On a recent Friday morning in downtown Miami, a construction crew was hard at work laying wood flooring, shaping the exterior facade and otherwise preparing for the summer opening of the Langford, a 126-room hotel that is sure to play a role in the latest phase of downtown Miami's revival.
“We're going to give a different experience from the one people are used to in Miami,” said Valentina Rojas of developer Stambul USA. “We're not the beach; it's an urban experience.” For decades, urban experiences weren't much of a selling point in the Magic City, where tourists flocked for the beaches and nightclubs of South Beach but not for citified sophistication. Over the last 15 years, however, downtown Miami has been in transformation. Since 2000, the population of the central business district has tripled, to 14,000 people, while the population of the greater downtown area has doubled, to 80,000 people. With 8,700 more condo units already in the pipeline, Miami's Downtown Development Authority projects the area to have 92,000 residents by 2019.
The growing population of sophisticated young adults, many with disposable incomes, has heralded a cultural transformation in Miami's central core. The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts opened in 2006 several blocks northeast of the central business district. Just to its south, the acclaimed 200,000-square-foot Perez Art Museum opened on the shore of Biscayne Bay in 2013. Nearby, the Frost Museum of Science is under construction. Meanwhile, the number of restaurants in downtown now stands at 400, according to the Downtown Development Authority.
“If you go back 20 years ago, there were no restaurants downtown unless it was in a hotel,” said Robert Hill,the general manager of the area's longtime lodging stalwart, the 34-story Hotel InterContinental.
The InterContinental still stands sentinel over Biscayne Bay and Miami's Bayfront Park. But it was joined by Kimpton's 54-story Epic Hotel & Residences in 2009 and the luxury JW Marriott Marquis in 2010, among other downtown hotels. The Marquis building also features a boutique lodge within a lodge, the Hotel Beaux Arts Miami, on the 39th floor.
Other new or transformed hotels in the greater downtown area include Starwood's Aloft and Yve, a low-key, 242-room property along the north edge of Bayfront Park that offers sleek, modern rooms at rates well below what one could find in an equivalent South Beach lodging.
Downtown Miami's Bayside Park is framed by the InterContinental in the distance and YVE Hotel in the foreground. Photo Credit: Robert Silk
To date, however, the gentrification of Miami's central business district has largely occurred along its eastern edge. Within two blocks of Biscayne Boulevard, the streets bustle with urban energy. To the west of Southeast Second Avenue, they are mostly silent after dark.
The team developing the Langford Hotel is betting that situation is about to change.
“Right now we are pioneers,” General Manager Oscar Suarez said.
But Stambul USA isn't gambling on a wing and a prayer.
The Langford building, which began its life as a City National Bank during Miami's first boom, in the 1920s, sits a block west of that invisible Southeast Second Avenue dividing line. These day, though, a lot is happening around it. On the same block, a 38-story condo building is under construction. A block to the north, Flagler Street is about to undergo a pedestrian-friendly overhaul intended to bring the luster back to what was once one of Miami's prime spots for shopping. The $13 million in improvements will include widened sidewalks and enhanced landscaping.
A few blocks beyond there, the train station for the coming All Aboard Florida passenger rail line from Miami to Orlando will be built in conjunction with 163,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, including a 70-story mixed residential and commercial tower. Meanwhile, filling the gap between the central business district and the museums on Biscayne Boulevard to its northeast will be the massive Miami Worldcenter. The $2 billion development will span 27 acres and eventually include approximately 1,000 housing units, multiple hotels and a shopping mall anchored by Macy's and Bloomingdale's.
Rendering of the lobby of the Langford.
With the Langford slated to open before the end of summer, Suarez said her new lodge will be in an early position to capitalize on the gentrification that is spilling west into Miami's central downtown corridor.
Stambul USA plans to attract visitors to the Langford by preserving the building's historical feel even as it adds hip amenities, including a rooftop bar and an upscale eatery designed to look like a metro station.
Among the Langford's historical touches will be the building's original letter box from City National Bank, which will sit in the reception area. Ornamental mail chutes will be located on each of the other 11 floors. The marble-floor reception area will have the feel of an elegant bank lobby. Elevator doors will use the building's original metal, and the rooms will be outfitted with replicas of the building's original crown molding. In addition, hotel corridors, guestrooms and guest bathrooms will make use of a combination of wood, brick and wallpaper to preserve the 1920s feel.
The Langford's lobby restaurant, to be called PB Station, will be the seventh in Miami for the popular Pubbelly Restaurant Group. The rooftop bar, called Pawnbroker, will have its own entrance and will be the site of local cultural events, Suarez said.
“Our demographic is a sophisticated traveler who appreciates luxury but doesn't necessarily want to stay in a Four Seasons,” he said.