By  on November 26, 2007

MIAMI — For years, the financial district here kept banker's hours and the area had little to offer in the way of shopping and dining.

Now, however, there's finally an option.

Mary Brickell Village, a new 195,000-square-foot lifestyle center, offers residents of the condominium towers along Biscayne Bay and guests at luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Conrad a selection of restaurants, stores and entertainment.

The financial district, which consists of Brickell Avenue and the portion of U.S. Route 1 running south of the Miami River to Rickenbacker Causeway, has more than 130,000 office workers in a two-mile radius. There are in excess of 155,000 primary residents and 9,000 hotel rooms with an almost 80 percent occupancy rate. The demographics were promising enough to interest developers such as the real estate firm Constructa, which began the project seven years ago.

Mary Brickell Village dragged because of finances, a lack of manpower as a result of Miami's building boom and hurricane season flooding. Canada's Ivanhoe Cambridge, a mall developer, purchased the open-air center with lush foliage and fountains three years ago.

"This area has welcomed us with open arms," said Marcos Freire, general manager of the center, which is named after a Miami pioneer who opened a trading post here in 1870 and became an early developer. "Places like Rosa Mexicano are already performing phenomenally, so we predict extremely strong annual sales of $1,000 per square foot for restaurants and $700 for retail once everything is up and running this holiday season."

A grocery store and high-end gym anchor Brickell's first-story collection of independent boutiques and specialty chains. Beauty salons, other services and fast-food eateries are on the second floor.

"We're going for a mature crowd, so we didn't want a cinema or food court," Freire said, adding that national tenants other than restaurants were never a focus. Retail spaces average 900 square feet. "The goal is to create an interesting shopping experience through more exclusive retailers and brands from Europe, Latin America and South Florida."

The strategy presented a rare Miami opportunity for this type of retailer, including Studio LX, a local men's and women's contemporary specialty chain, as well as its young contemporary spin-off, Blush. Joanna Paige, an offshoot of men's shoe store Cavanaugh in South Miami, sells women's shoes and handbags from Marc by Marc Jacobs, Coach and Tory Burch, priced from $100 to $1,000. Angie Chemla, a buyer for the privately-owned Florida retail division of French women's wear label Vertigo, in December will open Between Us, a contemporary boutique with foreign labels such as Patrizia Pepe and Animale that retail for $200 to $600."I chose the center because downtown is up-and-coming," said Chemla, who favors feminine cuts and European finishes.

Her cousin, Sebastien Scemia ,who owns Florida Vertigo, opened a 1,300-square-foot Vertigo boutique at Mary Brickell. Scemia has five locations throughout Florida. He predicted the unit initially will lag stores in the nearby Aventura and Dadeland malls, but said it will do at least $1,000 a square foot during the first year and equal the other stores in three to five years.

Though many business people were skeptical about the center, Scemia said, he is confident of its potential.

"I'm not even open yet, and this place is slammed with female executives having power lunches at Oceanaire or happy hours at Blue Martini," he said.

Vertigo features suits with French flair for $550; pants in stretch fabrics, $170 to $210; snakeskin clutches, $300, and belts from outside vendors, $80 to $600. "Merchandise will be divided equally into career and weekend," he said.

About 85 percent of the crowd is Latin American, Scemia said. It's a customer base that Barbara Palacios, a Miami-based, moderately-priced, women's accessories collection caters to as well. With foreign wholesale accounts and seven freestanding stores in Florida, Costa Rica and Venezuela, Barbara Palacios is named after the Venezuelan who was crowned Miss Universe in 1986. The company's 1,200-square-foot space at Mary Brickell is its first store in Miami-Dade County.

"Mixed-use properties get the word out faster about new brands, and people enjoy the daily connection fostered by these setups," said president Victor Manrique, noting that the company also operates stores in lifestyle centers in Palm Beach Gardens and Weston, Fla. "Many of our other boutiques, like Weston, cater to moms, but Brickell is about a trendier career woman and the merchandise will reflect that."

Manrique expects leather belts, priced from $50 to $75, pashmina wraps, $50, and semiprecious jewelry, $25 to $230, will generate first-year volume of $800,000.

Miami-based eyewear and sunglasses designer and retailer Edward Beiner predicted the same amount of volume for his 650-square-foot boutique, adding that sales should exceed $1 million in a few years. Opened this month, the store is part of his rapid expansion to reach eight units statewide by yearend. In addition to his eponymous line averaging $300 a pair, collections include Cartier, $700 to $1,400, Chanel, $300 to $600, and Gold & Wood, $700 to $5,000. While his other stores draw the largest crowds on weekends, Beiner said peak shopping hours for Brickell will be 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays when office workers shop and have drinks before the trek home."The center's timing couldn't be more perfect," he said. "Groups like tourists, commuters relocating downtown and Key Biscayne residents were desperate just for a place to grab a cup of coffee."

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