Miami’s Growth in the Face of Adversity

Despite widespread volatility in retail markets across the United State, Downtown Miami is experiencing continued growth in the commercial and residential sectors, which is serving to drive new retail business openings throughout the area. In fact, recent research conducted by the Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA) found that 42 new net retail businesses opened in Downtown Miami in 2009, marking the third straight year that the district has seen 40 or more new net retail outlets open. In total, 152 new retailers have established a Downtown Miami presence since 2005. Added to that, we are already tracking over 20 businesses slated to open during the first part of 2010.

The news of Downtown Miami’s retail growth comes as other markets across America continue to struggle. A recent Integra Realty Resources survey of the 50-largest markets in the U.S. found that Downtown Miami’s retail vacancy rate of 5.06% is among the five lowest in the nation. These numbers mark a dramatic spike in retail demand over the past 18 months; Downtown Miami’s overall vacancy rate climbed as high as 12.5% in mid-2008, according to CoStar Group.

It’s clear that retail activity in Downtown Miami is bucking the national trend, but according to real estate professionals familiar with this market, this growth comes as no surprise.  The DDA’s recently published Residential & Demographic Profile estimates that close to 70,000 people are currently living in Downtown Miami, up from the 2000 Census figure of 39,176, marking an 80% increase in less than a decade. Projections indicate the population will increase to 85,000 by 2014.  This influx of new residents are drawn to our waterfront location, entertainment and cultural offerings, affordable sales and rental options, and strong commercial base – and are populating our City streets and fueling the local economy. As a result, retail business owners are capitalizing on this trend by offering new goods, services and entertainment  options.

In one of the most challenging economic conditions in recent history, Downtown Miami still managed to attract a record-breaking number of key businesses that are enhancing the quality of life for residents and visitors and transforming the district into a 24-7 urban center. And to ensure that Downtown Miami continues to solidify its standing as a destination for residents and visitors, the Miami DDA has a number of economic development and quality of life initiatives underway. Through its Retail Advisory Group, the DDA works closely with brokers, tenant representatives, and property owners to encourage retailers to relocate and/or expand within the district. For example, its façade improvement and shutter removal incentives, and tenant improvement grant program, assists businesses in targeted areas of Downtown to help improve the retail environment.

As a public agency, it is our role to help foster a climate that encourages continued investment in our region. The more we can do to make our City’s streets cleaner, safer, and easier to navigate, the better positioned we will be to cultivate private enterprise – leading to more job creation and economic growth.

Alyce Robertson is executive director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority.