December 3rd, 2007
The Miami Herald
Design District shines during Art Basel
by Douglas Hanks
Craig Robins didn't create Miami's Design District. But the 44-year-old developer and art collector has emerged as its primary landlord, designer and spokesman.
Each year, the Art Basel Miami Beach frenzy shines a spotlight on the neighborhood, thanks largely to Robins and his Design Miami show. A newly official companion to Art Basel Miami Beach, the three-day festival, which will run from Friday to Sunday, features 26 installations centered on contemporary design.
"There aren't too many places where you can walk in such a short distance and see so much interesting creative expression," Robins said.
Robins helped establish the event that became Design Miami in 2005 to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach. Six months later, organizers brought the show to Basel, Switzerland, where the Miami Beach event's namesake, Art Basel, is held annually.
This marks Design Miami's first year in the official Art Basel corporate family. Basel's Swiss parent company, MCH Swiss Exhibition, recently bought a 10 percent stake in the Robins firm that owns the show and a 50 percent stake in its Swiss counterpart, Design Miami Basel.
This also will be the first time Robins doesn't throw a big public Basel bash in the Design District, where corner bars and night-time gallery shows used to draw throngs to the neighborhood. Robins said too many nondesign fans showed up for the fun. (Design Miami still will extend its 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule to 11 p.m. Saturday, but the free-flowing drinks won't be there.)
Even so, the hoopla has certainly helped propel the Design District into one of Miami's most fashionable commercial spots - a trend that has boosted rents and land values for Robins' development firm, Dacra.
Business Monday joined Robins for a walking tour of the Design District recently, as construction crews hammered away at gallery space and installations for Design Miami's opening.
A highlight of the show - an undulating metal fence by Marc Newson that Robins commissioned for Design and Architecture Senior High School in the district - was nothing more than a ditch at the time. But Robins pointed out four places that weren't around the last time Art Basel rolled into town.
Among the highlights:
Y-3 MIAMI STORE
Location: 150 NE 40th St.
Opened in November, this marks the first store in the United States dedicated to the Japanese fashion designer's line of Adidas shoes and clothes.
It also stands as a milestone for the Design District: its first true retail outlet, as opposed to the furniture and design galleries that populate most of the storefronts and cater to the design trade.
"I wear their shoes and their pants, shirts,'" said Robins, the store's landlord. "It's one of my favorite stores."
That Adidas and Yamamoto picked the Design District "rather than going to some shopping mall" shows how the neighborhood "stands for something that is special," he said.
Location: 163 NE 39th St.
The brightly tiled building features a mosaic mural on a rear wall where the Brosia restaurant is opening.
But look up to find the true architectural oddity: a dip in the roofline hugging a large oak limb.
"This building was designed to go around the trees," Robins said. "Unfortunately, there's no [zoning] requirement to save trees. It was important to us."
MICHAEL'S GENUINE FOOD AND DRINK
Location: 130 NE 40th St.
"Michael really made this into a neighborhood," Robins said during a chance encounter with the new restaurant's chef and owner, Michael Schwartz. "I eat here all the time."
The restaurant features a small dining room facing an open kitchen, with tables outside. Indulgent regulars like the fried hominy appetizer, but Robins says he sticks with the chicken.
"It's got really good wholesome food," Robins said. "It's not pretentious. In a way, what the Design District is all about."
Location: 180 NE 39th St.
You can spot this new outpost for the famous Nashville guitar maker by the giant six-string sitting at the foot of the stairs of Robins' Buena Vista building. Designed by artist David LeBatard and awash in electric colors, it points the way to a private party space and mini studio for Gibson.
But even though the Gibson Musical Instruments Miami Showroom will be closed to the public most of the time, its glass walls offer plenty of gawking opportunities.
Also look up (a good tip in general for the Design District) at a delicate wooden sculpture suspended over the staircase - a scale model used for a bridge in Asia.
"This is such a beautiful object of design," Robins said. "The Museum of Modern Art keeps asking if I will donate it."
What is he going to do?
"Keep an open mind," Robins said.