Efforts to promote downtown meet with success
By Samantha Joseph
A Downtown Miami Partnership effort Saturday to generate interest in the city's business core attracted more than 800 people, organizers said.
Josie Legido-Correa, the group's executive director, said the Downtown Miami Farmers Market, a weekly event planned until May, attracted shoppers who do not typically patronize downtown businesses.
"We were skeptical at first," Ms. Legido-Correa said about the idea to organize a market to sell produce, breads, specialty jams and plants outdoors each Saturday at Miami Avenue and Flagler Street. "But we found that if you give them the right product, people will come downtown."
Marketing material sent to residents in surrounding communities plugged the event as "new and nearby" and invited shoppers to browse neighboring stores such as Starbucks, Burdines and Walgreens.
The farmers market was the latest in a series of programs from the Downtown Miami Partnership, a non-profit organization aimed at promoting and improving the zone between Brickell and the Omni area. The group focuses primarily on the Central Business District, an area with more than 12 million square feet of office space and 3 million square feet of retail.
One effort, the Commercial Fa┴ade Treatment Program, attempts to improve the appearance of buildings in the area for locals as well as 7 million tourists who visit the city each year. The program provides grants of up to $5,000 - up from a maximum of $1,400 in October - to businesses looking to spruce up their showcase windows, paint, pressure clean, or install signs, security shutters and awnings. The city's Department of Community Development sponsors the plan by providing the partnership with about $125,000 to assist businesses.
Blazejack and Co. Real Estate Counselors, a consulting and appraisal firm, benefited from the program, which provided a grant to paint and replace awnings in a one-story building at 655 SW Miami Place, near Tobacco Road and the Miami River.
"I never got anything from the city before," said company representative John Blazejack, who added that he was at first hesitant to apply for the grant.
However, he said, contractors he met through the program not only outbid but also outperformed his regular service provider.
"It's hard to find a good program in the city, but this one was very efficient. They did a really good job," Mr. Blazejack said.
The Downtown Miami Partnership has in the past two years expanded the program through a one-time $70,000 grant from the Miami Dade Empowerment Trust to include businesses in the Omni area. The money has helped repaint 12 buildings, Ms. Legido-Correa said.
"We're trying to get the area ready for the opening of the Performing Arts Center," she said. The Performing Arts Center of Greater Miami is a $370 million project under construction on Biscayne Boulevard between 13th and 14th streets and set to open by early 2006.
The City of Miami Community Redevelopment Agency is expected to provide a further $70,000 to continue refurbishments.
Last year, the partnership opened a welcome center in downtown Miami to give tourists general information on events, major projects in the area, business directories and restaurant guides. The center, at 174 E. Flagler St. in the Gusman Center lobby, also provides Saturday walking tours of downtown.
Other partnership programs include an antique-car show in March and the Best of Miami showcase, which attracted about 1,200 people in July.
Intrepid Real Estate Co., one of three companies that sponsored last year's Best of Miami program, used the event to publicize its residential development, Parc Loft. Marketing and sales associate Jocelyn Bagge said the show generated heavy interest in the property, which since has sold 75% of its units before its groundbreaking, which was scheduled for this month. Parc Loft, set to open early next year, features 72 units priced between $250,000 and $1 million.
"This is a way to put downtown in the spotlight and get people thinking about living in that area again," Ms. Legido-Correa said.
Between 500 and 1,000 people live in the Central Business District, but that is expected to grow to about 7,000 in five years, according to Downtown Miami Partnership project manager Robert Geitner. About 123,000 work in the area.
Details on grants and other programs: (305) 379-7070.