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As Art Basel approached its fourth decade, it had become the world’s premier show for modern and contemporary works. The fair, which launched in 1970 and is held each June in its namesake Swiss town, was drawing about 50,000 visitors from around the world to view and purchase art displayed by some 300 galleries. The event was so successful that organizers decided to launch a second Art Basel—in winter, in a different part of the world.

In stepped a cadre of extremely wealthy and influential art collectors from Miami. They included Norman Braman, a car-dealership magnate and a former owner of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, and Craig Robins, the CEO of the real estate development company Dacra, which was largely responsible for revitalizing Miami’s South Beach District in the 1990s by restoring the neighborhood’s art deco landmarks. Why not stage an Art Basel in Miami? Braman, Robins, and others were tired of their city being labeled as God’s Waiting Room or the Catskills South and of its reputation as a flashy and unrefined destination where crime and pastels were rampant and culture was scarce. If these art collectors could bring Basel to the beach, it could change Miami’s image forever and signal its status as a hub of sophistication.

The logistics favored Miami. The city offered an abundance of hotel rooms, a convention center with 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, direct flights from virtually every major city, and warm winter weather and wide beaches that lured Americans and Europeans from thousands of miles away. 

The Swiss were sold on Miami, and so every December since 2002 (the initial show was scheduled for 2001 but was canceled because of 9/11), the city has hosted what has become the most breathlessly awaited art fair in the New World. The four-day event is circled on the calendar of every major curator, museum director, and collector. Like the original Art Basel, the Miami Beach version draws some 50,000 visitors

with a program of cutting-edge artwork and glitzy jet-set parties. “Art Basel generates a great deal of excitement,” says the Miami resident and renowned photographer Bob Adelman. “It’s the collision of glamour, intellect, and money. It’s a great place to bring your yacht.”

For Braman, who serves as the chairman of the fair’s host committee and owns an art collection that includes Picassos, Calders, and Warhols, Art Basel Miami Beach is a more enjoyable venture than the Eagles ever were. He calls the fair “the Super Bowl of art,” but that is where the favorable comparisons between art and football end for the 81-year-old Braman, who was once a water boy for the Eagles before he became a billionaire and, in 1985, bought the team. (He sold the Eagles in 1994, when he was already living in Miami.) “It is much easier to own an art collection than a professional football team,” he says with a laugh. “You don’t have the pressure. Pro football was 365 days a year, lots of sleepless nights. Collecting art is much more pleasant.”

For Robins, a 50-year-old Miami native, the launching of Art Basel Miami Beach has meant more than prestige or the gratitude of local art lovers. It has lent credibility to his company’s reclamation projects. Art and artists have been key components of the strategy he has employed in resuscitating the city’s derelict buildings and giving them new life as boutique hotels and retail shops. These include the buildings in the Miami Design District, a once-abandoned neighborhood that Robins has transformed into a gallery center for contemporary design and art. In December, the district hosts the annual Design Miami fair, which Robins cofounded. The development also includes hip restaurants and some 50 upscale retailers purveying everything from watches to bathroom fixtures.

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As Braman and Robins hoped it would, Art Basel Miami Beach has helped transform the way the city is perceived. Increasingly it is recognized as a sophisticated luxury destination, with art galleries, museums, and performance halls, and new high-end boutiques, restaurants, and hotels. The newest hotels include the first U.S. property from Como Hotels and Resorts, Metropolitan by Como, Miami Beach—which was scheduled to open in January (after Robb Report went to press) in a 1930s building located in the heart of the city’s Art Deco District—and the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, which opened in 2012. The St. Regis features a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant, a 14,000-square-foot spa, a private white-sand beach with cabanas and daybeds, and two outdoor infinity pools adjacent to the beach. It is located just minutes from South Beach and directly across from Bal Harbour Shops, a luxury shopping mall in the namesake village at the north end of Miami Beach.

Nearly 50 years ago, Stanley Whitman demonstrated his belief that Miami could be a luxury destination when he opened Bal Harbour Shops. “People are used to traveling to Miami to spend money,” he says. “If you want people to spend a lot of money, they have to travel. The farther they go, the more they’ll spend.”

Today, Bal Harbour Shops comprises about 100 boutiques, including Tom Ford, Céline, and Givenchy shops that are sheltered within Neiman Marcus, and Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Pucci stores set within Saks Fifth Avenue. The Chanel boutique is said to generate $40 million in annual revenue by itself. Whitman, who is 95 but looks decades younger, claims that his mall generates more sales revenue per square foot than any other store, boutique, or gallery in the world.

Lucrative as Bal Harbour Shops may be, some of the high-rise condos being built or planned promise to generate far more revenue per square foot. Among these is the Porsche Design Tower, a 60-story cylindrical skyscraper that was designed with motoring buffs in mind. When the building is completed in 2016, apartment owners will be able to step from their cars almost directly into their living rooms—even if they live on the top floor: High-speed elevators will lift residents and their cars to their garage located adjacent to their residence.

