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Rebuilding the Boulevard

May 7, 2014

The heat has lenders eager for retail deals, too – a 180-degree turnaround from only a few years ago – with the money flowing to meet the demand among investors. : The volume of retail acquisitions in Miami is robust right now, particularly in the urban areas,” Metr1 Commercial CEO Tony Cho tells us. “There’s been a lot of action from New York buyers lately, and we’re seeing retail filling in around many new development projects in anticipation of new residents.” (New Yorkers don’t just like to retire here, they work to make it a healthy, robust, dynamic market… so they can retire here.)

 

AVRA JAIN IS A ONE-WOMAN  REDEVELOPMENT WONDER

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When the 61-year-old Vagabond Motel at 7301 Biscayne Blvd. reopens in April, it’ll have three neon signs flashing out front, welcoming visitors, just like it did in the 1950s, when US 1 was the main highway for tourists road-tripping to Miami Beach or the Keys.

Guests will swim in the Vagabond’s fully restored pool. Or they can sit by two giant palm trees (each weighing more than a thousand pounds) while sipping drinks at a fully stocked pool bar.

The hotel’s 45 rooms will be equipped with flat-screen televisions, high-speed WiFi, and 1950s-inspired furniture from designer and entrepreneur Stephane Dupoux. The floors of some of the rooms will be covered with restored Dade County pine. The walls of all the rooms will be adorned with geometric shapes drawn by Ugandan artist Kenneth Nyakabwa.

By May, a 1950s-style diner and bar will be operating in the hotel’s former lobby.

That’s the plan anyway. And Avra Jain, the 52-year-old lead developer of the Vagabond, has been pressing her construction crews, electricians, designers, fellow investors, landscapers, and other vendors to meet that deadline. On any given day, you can see Jain on site, giving directions, analyzing change orders, negotiating with insurance adjustors, installing light fixtures, carrying packages, or picking up litter.

She does as much of the work herself as she can,” says Joey Grill, founder of Click Models, who has partnered with Jain in real estate ventures here and in New York. “She does the work and shows by example what needs to be done.”

Her technique seems to be working. Just six months ago, the Vagabond was still boarded up and partially gutted. Its previous owner, former Hugo Boss executive Eric Silverman, walked away from the property in 2009, owing millions of dollars in mortgage payments, property taxes, and fines, after his efforts to bring the rundown motel back to its glory days failed.

In his absence, vagrants regularly broke into the place. Neighbors complained that the pool — a noxious brew of rainwater, algae, and garbage — had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. To exterminate the mosquitoes, City of Miami employees tore down a wall on-site, backed in a truck filled with construction debris, and dumped it into the pool.

The debris has been replaced with clear-blue water. The wall has been rebuilt. The Vagabond’s crumbling roof was replaced, as were the historic building’s shoddy plumbing and utilities.

“This is a new building,” says Jain, “in an existing, fabulous shell.”

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