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McClatchy-Tribune  06/16/2014 1:10 AM ET
A new era for the evolving Lincoln Road [The Miami Herald :: ]

June 16--Stroll down Lincoln Road and, as you shop, dine and people-watch, you'll find an urban metamorphosis taking shape.

New York-based institutional investors are buying up properties at record prices, and tenant rents are skyrocketing. Major national and international retailers are setting up shop, with a huge, two-story Gap store about to open on Friday, and Athleta and Intermix alongside it. New sites are under construction for Apple and Zara. Soon, Lululemon will open, as will Zadig & Voltaire and Kiko Milano, an Italian cosmetics brand. Bebe, Kiehl's and Melissa Shoes will move to new spots. And more eateries will emerge, like the Las Vegas-based Sugar Factory and the Argentine gelateria Freddo, while Laduree, the fancy French macaron shop, will add an ice cream and champagne bar with outdoor seating.

Insiders say other prospective national tenants like Nike, Abercrombie & Fitch and Old Navy have been circling the promenade, hoping to land a spot. The British brand Topshop may not be far behind as retailers and restaurants pour out to side streets, expanding the corridor that runs from Alton Road to the ocean, into a broader district.

Lincoln Road is in transition after decades of ups and downs dating from its 1920s origins. Through the early 1950s, elite department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bonwit Teller lined the street and women paraded by, dressed in fur coats. After falling into decline, the street has been on an upswing since the 1990s. Now, with a resurgence of investor and tenant interest, Lincoln Road is evolving into a new phase -- and booming.

"It is squarely in the sights of every major, exciting retail operator around the world, and the demand for locations on Lincoln Road has never been higher," said Stephen Bittel, founder and chairman of Miami Beach-based Terranova Corp. Since December 2010, Terranova has bought several properties on Lincoln Road in a joint venture with New York-based Acadia Realty Trust, making it the street's largest owner of retail property.

In the realm of commercial real estate, Lincoln Road has taken its place among the most regaled "high streets" of the world, experts say.

"It's our Champs-elysees," said Steven Gombinski, president of the Lincoln Road Property Owners Association and owner of 900 Lincoln Road, a corner building he has restored to its original historical design. Formerly the site of Pasha's, it will become Bebe's new flagship store in November.

And if you wonder what other retailers are coming in the future: "Look at Aventura Mall's tenant list and see who is not here," said Miami Beach-based commercial real estate broker and developer Michael Comras.

As South Florida's economy benefits from a flurry of tourists, with a record 14.2 million overnight visitors to Miami-Dade County in 2013, Lincoln Road's rise in value is taking place amid a retail explosion. Across the causeway, the Design District is transforming into a luxury shopping destination and Aventura Mall is expanding. Farther south, Dadeland Mall has recently added a new wing, and plans are unfolding for major complexes near downtown Miami -- Brickell City Centre and Miami WorldCenter.

On Lincoln Road, prices are now entering another stratosphere, reaching $5,000-per-square foot for building purchases, and $300 or more per square foot for rent, as New York-based buyers like Acadia, with Terranova, Imperium Capital, Crown Acquisitions and Vornado Realty Trust scoop up sites and sign leases with well-known national and international tenants. Amid demand for space, new stores are rising to two stories.

The influx signifies the next stage in a transition that began about 15 years ago, when major national tenants first started flocking to the road. Today, fewer than half the tenants are local brands.



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