With Miami’s South Beach marking its 100th anniversary this year, kudos go around to many empire builders who have energized this Florida enclave and turned it into a mecca for “cultural cool.”
Linda Lee, former New York Times editor and author of five Miami-themed guide books, points out that the past 20 years have seen the biggest renaissance due to several ambitious but community-minded entrepreneurs.
“Craig Robins is a superstar here. He brought Art Basel to town and founded the Design District and Design Miami,” she says. Another patron of possibility was “Robert Wennett, the developer who brought the 1111 parking garage building to Miami by Herzog & de Meuron, which was celebrated around the world.” Terry Riley, formerly of New York’s MoMA, was also a change agent. By coming to South Beach to take over the Miami Art Museum (MAM), he got Herzog & de Meuron to design the new building which is now called PAMM, short for the Perez Art Museum Miami. Then there’s the sophisticated billionaire (and husband to Elle Macpherson) Jeff Soffer, who put a stylish stamp on the renovation of the Fontainebleau and is considered Miami royalty.
This created the groundwork for Art Basel Miami Beach to really thrive and become a magnet for the global contemporary art cognoscenti. Says Sue Stoffel, a collector and arts administrator, “More than 65,000 visitors cruise the over a dozen fairs where over $2 billion worth of art exchange hands. Miami Beach has been transformed into a luxury destination.” This December, Art Basel Miami will celebrate its 13th year.
KEEPING UP WITH THE LIEBERMANS
The list of empire builders wouldn’t be complete without the addition of Alan and Diane Lieberman. An admirer of art deco décor, Alan Lieberman, who hails from Philadelphia and fell in love with the area during college spring break, found a niche creating chic, affordable boutique hotels with his South Beach Group so that not only the very rich would be ambassadors promoting Miami-cool. While less heralded than the Frank Gehry-designed New World Symphony Building, it remains significant because it helped bring an unbridled, youthful energy to South Beach.
Simultaneously, the close-knit family recognized that hotels—and their real estate development business—needed other anchors besides those moored from the nearby yachts. With enthusiastic zeal and moxie, they embraced and supported the nurturing of art exhibitions, theater, music festivals, and museums to attract visitors—and buyers—all year long. Sure the family donated $1 million to the Bass Museum and were early supporters of Art Basel, but they’re also developing up-and-coming theater groups and art expositions of emerging artists to ensure that Miami Beach is infused with creative buzz.
Diane Lieberman, a beauty with a brain, wisely created South Beach Investment Realty so those who loved the fun of slipping into salsa dresses beyond a vacation could buy apartments they build. It’s no surprise that their son Nathan, a graduate of film school, is the scion helping to find another route to keeping Miami Beach thriving. The family is now involved in reality TV shows, restaurants, and extended-stay hotels.
Their latest development as part of the South Beach Group is the Riviera South and Hotel Croydon. “We have 1500 rooms in construction right now,” said Lieberman. “Miami will continue to grow. We went from a resort for sun to a cultural city that offers art, fashion, theater, music, and design.” Not bad for a guy whose father once said, “The little guy can’t make it.” Lieberman loves the little guy and shows them a great time as well as thousands of others.
Helping the growth of South Beach has been the global economy. “Whenever something goes wrong—with the crash of the economy in Russia, the rate of inflation in Argentina, the low oil prices now in Brazil, the worry over the economy in Spain, Italy, Greece, etc., and the fear of Jews in France—Miami is an obvious choice, outside of London and New York,” states Linda Lee. “Last year, the Venezuelans were the number one foreign buyers of real estate in Miami, though a lot of Russians buy through LLCs, which don’t have a nationality.”
Just like strawberries need cream, these visitors are a necessity and have created a bigger market for high-end restaurants and shopping. “Restaurants like Milo’s, La Piaggia, My Ceviche, Pubbelly Sushi, Joe’s Stone Crab, Tap, Juvia, Barton G, and Il Mulino are now doing a thriving business here,” says publicist Lois Whitman-Hess, who along with her husband, Elliot, relocated their successful public relations business to South Beach. “South Beach is NYC with great weather,” she says. “The entire place is electric with tons of energy 24/7. It has become the gathering place for art, music, fashion, and food. Tech will emerge soon too.”
In fact, South Beach is an international playground, as anyone visiting La Piaggia for Sunday brunch will see. “We take walks along the water and see weddings on the sand, photography shoots, yoga sessions, Zumba dancing, volleyball, musical acts, gymnasts working out, and fishermen cleaning their catch,” adds Whitman-Hess. “We now bike-ride, sip wine by the marinas, attend local theater, visit artist colonies, go boating, and watch sunsets.”
“South Beach,” she concluded, “is for people who don’t want to miss out on life’s pleasures.”