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Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
August 2017

Craft breweries are signing leases near the tracks

TPix_MarkSell_8-17wo microbreweries and a vodka distillery are in a hurry to set up shop in North Miami, just south of 125th Street along the tracks.

That corner of NE 14th Avenue and 125th Street might not offer much to the eye, but Community Redevelopment Agency director Rasha Soray-Cameau is rushing to change that.

“I guarantee you, in one or two minutes, you won’t recognize this place,” she says.

Soray-Cameau is saying that for effect -- one to three years might be more like it -- but her impatience is real and widely shared, as she stuffs her calendar with meetings, calls, and Post-It reminders with businesses, investors, landlords, and city officials hungry for results.

One big hive attracting the bees is a planned train station for All Aboard Florida/Brightline on one of the corners of 125th Street. Bids will start going out this month for a master design of a transit stop, and higher density and redevelopment are sure to follow.

If you’re reading this before August 4 and want to cross the tracks, go north to NE 135th Street or south to NE 108th Street as crews prepare for the new trains connecting Miami to Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and eventually Orlando.

Descarga Brewing Company, headed by Manny Jannes, landed first, on June 13, when the CRA board -- the North Miami City Council -- approved a $150,000 business attraction grant to set up shop on 2800 square feet at 12355 NE 13th Ave., on the west side facing the tracks, with three barrels of production, seating for 60, a 1200-square-foot tasting room, and an outdoor beer garden.

On July 1, Lost City Brewing Company, headed by Diego Escobar, jumped in, signing a five-year lease with a five-year option for 3800 square feet on the east side of the tracks at 12207 NE 13th Ct., with seven barrels. Lost City plans to make its case before the CRA this fall.

In the wings: This Life Forever Inc., a niche Pennsylvania distillery specializing in prize-winning Mishka Honey Vodka, made with three percent honey. Owner Russell Fletcher has been shopping sites in the neighborhood, wants to close by year’s end, and hopes to hire at least ten people. Word is that other craft breweries are sniffing around.

While Jannes and Escobar would like to open yesterday, that’s not happening. Construction has yet to start to convert the Descarga space into warehouse bays suitable for brewing. That must wait until at least the start of the city’s fiscal year, October 1, following the CRA’s September review before the county commission and city budget hearings. Jannes’s landlord, Carla Fernandez, is scrambling to assemble additional contractor bids in preparation for her own appearance before the CRA this fall for construction help.

A more likely scenario is that Descarga will open in the first half of 2018, with Lost City following shortly thereafter, as tenants, owners, and the city go through the sausage-making process of funding, approvals, permits, construction, and inspections.

Says Jannes, who has been microbrewing six years: “This has got to be a forever home to us. It’s incredibly important. We expect the seed we plant here to blossom into something beautiful. We’re starting to see cool things in a one-mile radius. We’re working with Florida International University for brewer internships, and we’ll be doing the kickoff and closing party for Hispanic Heritage Month starting September 7.”

Says Escobar, a local craft beer pioneer who used to own the well-reviewed Abraxas Lounge on South Beach: “We can’t wait to get started. The sooner the application is in, the better. We’re looking forward to this ride.”

The two breweries offer distinct products. Mannes, whose parents are Nicaraguan and Cuban, stresses beers and ales with the pungency and kick of native Latin American plants. Escobar, a onetime Silicon Valley computer engineer who grew up in Bogota, produces smoother, more traditional pilsners and ales. He calls his brewery not a microbrewery but a nanobrewery, turning out about 600 or 700 barrels a year -- about a fifth that of Wynwood Brewery, and far fewer than Funky Buddha, with a foothold in Oakland Park.

Escobar envisions his brewery as event-driven, to drive foot traffic. Jannes plans to partner with restaurants for food delivery and perhaps food trucks, in the manner of Wynwood Yard. Microbrewers consider each other colleagues as much as competitors, believing in critical mass.

Sam Blatt, the city’s economic development director, actually drew Descarga and Lost City to North Miami, and Soray-Cameau has been the contact point for the distillery. One key event in the process was the November brewfest at Florida International University, which the city spent $150,000 to sponsor. Council members, who faced controversy over the expense, cite the craft brewery migration as tentative proof of return on investment.

Blatt and Soray-Cameau stress that these moves are part of a greater North Miami marketing effort.

The city plans to put up banners along 125th Street between NE 6th Avenue and the railroad crossing, with the city’s marketing theme: “To NoMi is to love me,” with the subthemes: “Eccentric,” “Rhythmic,” “Tasteful.”

Eccentric? Not eclectic? Well, name another place where a weave salon, formal wear shops, and dollar stores coexist with the growing array of Midcentury Modern antique stores with $20,000 sofas and celebrity/oligarch/hedge fund clients. And Descarga’s new location is overwhelmed by a brand-spanking-new storage facility now under construction.

To preserve some of this eccentricity, the CRA is using a carrot-and-stick program to pay $7500 to mom-and-pops to use customer-friendly tech platforms -- think Uber Eats -- that People Who Look Down At Their Phones All the Time would appreciate.

The success of Café Crème adjacent to the Museum of Contemporary Art, with its indoor-outdoor seating and full bar and menu, has proved that the right business model can work and draw visitors downtown. MOCA Café, next door, closed earlier this year, and the city is talking with potential tenants, with a particular interest in nightclubs.

Says Blatt: “We’re trying to activate the city’s nightlife and spur some economic activity here. As Wynwood has shown, breweries help activate foot traffic and bring dollars to the community. The cool part of this area is that it’s designated M-1 [manufacturing] and sits in our art and design overlay district. That combination lends itself to concrete, metal roofs, and high ceilings. We’re looking for quality tenants downtown, especially the kind to attract millennials like us looking for things to do. There’s Brickell, Wynwood, and South Beach. We want people to think of North Miami as a destination. Right now, we might not be in the top 20.”

 

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