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Why Moishe Mana's Revival of Flagler Downtown Being Slow is Good For You

Downtown is in the midst of an expensive overhaul led by Moishe Mana the mogul behind Wynwood and other artist based communities created from virtually thin air. As he urges patience in a recent and very detailed Miami Herald article by Andres Viglucci (excerpts below), F+B Hospitality continues to put restaurants and bars in place while rents are still competitive.

As a restaurant contemplating expansion we hear from many owners who wish they had gotten into Wynwood while the prices were still manageable to a local business budget. Another such window is opening and it's in Mana's newest project in downtown Miami where he has already invested millions on the infrastructure.

Four years ago, Moishe Mana, the arts mogul and entrepreneur, began acquiring big chunks of downtown Miami’s Flagler Street, raising hopes that the city’s original but bedraggled main drag would finally mount a long-postponed comeback.

By the time he was done buying three years later, Mana — already the largest landowner in flourishing Wynwood — had snatched up blocks of shops, commercial spaces and office buildings on or abutting Flagler, some 45 properties in all. The $350 million spree made him the biggest single landlord in the downtown core.

Mana and his top lieutenants say they are ready to move on long-percolating if vaguely defined plans to establish a “creative community” centered around art and tech along the Flagler corridor, chock-a-block with historic buildings and a walkable, human scale that endows it with a singular urban authenticity.

An architectural rendering shows how a remade Flagler Street in downtown Miami will look under a blueprint backed by entrepreneur and arts mogul Moishe Mana. At right is Mana’s 777 International Mall, a former movie house shown as it might look after a renovation. Mana has bought some 45 properties along or abutting Flagler with plans to establish a “creative community” centered around art and tech. ZYSCOVICH ARCHITECTS

The first specifics: Mana and Miami International University of Art and Design, now housed at the old Omni Mall, have confirmed the school will move into a vacant 13-story office building the entrepreneur owns on South Miami Avenue, two blocks from Flagler. To augment the school’s educational programs, Mana has also signed on Studio Enterprise, a Los Angeles-based educational consultant specializing in providing arts students with paid, real-life work experience in their fields.

The university says it hopes to open at 155 South Miami Ave. in summer of 2020. Eugene Lemay, director of Mana’s art operations, said interior demolition is underway and construction will start soon. The school will bring in 800 to 1,000 students and occupy six floors in the building, where Mana has already set up his downtown headquarters.

At the same time, Lemay said, five floors at the building, which Mana bought for $32 million in 2015, will become home to a startup hub. Up to 70 companies will share accounting, human resources and legal services. Mana and Lemay say they are now lining up companies. Plans also call for a theater and conference room and a rooftop restaurant.

Around the corner, on Southeast First Street, a set of storefronts will become a “gallery row” with a focus on art and fashion, Lemay said. It will consist of five commercial galleries, two restaurants and a “flex-space” for talks and screenings.

In a second phase, Mana and Lemay plan to convert the old Flagler Station, a down-at-the-heels food court with offices upstairs, into a second incubator for high-tech companies, also with shared on-site services. It will be similar to Station F in Paris, an established hub that’s billed as a “startup ecosystem under one roof.”

On Flagler itself, Mana has already filled his 777 International Mall, a 1940s movie theater long ago converted into shops, with artists. The building provides studio, office and exhibition space at affordable rents for about 40 artists and cultural organizations, including well-known groups like Bas Fisher Invitational, the Borscht film festival and Bookleggers Library.

Mana and Lemay say their goal is to give Miami’s fledgling art community the physical center it lacks, a public profile beyond the annual Art Basel-fed Miami Art Week and a measure of long-term stability for artists who have been repeatedly priced out of studios in once-dicey neighborhoods they helped turn around, like Wynwood. The pair have substantial experience, having built unusually comprehensive art facilities in Jersey City, N.J., and Chicago that combine working spaces for artists with exhibition spaces and services.

Mana urges patience. Rehabbing buildings, his plan for Flagler, takes longer and is more complicated than tearing down and building new, the typical Miami developer’s approach, he said. Lemay cautioned that gradually building out Mana’s vision for Flagler could take as long as seven years.

By focusing on art and tech, Mana said, his intention is to give Miami something virtually every economic development expert and report says it badly needs — a broader and more diverse economic base.

But Mana said he’s in no hurry and promises he will persist. “Changing the DNA of a city is much more than this. Maybe it sounds arrogant. It’s a huge responsibility. Maybe I succeed. Maybe I don’t,” he said in an interview in his Wynwood offices about his Flagler plans. “What we are doing is a philosophy. It’s long-term. It takes an incredible amount of time and energy. Our project is a game-changer. It’s part of building an ecosystem. It’s not just a building.”

Mana intends to leave his mark on the street itself. He pushed for a significantly more elaborate street redo and persuaded the Downtown Development Authority and local merchants to back it. Mana paid for a redesign that will turn Flagler into a curbless street that can be closed for festivals and other special events, similar to the facelift of Miracle Mile and the adjacent Giralda Avenue in Coral Gables. Instead of asphalt, the street will be covered in more durable and appealing pavers, the DDA said.

An architectural rendering shows how a remade Flagler Street in downtown Miami will look under a blueprint backed by entrepreneur and arts mogul Moishe Mana. Mana has bought some 45 properties along or abutting Flagler. ZYSCOVICH ARCHITECTS

The DDA and property owners persuaded the city to expand bar-opening hours and reduce the mandatory separation between locales serving alcohol about 18 months ago. Since the rule change, seven new bars have opened on Flagler and surrounding blocks, the DDA says.

The Lost Boy Dry Goods bar on the ground floor of the 1937 DuPont building, a historic Art Deco skyscraper on Flagler, shows televised soccer matches and packs in a young crowd at night. Around the corner, Mama Tried, by the owners of South Beach’s stalwart Purdy Lounge, draws an after-hours crowd. And more bars are on the way, including a lounge by a partner in the Beach’s Broken Shaker, known for its artisanal cocktails, also in the DuPont.

Brick-and-mortar retail has been tumbling on Flagler, as it has everywhere else. Macy’s closed two years ago, leaving its Art Deco landmark, the former Burdines, vacant. But more dining spots are moving in. The chef-owner of Blue Collar and Mignonette is planning a dining spot in the district.

Developers Stamboul, who converted a historic but abandoned neo-classical 1925 bank building downtown into the plush Langford Hotel, plan to put a craft brewery in the ornately Classical 1912 old post office building, and a food and beverage hall in the 1936 Art Deco building on Flagler that formerly housed a Walgreens and the upscale La Epoca department store, which closed.

Since 2017, by the DDA’s count, more than 20 restaurants have opened in the old downtown, catering in large part to an after-business clientele and the thousands of new residents moving into recently completed condos and apartment buildings. The agency says the central business district’s residential population, once virtually zero, today stands at nearly 14,000, markedly improving Flagler Street’s prospects.

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