Dezeen and MINI World Tour: property developer Craig Robins discusses his role in transforming Miami’s South Beach from a rundown retirement village into a glamorous holiday destination in this movie filmed during Design Miami last year. Update: this interview is featured in Dezeen Book of Interviews, which is on sale now for £12.
Craig Robins, CEO of property development company Dacra, was born in Miami and started acquiring properties in South Beach in the 1980s while still studying law at university.
"We had the largest collection of historical Art Deco structures in the same place in the world," he says of South Beach. "It was very rundown: it had become a retirement village for an elderly population that was dying off and there was a crack epidemic. There were a lot of people that thought the buildings should be torn down."
He continues: "There was a group of us that thought that, not only should they be preserved, but that they could really become this incredible legacy that Miami could offer to the world. So I began my career figuring out how to adaptively reuse these great historical structures."
This was an unusual approach to property development in America at the time, Robins claims.
"[South Beach has] much more of a European feel," he explains. "The structures are smaller, the neighbourhood is pedestrian-friendly, which in Miami is almost non-existent."
Many of the Art Deco hotels along South Beach’s iconic Ocean Drive and the surrounding area were refurbished by Robins together with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell in the 1990s.
"Chris had sold Island and wanted to begin doing hotels," Robins explains. "He and I did a lot of investing in the South Beach area together. From Chris I learned to produce creativity, because he was approaching real estate much more like a guy who made records, who worked with artists and ended up with a great creative product. That was the way we approached the buildings we were doing, and that’s still true for me today."
Many of the buildings that Robins and Blackwell bought and renovated were quickly sold on again.
"Part of what we realised was that sometimes it was better for someone else to own a property so that the neighbourhood had this collaborative, competitive spirit where everybody was expressing themselves in their own way," he says. "Gloria and Emilio Estefan bought the Cardozo from us very early on and did a beautiful job with it."
He concludes: "It’s kind of the opposite to what Disney World does. The whole idea about Disney World is to give you a fantasy with something that’s fake. Our business model is to do something that’s real."