Will Miami ever become a metropolis on par with New York, Chicago, Paris, or London? Brad Knoefler hopes so.
But he isn't a condo developer planning to take the city sky-high or a politician hoping to score points. Instead, he's an activist who firmly believes that a great city has more than just tall buildings — namely, stunning green spaces and functional public transit.
"I specialize in adaptive reuse," says the 45-year-old, who owns the Grand Central building downtown. "I've always loved what they do in the Northeast and these older cities where they restore old buildings. They take an old warehouse and make it into a funky club, and that's what I've been doing since I've moved to Miami."
In 2000, Knoefler was working for a telecommunications company in London that was bought out by LVMH, so he moved to Miami. What he found was a city in the midst of a real estate boom and obvious growing pains.
"One of the first projects I had was the building where the Coppertone Girl is now at [7300 Biscayne Blvd.]," he says. "It was a burned-out crackhouse. It was a two-year renovation to restore it."
But he was disappointed to see the city obsessed with shiny new high-rises when there are so many great existing structures around the urban core.
"When I moved to Miami, everyone was [saying], 'Tear down all these buildings, put a high-rise, and let's make a lot of money.' I was like, 'What's wrong with you guys? Do you want the whole city to look like Biscayne Boulevard, with ten-story parking garages and 50-story condo towers?'"
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
So Knoefler poured his activism into his work: To preserve downtown's history, he built a nightclub and offices in the Grand Central building. To promote green space, he turned the abandoned lot where the Miami Arena once stood into Grand Central Park. And to aid the neighborhood, he helped found the Omni Parkwest Redevelopment Association.
Today, a new hub of downtown activity and green space centers around Grand Central. Knoefler's focus: spreading the revolution throughout Miami.
"I used to get angry and complain, but now I do something about it. I'm telling the city this is something that is done in every other city in America. You do it block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood."
Lauren "Lolo" Reskin | The Jills >>