CRAIG ROBINS: PEOPLE THOUGHT MIAMI’S ART
DECO BUILDINGS "SHOULD BE TORN DOWN"

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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.

Dacra CEO Craig Robins portrait
Dacra CEO Craig Robins. Copyright: Dezeen

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.

Ocean Drive, South Beach, Miami
Ocean Drive, South Beach, Miami

"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."

Marlin hotel in South Beach, Miami
Marlin hotel in South Beach, Miami

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."

Cavalier hotel in South Beach, Miami
Cavalier hotel in South Beach, Miami

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."

Webster hotel in South Beach, Miami
Webster hotel in South Beach, Miami

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."

Cardozo hotel in South Beach, Miami
Cardozo hotel in South Beach, Miami

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."

We drove around South Beach in our MINI Cooper S Paceman. The music in the movie is a track called Jewels by Zequals. You can listen to the full track on Dezeen Music Project.

Our MINI Paceman in Miami
Our MINI Paceman on Ocean Drive in Miami
  • Justin

    I just gave Craig Robins some heat about furniture stores and the ridiculous leasing rates in the design district on an earlier post but I’m with him on this one.

    I was very disappointed about some of the comments that Herzog made while in Miami about the deco period buildings stretching down ocean dr. To claim them “stupid” buildings and actually insinuate demolition seems ignorant at best about a city he obviously had no clue about. Those “stupid” buildings, like them or not, put this city on the map and actually played a critical role in the overall redevelopment of Miami.

    So rock on Mr. Robins! But please for the love of Pete don’t turn the design district into another Bal Harbour where only the rich come to play.