Miami Gardens courts retail boom

Construction activities are well under way at Palmetto Gardens Plaza,
which broke ground just weeks before the economic meltdown that has all
but frozen the credit markets.

The developer, Miami-based investment firm DZD Holdings, is betting
three key real estate fundamentals — location, location and location —
will buoy the $19.8 million, 107,000-square-foot retail center when it
comes online in 2010. Palmetto Gardens Plaza is located in the recently-incorporated Dade County City of Miami Gardens.

“The local residents badly need retail and restaurants,” said Jodi
Macken, principal of Macken Realty, the exclusive listing agent for the
plaza, noting that the likes of Chili’s, Starbucks, Brandsmart and El
Dorado furniture have moved into the area to fill part of the void.
“Residents have to drive 15 or 20 minutes to find a mall that offers
everything they need.”

Located right off the Palmetto Expressway at Exit 37, Palmetto Gardens
Plaza will be the largest shopping center in retail-poor Miami Gardens.
The strategic location offers tenants 100 percent frontage along North
Dade’s major east-west traffic artery, with exposure to over 118,000
cars every day.

“We are all speculating on how the market will do with any type of
product,” said Michael Lepera, vice president of commercial lending at
National City Bank, which provided the construction loan to DZD
Holdings. “But it seems to be somewhat stable in the retail sector, as
long as you have the right location, and this is an excellent location.”

Miami Gardens, a five-year-old city with a population of 105,000, has
long been overlooked by developers. But developers are beginning to
flock to the north-central town that’s smack dab between Fort
Lauderdale and Miami. The 20-square-mile Miami Gardens is officially
Dade County’s third-largest city, home to Dolphin Stadium (home of the
Miami Dolphins) and Calder Race Track.

Miami Gardens was once known for its dangerous streets and drive-by
shootings. But the city is undergoing something of a revitalization.
There was never much beyond mom-and-pop retailers in this predominantly
African-American community until last year, when a Starbucks overtook a
strip club location. Chili’s, Ross, Bank of America and Foot Locker
also moved in.

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Now, the city is welcoming about 20 new businesses a month. Miami
Gardens, though, wants to attract more national brands to its urban
city. Daniel Rosemond, director of the City of Miami Gardens’ Community
Development Department said the city has identified the retail voids
and is aggressively marketing to national retailers that make a good
match for Miami Gardens. Specific targets include Applebee’s, Smokey
Bones and Bealls.

“We see the down economy as a disadvantage, but we’re telling our story
anyway and hopefully when national chains make site-selection decisions
they’ll consider Miami Gardens,” Rosemond said. “We have the
demographics consuming national brand retailer goods and services in
our city. We just don’t have the national brand retailers here.”

Rosemond is bullish on Palmetto Gardens Plaza. Prospective tenants
include retail banks, restaurants, drug stores, apparel outlets and
furniture showrooms. The project is more than 30 percent pre-leased to
restaurants, national brand retailers and mom-and-pop shops, according
to Macken. Despite the economic downturn, Macken is also optimistic
about the possibilities.

“Miami Gardens never reached a saturation level that we see in West
Dade or Broward or all the way east,” Macken said. “There are hundreds
of single-family homes thrown in the mix of a few huge retailers, but
there are no services people need, like dry cleaners, convenience
stores and entertainment centers.”

The project offers a contemporary design with wide covered
pedestrian walkways, plenty of parking and prominent signage for
tenants. The L-shaped shopping center includes a 20,000-square-foot
detached parcel that will serve as a lighting and design center.

“Miami Gardens has the ability to pull off a very successful retail
corridor,” said Charles Wetzel, COO of Austin-based Buxton, a retail
real estate consultant that completed a study for the southern city.
“Retailer begets retail, and Miami Gardens is taking a strategic
approach to selecting retailers that match its needs.”