Faena House, an 18-story condo from the Argentine developer Alan Faena, will have 47 one- to five-bedroom units, all with huge wraparound balconies, and a two-level penthouse with its own rooftop infinity pool. Prices range from $2.5 million for a single unit to $50 million for the penthouse. The building is scheduled to be completed this fall.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize–winning Zaha Hadid, renowned for the futuristic, curvy shapes of her buildings, is planning a 60-story residential skyscraper, dubbed One Thousand Museum, for downtown Miami. Apartments will cost from $5 million to $15 million, and the two-story penthouse will be priced at $45 million or more.

This construction boom has more to do with the economic recovery than the city’s cultural awakening, but one of the developers of the new condos hopes to capitalize on Miamians’ preoccupation with art. The Argentine developer and art collector Eduardo Costantini is courting buyers at his Oceana Bal Harbour by offering shared ownership of two works by Jeff Koons, the New York–based artist famous for producing high-art versions of everyday objects. Costantini purchased the larger-than-life works Ballerina (Seated) and Pluto and Proserpina last year for $14 million and plans to display them at Oceana Bal Harbour when it is completed in 2016. Ballerina (Seated) evokes some of Koons’s balloon-animal-inspired work. Pluto and Proserpina, depicting the capture of Proserpina by Pluto, is a gold-colored chrome work that stands 11 feet tall. Before settling into its new home with its new owners in Miami, Pluto and Proserpina will be lent to the Whitney Museum in New York for a Koons retrospective.

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While Art Basel Miami Beach is the city’s best-known art fair, it is not the only one that takes place during Art Week, the first week in December; there are many. And Art Basel Miami Beach was not the first Miami art fair to be taken seriously and attract international attention, says Nick Korniloff, who is the director of Art Miami, an organization that oversees a number of the city’s art fairs. That honor belongs to his organization’s namesake contemporary- and modern-art fair, which was first held in 1989. “It was a totally different world from what it is today,” he says. “Art was not the global, high-quality investment it is today. People bought great art in New York or Paris or London, not right off the beach.”

As Korniloff speaks, he leads the way through Wynwood Walls, an outdoor exhibit of vibrant murals painted on exterior walls. The exhibit was conceived by the late Tony Goldman, a real estate developer who helped revitalize Manhattan’s SoHo in the 1970s. In the early 2000s, he began revamping Midtown Miami’s Wynwood warehouse district, known now as the Wynwood Arts District, by inviting some of the world’s best-known street artists to use the area’s large stock of windowless warehouse buildings as canvases. “Wynwood is a great example of the power of art to elevate,” says Korniloff. “This used to be a very dangerous neighborhood. Now there are cafés and stores and galleries all around, and Wynwood is one of the city’s most popular destinations.”

Wynwood is especially popular during Art Week, when as many as 65,000 collectors, curators, museum professionals, and art enthusiasts from around the world visit the complex that houses the Art Miami fair. A sibling show to Art Miami is Context, which hosts 65 international galleries in an adjacent 45,000-square-foot space. In February, the district hosts the Art Wynwood International Contemporary Art Fair. Held at the same time as the nearby Miami boat show, the fair attracted more than 26,500 visitors last year.

The success of Art Basel and Miami’s other art fairs spawned a new paradigm; Miamians always knew their city was fun, but who knew it could also be so refined? In 2006 a public-private partnership built the half-billion-dollar Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the nation’s second-largest performing arts complex after New York’s Lincoln Center. Art was emerging not just as something to appreciate, but as a social and economic force, raising the stakes on every aspect of the Miami cityscape, from car parks to concert halls. Thus arose 1111 Lincoln Road, the fanciful parking garage from the avant-garde Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron that contains upscale retailers and hosts a variety of social events. In December, Herzog & de Meuron celebrated the completion of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which overlooks Biscayne Bay. Frank Gehry’s concert hall for Miami’s New World Symphony opened to critical acclaim in 2011, and that same year another public-private partnership broke ground on the Miami Art Museum.

Art is everywhere in Miami now, says Korniloff. “Miamians talk about art. We think about art. When you go to someone’s home you expect to see art. If you want to show off, you do it with art.”

1111 Lincoln Road, www.1111lincolnroad.com; Art Basel Miami Beach, www.artbasel.com; Art Miami, www.art-miami.com; Bal Harbour Shops, www.balharbourshops.com; Design Miami, www.designmiami.com; Faena House, www.faenamiamibeach.com; Metropolitan by Como, Miami Beach, www.comohotels.com; Miami Design District, www.miamidesigndistrict.net; Oceana Bal Harbour, www.oceanaresidences.com; One Thousand Museum, www.1000museum.com; Porsche Design Tower, www.porsche-design.com; St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, www.stregisbalharbour.com; Wynwood Arts District, www.wynwoodmiami.com

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