Economy

Midtown Miami sparking an urban renaissance

When a friend invited Sarah Weintraub to visit Midtown Miami over a year ago, she was reluctant, remembering the location just south of Miami's Design District as a ``dilapidated, horrible neighborhood.''

Fast forward to today and Weintraub, 23, not only lives in Midtown Miami, she's one of the area's biggest fans. She revels in the growing excitement of an urban lifestyle whose restaurants and retail beckon just steps from her door.

``I instantly fell in love with Midtown,'' said Weintraub, who moved from Coconut Grove into a one-bedroom rental in March. ``The energy is incredible.''

Somehow, amid a bleak real estate meltdown with shopping centers clinging desperately to tenants, Midtown appears to have caught on, fulfilling a long-desired demand for urban retail. For more than a decade no one could find a suitable place to make it happen, leaving the best shopping meccas a long drive away for residents of central Miami.

What makes this area different from other redevelopment plans is that Midtown was started from the blank canvas of an abandoned inner-city railyard. You had the benefit of two developers controlling a 56-acre site -- a rare find in urban Miami and about the same size as a suburban strip mall. Plus, they had financial help from the city to get started and the deep pockets to wait out the recession.

While Midtown started like many condo ghost towns, the developer got aggressive early with value-priced rentals aimed at drawing new, hip residents to the once blighted area.

SPILLOVER BENEFITS

The success of Midtown, in Wynwood at the corner of 36th Street and Miami Avenue, has helped energize the surrounding area. It has boosted the revitalized Design District directly to the north and spurred additional development in the surrounding commercial district.The entire area has become a destination, dotted with art galleries, high-end home furnishing stores and some of the area's best restaurants.

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