To anyone who’s been around long enough, it’s an astonishing sight: Half of CocoWalk, the open-air mall that was once the toast of Miami, reduced to rubble to make way for the newest thing in pleasure-seeking Coconut Grove.
Just as the faux-Mediterranean mall redefined the Grove in the ‘90s as a magnet for mass tourism and big-chain shopping, food and fun, the cleanly contemporary new CocoWalk that will rise from the dust of demolition augurs yet another turn in the quaint hamlet’s never-ending series of transformations.
The Cheesecake Factory, Fat Tuesday and Victoria’s Secret are vamoose (though the Gap and the Cinepolis movie theaters remain). In their place will be an entirely fresh roster of restaurants, mixed with new boutiques and personal services like a spa and hair salon. Those will be located in half of the original mall, radically refaced and redubbed Two CocoWalk. A glassy five-story office building, One CocoWalk, will be set across a tree-shaded public plaza that’s to replace the mall’s ungainly old central pavilion.
But it’s not just CocoWalk that’s getting a reset.
Big changes are afoot all across the Grove’s compact commercial heart, a one-time redoubt of Bohemian chic that in recent years has experienced a sharp, unhappy comedown. Overshadowed by the hip, youthful allure of Brickell, Midtown and Wynwood, the Grove commercial district had become a maze of vacant stores, shuttered restaurants and lifeless sidewalks.
Now the cool and the interesting are popping up all around, as long-in-the-making plans by new property and business owners begin to bear fruit. The upshot, they say, will be a Grove revitalized by a blend of renovations and denser, infill construction — an urban work-and-lifestyle village with a distinctly local focus.
And while not everyone in the often-cantankerous Grove is happy about the alterations to the landscape, others have embraced the changes as long overdue.
“I don’t think anyone can say the Grove five or 10 years ago was a place anyone wanted to be,” said Michael Comras, a developer and broker who helped engineer the revival of Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road and is now significantly invested in the village center’s turnaround.
“In two years, it will be transformed. It will be vibrant. A place where people want to go. All that’s happening, it’s lifting the whole village.”
The most obvious signs of change center around its principal intersection, where CocoWalk sits and Main Highway, Grand Avenue and McFarlane Road meet.
Kitty-corner from CocoWalk, on the corner of Main and McFarlane, a set of revamped shops is now home to new-breed retailers Bonobos and Warby Parker, which essentially function as showrooms; clothes and eyeglasses are delivered to shoppers’ homes.
Next door is a brand-new, two-level outlet of Miami literary stalwart Books & Books, with a coming wine bar. Mere steps away is another newcomer, Belgian boulangerie Le Pain Quotidien. They join a lineup carefully picked by their landlords, the family of Grove-based architects Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Laurinda Spear, with the help of Comras. Other outlets include Panther Coffee, Juicense and chef Michael Schwartz’s Harry’s Pizzeria.
Now under construction behind the shops: A hotel on stilts that will bear the Mr. C brand, an offshoot of the Cipriani family of Venice fame. It’s the first new hotel in the Grove in years, and the first of what could be three new boutique hotels in the center Grove catering to upscale, urbane visitors. A few blocks east, the Ritz-Carlton hotel is set for a $10 million refresh under a new owner.
When it opens this winter season, the 100-room Mr. C Coconut Grove, designed by Fort-Brescia’s and Spear’s Arquitectonica and developed by a family company, will boast a rooftop pool, restaurant and cabanas overlooking Peacock Park and Biscayne Bay. At ground level, beneath the elevated hotel, will be a garden courtyard and lobby and bar.
Fort-Brescia’s hope is that Mr. C, in conjunction with the adjoining shops, will serve both as a full-fledged urban waterfront resort for guests — there will be a motorboat for their use at nearby Dinner Key — and as a hangout for Grove residents.
“It’s almost like a club for the neighborhood where people can just stumble in and relax,” Fort-Brescia said. “There is no place like that in Coconut Grove. It’s a restaurant that happens to have a hotel.”
By the same token, said Comras, who is also a minority partner in the CocoWalk redevelopment with Maryland-based Federal Realty and the Grove’s Grass River Property, the overhauled mall would again become “the place to be” for locals, though the focus will be far less on tourists than it once was.