October 20, 2014
When John Kunkel decided to create a new base for his 50 Eggs restaurant group, he staked his claim on a once-forgotten stretch of Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard.
There, in the MiMo/Biscayne Boulevard Historic District, he bought a dilapidated, gutted, three-story motel that is being rebuilt as his growing company’s headquarters and test kitchen — where chefs soon will be concocting dishes to be served at Yardbird, Swine, Khong River House and 50 Eggs’ other new South Florida dining spots.
He won’t be lonely. With new businesses popping up all around him, Kunkel is part of a wave of redevelopment that’s enveloping the 27 blocks of Biscayne between Northeast 50th and 77th Streets that make up the historic district, a stretch once better known for blighted motels renting rooms by the hour.
“There’s a handful of people that have really put some skin in the game and invested in doing something about this area,” said Kunkel, “to make it what we envision it to be.”
In a city undergoing a wholesale reinvention, one crane at a time, the MiMo district is carving out its own distinct identity as a low-scale, stylish but unflashy Main Street for the gentrifying collection of residential neighborhoods that flank the boulevard.
“The energy is there. You can just feel it,” said Nancy Liebman, president of the MiMo Biscayne Association, an organization of business owners and residents, and also a key player in the preservation of South Beach’s Art Deco District. “It’s so reminiscent of what South Beach did. It took somebody like Avra Jain, or Tony Goldman in the case of South Beach, to see the potential and start developing.”
Change was a long time coming to the boulevard, which had been in decline for decades. The city established the MiMo (short for Miami Modern) historic district in 2006 to protect its unique and largely intact mix of architectural styles, but also in hopes of jump-starting redevelopment. But recession and a controversial 35-foot height limit, established to quell fears about overscaled new construction from single-family neighborhoods that back up to the boulevard, kept redevelopment at bay.
Jain and her attorneys at Greenberg Traurig were the first to figure out how to use a city ordinance created as part of the Miami 21 zoning code specifically to provide financial incentives for restoration of historic buildings. The ordinance allows owners of historic buildings to sell to developers in areas like downtown Miami their unused “air rights” so long as they reinvest the proceeds in renovations.
The timing, just as a new boom of downtown development was getting under way, was fortuitous, giving Jain eager buyers for her air rights. Without that, Jain said, renovation of the Vagabond, a small property that needed millions of dollars’ worth of work, would have been financially unfeasible. That set the template for her other boulevard projects, including a new building in a contemporary style that will house a Starbucks and join two historic motel buildings at 63rd and Biscayne.
Coming next for Jain: partial demolition and reconstruction of the Bayside Motor Inn, at 51st and Biscayne, which will reopen as a hotel. “The Vagabond was really the tipping point for a lot of us to realize that the neighborhood is undergoing a major transformation,” said Joel Pollock, co-owner of Panther Coffee, which will open a new location on the corner of Biscayne and 64th next fall.
Neighbors say they are happy that more dining and shopping options will be just a walk or bike ride away. “I have never been more excited to live in an area,” said Marc Billings, a technology entrepreneur who has lived in Morningside with his wife and two children for two years and who has previously lived in South Beach, Coconut Grove, downtown Miami and South Miami-Dade. “It’s so incredibly alive.”
Part of MiMo’s allure, developers and brokers say, is the relatively low cost of property compared with such other areas as Miami’s Design District, Midtown or the Brickell corridor. “I like this area because it is one of the last more reasonably and more accessibly priced real estate in the urban core of Miami, and geographically, it is very well located,” said Tony Cho, chief executive and founder of Metro1 Companies.
Another draw for investors: commercial rents have been on the rise. Cho recalls rents at $10 or $15 a square foot a few years ago. Now, he said he is “doing deals at as much as $45 and $50 [per square foot] in some of the more premium locations, for the smaller spaces.”
50 Eggs is completing its new headquarters at 7350 Biscayne, with its entire first floor dedicated to a test kitchen. When Kunkel bought the Art Deco property in December 2012 for $3.5 million, he said he was met with heavy skepticism. Now he’s sinking another $2 million into it, creating what he hopes will be “a home base or hub for the culinary industry in Miami.”
Now Kunkel is scouting and negotiating for more properties, with plans to develop new restaurants. “We’re very excited about what the area holds,” he said, “and really believe in it.”
Source: Miami Herald