Mayfair tenants anxious about plans by new owners
By Frank Norton
With questions about ongoing renovations and a new leasing strategy, Streets of Mayfair tenants are criticizing the landlord and leasing manager over a lack of communication about plans for the once-vibrant mall.
Their biggest gripe, they say, is that their landlord, New York-based DRA Advisors, won't take their phone calls.
"We've continually asked what's going on with the property's construction leasing and have been unable to find out. We can't even talk to the owner because they make us go through the leasing agent," said Uomo owner Giuseppe Villella, referring to the Coconut Grove-based Continental Real Estate Co. "But they don't want to communicate with anybody either."
Continental Real Estate President Carol Brooks said the company is under strict orders from DRA not to talk.
"I really can't say anything at this point. It's not my call. It's up to DRA and they have a lot of other people first in line," she said referring to the company's portfolio investors.
DRA typically advises institutional investors such as pension or diversified fund managers on real estate investments.
"First of all there is no investor or portfolio without there first being tenants and shoppers to make this thing work," said Mr. Giuseppe, who has been a retailer in the Grove since 1981.
DRA's acquisition costs, investment plans and leasing strategy for the Streets of Mayfair are still largely unknown, said at least four business owners at the mall, which opened in 1979. DRA bought the property in June 1998.
In a letter to the landlord this summer, several shop owners voiced concerns over being in the dark about Mayfair's future.
"The seeming unwillingness to communicate even the most basic information to the tenants in and of itself clearly suggests a lack of respect for those same tenants," stated the letter, co-signed by owners of six resident shops, including Uomo, Palm Produce, Out of Africa, Hibiscus Hill, CrepeMaker and Oakfeed Market & Restaurant.
In June, Continental announced plans to transform the upper floors of the east building of Mayfair, home to the Iguana Cantina and Improv Comedy Club & Restaurant, from tourist-oriented retail to mixed-use and commercial.
Under the plan, Mayfair's east building, one of three adjacent buildings in the Grove's business district, would retain the retail element on the first floor while the second, third and fourth levels would be leased for office and possibly residential use.
"I think they're being hard on some of the tenants there to get them to not renew their contracts," said a Coconut Grove hospitality manager who asked not to be identified.
In June, Grove-based advertising firm Crispin Porter & Bogusky announced that early next year it would move its headquarters to the 42,000-square-foot former movie theater on the third floor. That space is still under construction as builders renovate it, removing escalators and installing a second elevator in the mall area.
Next door at the Streets of Mayfair Promenade, retailers say business is down.
"This place used to be busy Sunday to Sunday. But now CocoWalk is killing us," said Leslie Phillips, who works at Out of Africa. "Most people are leaving because the rent is too high for what they can sell now."
He cited dust, debris and lack of advertising.
Several retailers, including the French Connection, are expected to move out of the Promenade next year, store owners and managers said.
"There's been a total breakdown in communication with the property owners. Everything is so secretive that it really bothers me," said Mr. Giuseppe, who said he recently hired a lawyer to litigate for a rent reduction.
Other owners appear to agree.
"Beyond the conveyed disrespect, the-close-to-the-chest management style of Mayfair has begun to erode our confidence in the project's sense of direction," the tenant letter stated.
According to Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton, whose district includes the Grove and who is also a commercial real estate professional, while a property owner has the right to withhold information on business plans for the property, it's not smart policy.
"I think it's a stupid policy not to talk," he said. "I have no idea what's going on over there. They're not talking to anyone.
"They're not part of the community," he said of Mayfair's management. "It's also stupid to ignore the press if you're looking for public customers."
DRA has not responded to tenant complaints, but a recent Continental Real Estate letter to tenants of the Promenade portion denies charges that "communication has not been forthcoming from our management."