Entrepreneurs: CEO Speaker Series, Steven Gretenstein, CFO of Dacra, a Miami-based real estate development firm, explored the rise of the high-end shopping destination, with Deepak Ohri, executive-in-residence at the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center at FIU Business.
"I think Miami has been a bright spot in the luxury world since just before COVID, through COVID and out,” said Gretenstein. “Brands have wanted to build bigger and better stores, bring their best managers and best merchandising people here, which feeds on itself.”
A leader in experiential luxury, Ohri, president of Luxury Atelier Maison Happiness, stressed the importance of expressive and emotional connection for customers.
“Our definition of luxury is not always about being expensive,” said Ohri, citing an example of when Colgate took 30 cent sachets of toothpaste and toothbrushes to rural areas in India. “That became a luxury for 60% of the people who were using the wood bar to clean their teeth. So, luxury is actually very relative.”
For Dacra, the goal was also about cultivating an experience that would become known as a world-class neighborhood.
After revamping South Beach’s most beloved hotspots like the Art Deco District and Lincoln Road, Dacra set its sights across the causeway, eyeing good bones and infrastructure already in place.
Once a furniture destination, the Design District fell into decline in the 90s after many businesses moved into decorator malls and left the storefronts empty. Dacra crafted a plan to reinvigorate the area, convincing high-end luxury retail brands to open their first flagship stores.
Another key to their success was helping to bring Art Basel, the international art fair, to Miami over 20 years ago, to further curate their vision.
Today the Design District is comprised of a 20-block area with over 1 million square feet of residential and commercial space with high-end luxury retail brands, art galleries, event spaces and restaurants, finally creating the neighborhood they had envisioned.
It didn’t happen overnight.
"We have always been a patient developer in terms of acquiring property and developing over a period of time,” said Gretenstein.