Design District Robberies Could Challenge $312 Million Luxury Overhaul

Seven employees were cleaning up Harry's Pizzeria after a slow Monday evening last month when three men grabbed the security guard out front and pushed him inside. A man in a dark hoodie pulled out a semiautomatic handgun and shouted, "Everybody, on the ground!" When 34-year-old pie server Jesus Aguilar was too slow to obey, the robber slugged him with the pistol.

While his cohorts pilfered the employees' pockets, the lead thug grabbed the manager, a 23-year-old North Miami resident named Kristen Miknyoczki. He forced her into the back room, where the restaurant's safe was hidden. But she was too rattled to remember the combination. Fearing the cops were on the way, the trio fled out a back alley.

The harrowing crime at one of the Design District's most popular eateries never made the news, but it has sent a shock wave through the neighborhood just as developer Craig Robins's $312 million makeover is finally coming to fruition. The City of Miami gave Robins the green light to orchestrate a stunning transformation, tearing down buildings to create an open-air, high-end luxury destination with some of fashion's biggest names.

Pat Kinsella

Location Info

Map

Harry's Pizzeria

3918 N. Miami Ave.
Miami, FL 33127

Category: Restaurant > Pizza

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

But since the new luxury stores began opening in October, the Design District and surrounding streets have seen an influx of criminals staking out stores, restaurants, and construction sites. Between November 20 and February 20, there has been one aggravated assault, four robberies, and ten break-ins and thefts in the neighborhood. In addition to the Harry's episode, some of the more eye-popping crimes include:

• thieves lifting $37,495 worth of merchandise from the temporary Louis Vuitton store at 170 NE 40th St. on November 21;

• two men beating up a food delivery driver and taking his cell phone in front of 270 NE 39th St. on December 11; and

• a mugger attacking a Key Largo woman in broad daylight and stealing her $700 Canon camera on NW 38th Street at NW First Avenue on January 14.

As some observers ask whether crime could threaten his bold plan to make the Design District Miami's flossiest retail setting, Robins insists those fears are unfounded. "It concerns me to have any incidents occur in the Design District," says the developer, who spends $1 million annually on security. "Luxury malls and neighborhoods attract a certain amount of crime. However, we have less crime than other major luxury retail properties in South Florida."

Miami Police Commander Manny Morales, whose watch includes Buena Vista, the Design District, and the Upper Eastside, agrees. "The Design District has the lowest rate of incidents involving people crimes like robberies and assaults," Morales says. "It's insulated like a bubble."

The Design District — an area that encompasses 0.2 square miles bounded by NE 38th Street, NE 42nd Street, NE Second Avenue, and North Miami Avenue — was founded in the 1920s by Miami-Dade's pineapple king, T.V. Moore. The larger-than-life pioneer diversified his portfolio by transforming a pineapple plantation on NE 40th Street into what became downtown Buena Vista, anchored by the area's most iconic structure, the Moore Building, which housed Moore's Furniture Company in 1921. Moore went on to build a movie theater and many of the distinct, low-rise warehouse and gallery spaces that have come to define the district's aesthetic.

"Moore created a jewel in the Buena Vista district," says Miami historian Paul George.

A decade later, Moore teamed up with Richard Plummer, an interior decorator to the rich and famous, to make downtown Buena Vista home to the best in home furnishings. Moore rechristened the area the Design District, which thrived for more than a half-century. But in the '80s, the new Design Center of the Americas in Hollywood siphoned away design houses. Many tenantless buildings fell into disrepair, and the neighborhood declined.

Robins, meanwhile, was busy pioneering his own renaissance in South Beach. A Miami Beach native, Robins graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 1987, but he abandoned a legal career to pursue real estate dreams.

Along with his mentor, Tony Goldman, Robins made astute moves in the early '90s to buy rundown hotels and dilapidated apartment complexes on Fifth Street, Ocean Drive, Española Way, and Lincoln Road. Through his company, Dacra, Robins transformed the neo-deco masterpieces that redefined South Beach.

The developer also served on numerous boards and was instrumental in bringing Art Basel to Miami in 2001 and founding the Design Miami fair. By the mid-'90s, Robins had followed Goldman across the bay to conquer a new frontier. While his sensei staked a claim in Wynwood, Robins planted his flag in the Design District.

He discovered the neighborhood in 1991 when he helped a friend buy property there. By 1994, Robins had purchased four buildings totaling 50,000 square feet. A year later, he bought the Moore Building on NE 40th Street. By 1999, he had amassed 18 properties totaling 500,000 square feet of retail space. Today Robins owns 55 parcels that encompass 65 percent of the 18-square-block district.

His first goal was to restore the Design District as the premier destination for interior design. "When I first got here, it was a depressing place," Robins recalls. "I realized the first thing we could do successfully was bring the design houses back."

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7 comments
mikemoskos
mikemoskos

The Design District has the feel of being unsafe, even though it really isn't. BUT, what's unsettling is that there is occasional, random violence and burglaries. I had an office in the Design District from 1998-2003. When I first got there, our office door was locked, with a buzzer and people advised me to keep it locked.  Within a month, I kept the door unlocked and eventually would even keep the door propped open until 'til the wee hours (1 or 2 am). No trouble. Of course, by then, I adopted a street dog who would warn me of any noises outside. Nor did I have any trouble when I took her out walking late at night.  

Frank Castle
Frank Castle

the design district is still in the transformation phase, it was unavoidable that this would happen due to the surrounding area which still is a ghetto but with time since alot of high end shops move in, so will more security and police in the process

johnctripp
johnctripp

I wish it hadn't changed, just like South Beach. Craig Robbins and his jew buddies ruined it for money. Are they happy with the results? Kicking out the old timers, bringing in tacky ass Euro trash brands. All for what? Thanks Craig.

305Native
305Native

It's no surprise crime continues to be a problem in the design district. There is still a lot of poverty in the surrounding neighborhood. It's ridiculous to think that luxury stores and eateries adjacent to such areas would not an easy target for crooks. Also, there is a large transient homeless population due to several shelters near by. 

orientaldecorusa
orientaldecorusa

It is nice to stay positive,  however, the reality is the Miami Design District is surrounded by rough neighborhood.  There are plenty of desperate people who would resort to robbery.  It is more profitable to rob high end fashion brand names than sticking up a gas station or 7/11. 

windmichael21
windmichael21

@305Native true,first the area needs to be made decent,but this is miami and this is just another real estate scam by the people in local real estate looking for victims.

 
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