The MiMo stretch of Biscayne Boulevard has seen its share of shootings and prostitution. It's not uncommon to find used condoms and crack vials on its sidewalk cracks, just outside dozens of by-the-hour motels.
Only a confused tourist with some lackluster web-research skills would book a Miami weekend in these seedy motels, until now. The slick redesign of one such MiMo motel could change the area's grimy reputation. The renovated New Yorker Boutique Hotel, on 65th Street and Biscayne, is shockingly booked to capacity every weekend.
The strip of seedy motels and empty storefronts from 36th to 87th street has long been considered an aesthetic attraction due to its iconic Miami Modern (MiMo) architecture. Since its designation as a Historic District four years ago, there's been a slow trickle of cafes and restaurants, and some talk of renovating the dilapidated motels. The New Yorker Boutique Hotel is the first to actually do so.
Its powder blue and white hotel features minimalist rooms with '50s accents, poolside Wi-Fi, and a breakfast dining area with a bar. The renovations began a year ago and are still in progress, but the hotel is already completely booked on weekends and three-quarters full during the week. Undoubtedly, tourists are drawn in by the price. Rooms start at $75; it's a much cheaper option than comparable hotels on the beach or Downtown. There's also a convenient shuttle service to the cruise port and South Beach. But the hotel also attracts travelers seeking a different side of Miami, i.e. away from tourist-centric areas.
"When they first come in [some tourists] look at the neighborhood like what the hell did I just come into, and they're freaking out," says owner Shirley Figueroa. "And we have to talk to them and go, look, it's a great neighborhood, there's nice restaurants."
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The original New Yorker Motel was the work of architect Norman Giller who designed over 10,000 Miami buildings and was known as one of the "fathers of Miami Modernism." He designed the building in 1953 during the post-war real-estate boom. Because Biscayne Boulevard extends from U.S. 1, the area was prime territory to develop motels that catered to tourists on road trips. Back then, mainland Miami was as much a destination as South Beach. Motels attracted clientele through ritzy neon signs, large driveways for cruising cars, and space-age architecture.
By the time Shirley Figueroa's parents bought the property 25 years ago, the area had long succumbed to financial depression, and motels that once attracted road-tripping tourists were serving mostly as shelter to Miami's underground economy. After Shirley gave birth to triplets and then fell ill seven years ago, her parents started helping her at home and spent less time at the motel as it fell further into decay.
But dwindling crime rates in the area, coupled with the proximity of newly developed neighborhoods like the Design District and Midtown Miami, sparked the idea of a renovation. Shirley's husband Walter urged her to take over the family business and shortly thereafter, they were calling in favors to friends, taking out loans, etching out their designs, and doing the renovations themselves.
"When you look at the old postcards it's incredible what this place used to be," she says. "This neighborhood has so much potential and nobody really wants to invest in it. Some of the motel owners really don't care. But we want to bring it back to the way it used to be."