MIAMI — Coming out of quarantine from his home in the Colorado Rockies, Miami Design District developer Craig Robins is back to oversee the reopening of the luxury retail neighborhood today. In a stroke of luck, his vision for flagships connected by broad avenues, leafy lanes and wide-open courtyards full of public art seems tailored to social distancing protocol.
“It’s what we are — a very spacious, open-air neighborhood designed for outdoor experiences,” he said, anticipating cooped-up people will flock to the neighborhood over indoor or high-density options. “If you’re outside and social distancing, there’s a low risk of infection. It’s the safest possible experience [if leaving one’s home].”
Since the novel coronavirus presents so many unknowns, Robins is walking the delicate line between opening for business and ensuring the best possible safety measures. He consulted the University of Miami’s Health System to minimize risk and maximize the guest experience. Along with setting a good example at his corporate office — where only half the staff has returned, while the rest continue to work from home, temperatures are taken daily, and the layout has been reconfigured for social distancing — he hopes a bit of levity and style will persuade people to follow the rules. Branded signage says “Thank You for Being a Friend, Please Practice Social Distancing” and floor-placed markers with “Please Maintain Your Distance” demonstrate what 6 feet looks like. Fifty hand-sanitizer stations were installed, rigorous disinfection occurs regularly, and a touchless, online parking system replaces valet service for the time being. Masks for All, a collaboration between model Karolina Kurkova and Ashley Liemer, the founder of Tailor House alterations shop here, created three variations of branded, custom masks for ambassadors to distribute for free from new checkpoint desks.
“So wearing a mask isn’t an unpleasant experience, guests can put on one of our masks and look cool,” said Robins, who plans to commission artists for masks and turn them into real collector’s items. “I’m worried we’re going to run out, but we’ll just have to make more.”
Though business in Miami typically dips during hurricane season, Robins is optimistic based on China’s luxury store sales since reopening and the Miami Design District’s strong growth last year, as well as in early 2020 before the pandemic hit.
“Sales grew by 40 percent in 2019, and they were robust in January and February. One brand’s store here was number-one in men’s wear and number-two in women’s in the U.S.,” he said.
Nonetheless, given the unprecedented economic upheaval, he expects some of the neighborhood’s retailers won’t make it and has worked with tenants, particularly more threatened, sole proprietors, to mitigate closures. Deferred rent, which lasts three months, can be paid over the remainder of the five- or 10-year lease agreements.
“Tenants understand that expenses don’t stop and that I can’t go into foreclosure on loans. We’re negotiating to reach a common ground, and banks have been very fair, so we’re in a good position,” said Robins.
Beyond just getting through this period, he was caught off-guard by brands’ steadfast enthusiasm in continuing with stores already in the works and in requesting space during the pandemic. Construction wasn’t halted in Miami; aside from a slight delay, buildouts for Off-White, Alexander McQueen, Stone Island and Ovation restaurant are on track to bow in July. Flagships for Chanel and Maison Margiela will follow. A handful of European and U.S. brands have started a dialogue to sign leases.
“I thought we’d be at a complete standstill, but people believe in the neighborhood,” said Robins, who’s hunkering down to see how it all pans out now that his traditional travel pattern of spending June in Europe for business and art fairs is canceled. “No one has asked me to fly to Paris yet.”