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Written by Jay Beskin -- BT Contributor   
March 2013

You want adult entertainment? Try the Shoppes at the Waterways

LPix_JayBeskin_3-13ong before the loquacious former Congressman Barney Frank became synonymous with financial reform, he was known for something else. As a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Frank sought to confine all of Boston’s adult entertainments into a single red-light zone. He was not successful.

Cognizant that the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits municipalities from excluding adult-entertainment establishments within their borders, the first Aventura city commission (of which I was a member)  took up Frank’s idea by rather creatively -- indeed, brazenly -- zoning a red-light district in an area in plain sight of everyone who lives or visits our city.

Our adult district is roughly that area abutting the east side of Biscayne Boulevard at NE 187th Street, fronting the outdoor mall formerly known as Loehmann’s Fashion Island and soon to be known as Town Center Aventura. Currently the zone’s only occupant is the new PNC Bank branch; the rest is parking lots.

Our adult district was designed to pretty much ensure that no adult business would ever worm its way into the City of Excellence. It was inconceivable that the owner of the mall, which holds the land in the red-light district, would permit adult uses there. What’s more, there isn’t enough square footage in the district to sustain an adult establishment of any appreciable size.

No establishments called Pure Gold or Dollhouse will ever grace our city. Nor will our commission ever be burdened by the unpleasant matters that occasionally surface in Hallandale Beach or North Miami Beach, where the latter’s city council was forced recently to decide whether to permit adult entertainers to appear sans clothing. The North Miami Beach council ultimately determined that full nudity is indeed permissible in that city, on the theory that it creates jobs and benefits the local economy.

The Aventura City Commission never addressed the financial aspects of adult entertainment, but one might plausibly make the case that if the PNC Bank tellers go topless, a lot of banking business would be attracted to our city. But that won’t happen, and there will be no lewd and lascivious activity that will taint what is happening at the PNC Bank.

Sometime after the adult entertainment matter was put to bed, the Aventura commission turned its attention to creating a town center out of barren Loehmann’s Fashion Isle. Taking its cue from the modern school of urban planning, which emphasizes the desirability of pedestrian-oriented daytime, evening, and weekend activity centers incorporating a mix of low- and medium-scale uses and amenities, the commission, working with the then-owner of the mall, Prudential Insurance Company, rezoned the mall to provide for mixed-use office, residential, and retail.

The redevelopment commenced, and then the redevelopment ceased. After the construction of the Venture condominium building and some rebuilding of the mall itself on the southeastern corner, the economy collapsed, and the vision for the town center was never fulfilled.

Several years ago, Turnberry Associates purchased Loehmann’s Fashion Island from Prudential, and now, presumably, Turnberry will try to create a town center, as the new name implies. Turnberry’s website states that the revitalized center will have a new architectural design, “lush landscaping and enhanced streetscapes, a gazebo for afternoon and evening events” and improved pedestrian and traffic flow. It will house nationally branded restaurants and retailers, including a Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th outlet.

This is all out of the mixed-use playbook and has become pretty standard stuff. One can only hope for its success, but a betting man wouldn’t put odds on it.

For, in certain respects, this appears to be merely another attempt to rejigger a mall that has proven immune to numerous attempts at revitalization through the years. National stores and restaurants by themselves won’t do it. For a town center to thrive, it must become a neighborhood. And to see how that works, we only need look across town, at the Shoppes at the Waterways, in the northern end of the city.

The Shoppes were intended as an amenity for the residents of the condominiums and town homes surrounding the Waterways Marina. Those residents can gain access to the Shoppes by a walkway bordering the marina. Although the development has undistinguished architecture, it does feature two large restaurant spaces fronting the marina, lots of outdoor tables and seating, a clock tower, a faux lighthouse, and a gazebo in the waterway, connected to the center by a pedestrian bridge. (No doubt the gazebo has been used for adult entertainment of the noncommercial variety.)

The Shoppes evolved organically, both literally and figuratively, without city government involvement. For a long time, the Shoppes housed a coffee shop and an ice cream parlor. Its main attraction was the Unicorn market and restaurant, one of the largest health-food emporiums in the area.

The Unicorn was a unique purveyor, attracting customers from all over northeast Dade, especially the younger types who worked out, or pretended to, at the Bally’s gym next door. The customers, intermingling with Waterways residents, would linger a while to enjoy the marina view and perhaps a coffee or an ice cream outdoors.

Although the Unicorn market and restaurant have closed, crowds continue to enliven the Shoppes both day and night, despite the absence of any nationally recognized retailers or restaurateurs. The kosher market Sarah’s Tent took the place of the Unicorn, and four kosher restaurants have opened their doors. That, together with an Orthodox synagogue, a meeting place for young Jewish singles called Space, and regular outdoor entertainment by an Israeli performer, have begot an ethnic enclave of sorts, a place where people of similar cultural and religious identity gather, kibitz, and enjoy entertainment.

The local merchants, without the benefit of sophisticated marketing studies, keenly understand the needs and wants of their customers. Whatever the new Town Center Aventura attempts to do, the Shoppes at the Waterways currently is Aventura’s true town center.

Intuitively, this is a puzzling phenomenon, for the Shoppes do not possess the upscale image for which Aventura is famous. A number of the storefronts, including the two restaurants on the marina, are vacant. The parking lot is dismal and bleak, marked by little landscaping, light poles that don’t work, and knocked-down traffic signs lying on the ground.

An engineer who resides in the Waterways opines that the bridge to the gazebo is in significant disrepair and an unsafe structure. None of this seems to bother the patrons.

If the new Town Center Aventura, with all its national brands, fails to take off, future developers might look to the Shoppes for a blueprint for success: Go downscale. Perhaps even a little adult entertainment right in its front yard?


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