Over its approximately 100-year history, downtown Miami’s post office building has been home to a federal courthouse, the Miami Weather Bureau and most recently, an Office Depot.
After standing empty for at least a half-dozen years, the circa-1912 building is about to get a new tenant befitting of its stature on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The building at 100 NE 1st Ave, a block north of Flagler Street, will be the home of the first American Institute of Architects’ Miami Center for Architecture & Design. The center aims to be a community meeting space and destination for anyone interested in architecture and design. The center will include exhibit and gallery space, host lectures and serve as the launching point for guided architecture walking tours throughout Downtown Miami. While this will be the first of its kind in Florida, there are similar centers in other major urban centers like Chicago, New York City and San Francisco.
“The idea is that this becomes the place for both residents and tourists to go who are interested in learning about the city of Miami and its architecture,” said Alejandro Silva, president of AIA’s Miami chapter and principal of Silva Architects in Coral Gables. “We felt it was important to be in the downtown core area and engage with the city in a meaningful way. We were looking for a prominent space and a building that should tell part of the story of the city of Miami.”
The Neoclassical Revival building underwent a multi-million dollar renovation to bring it back to its original grandeur.
Owner Scott Robbins, who purchased the building more than a decade ago for $2.5 million, says he kept it empty for years because he couldn’t find the right tenant. Efforts to sell the property were unsuccessful because of the economy and what, until recently, was a lack of interest in Downtown Miami.
“We didn’t want to just go with a traditional low-end tenant,” said Tony Arellano of Metro 1 Commercial, the broker who represented Robbins. “We wanted to find something we believed would make improvements to the building and the urban core.”
The Miami Center for Architecture & Design will take up less than 20 percent of the 36,000 square-foot building, but Robbins expects it to help him lease the remainder of the space to related users.
“You create more value when a building has a purpose,” Robbins said. “Hopefully we can lure other top architects and engineering firms who will see the value of being part of an architecture building.”
The AIA hopes to move in later this year. The group has a budget of $300,000 for the project but is also seeking pro bono contributions from its members and grants.
Miami’s Downtown Development Authority is helping the project get off the ground with a $50,000 grant, which will go toward both renovation and initial operating expenses.
“Part of this idea is to get people to understand that Downtown Miami has a lot of historic gems that people don’t notice,” said Alyce Robertson, executive director of the DDA. “We have a lot of very interesting architectural history that’s still in place.”