Rendering of Bal Harbour Shops expansion.

Barneys New York is headed to Miami — for real.

While there has been speculation for years, Barneys last week signed a lease to move into Bal Harbour Shops, WWD has learned.

Bal Harbour Shops is considered one of America’s most productive, upscale and unique shopping destinations, but it took decades of on and off talks, and the promise of a prominent space in an expansion green-lighted in May by the Bal Harbour city council to land Barneys.

“There has always been an interest in bringing Barneys here, through a long line of Barneys owners and operators,” said Matthew Whitman Lazenby, third-generation leader of Bal Harbour Shops and president and chief executive officer of Whitman Family Development LLC,  which developed, owns and operates Bal Harbour Shops. Whitman is the grandson of the late Stanley Whitman, who founded Bal Harbour Shops in 1965. It’s a tropical open air retail and restaurant setting and considered the nation’s first center for luxury stores.

On Monday, Lazenby said Barneys signed a long-term lease for a 53,000-square-foot, three-level store, confirming past WWD reports on the possibility.

He said his grandfather as far back as the Seventies had conversations with Barneys owners, at that time, the Pressman family. Lazenby had conversations with Howard Socol, Barneys ceo from 2001 to 2008; Mark Lee, ceo from 2010 to early 2017, and Daniella Vitale, current ceo and president. “Mark Lee brought it to the 10-yard line and Daniella got it done about a week ago,” he said.

Barneys will anchor the southwest end of the property and will include a Freds restaurant on the third floor with indoor and outdoor seating. Executive chef Mark Strausman will create a custom menu for the location, using the locally sourced ingredients and changing menu items seasonally.

The expansion of Bal Harbour Shops will add 350,000 square feet and cost about $400 million. The project is expected to be completed in 2023. Barneys will open then.

The project involves constructing a new garage, which will start early next year, then demolishing the existing garage, where the expansion gets built. “All of the work is going on outside of the existing center, so we can keep the sanctity of the experience,” Lazenby said.

“Barneys is fascinating to me,” he said. “They’ve always operated a bit differently. They’re very focused on creating the experience and having a point of view, which some major department stores have lost. Barneys is different.”

Barneys will be the hook to attract other luxury retailers to the expansion, with room for about 70. Some stores in the center such as Bottega Veneta and YSL will be relocated to the new section, though aside from Barneys, no leases have been signed.

Rendering of Bal Harbour Shops expansion. 

Lazenby cited several possible additions for the expansion, including a food market, “destination” restaurants with water views and “locally inspired uses like a high-end barber shop or a leather goods artisan who can fix your luxury bag or make a custom bag for you.”  He also cited luxury children’s concepts. “We have been talking to just about all of them for years. They love the idea, but margins on children’s are not the same. You need to be flexible on the rent. Now we will have that ability.” Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue anchor Bal Harbour Shops.

“My grandfather had a vision to do something that was disruptive. He wasn’t afraid to plant trees in the middle of shopping enter that blocked views of storefronts. He added water features. Fifty-five years later, even though we aren’t the only game in town when it comes to stores, there is a purpose and sense of place. That will stay the same.”

Barneys expansions in the past haven’t always been successful. Stores have closed in Dallas, Manhasset, N.Y., and elsewhere, and usually it was because Barneys tried to impose its brand of fashion on communities that had no interest.

Lazenby knows the history, but also knows “Our customer is a Barneys customer. We think Barneys may appeal to a younger customer but will certainly appeal to our existing customer. We have huge faith in Daniella and her team. They’ve been strengthening the brand and wanted to make it stronger before ever contemplating another store. They feel like it’s time.”

The last Barneys opening was two years ago in Chelsea, Manhattan. Barneys operates a total of 24 stores and outlets, including flagships on Madison Avenue, Chelsea, Beverly Hills, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

 “It’s a milestone for Barneys New York to launch our first location in Florida at Bal Harbour Shops, which attracts the best clients from around the globe, who mirror today’s Barneys clients,” Vitale said.

Though there’s been industry speculation that Barneys’ business has been difficult, officials at the company have consistently disputed that, saying it was faring better than the competition. In a speech at the WWD CEO Summit last fall, Vitale emphasized Barneys is “actually not just in the retail business anymore. We are in the entertainment business. We are in the food business. We are in the services business. Most importantly, we are going to become a much more data-centric company. We have probably gone through more change in the last year than ever before. It certainly has not been easy…retail has gone through a rough patch, but by no means is it as negative as the news makes it to be,” she said.

In any case, Barneys will get help with its Florida store. “It will be a collaborative effort,” Lazenby said. “We are going to build the shell and will work with them to do what makes the most sense. There will be some efficiencies to have our people do some interior fit out.”

Rendering of Bal Harbour Shops with Barneys.