As one of Miami Beach’s first residents, Stanley Whitman has been a part of many of the changes throughout the city’s history. He compares the brand new Brickell CityCentre to his legendary Bal Harbour Shops and applies lessons he learned as a first-time developer to Miami’s contemporary scene.
Stanley: I can tell you real quick and you won’t believe it. Miami Beach was a sandbar with most of it a mangrove swamp and it looked like God had forgotten it. You could complain about what’s been done in the development, but you should have seen it before it was developed. At that time we really owned basically all of the ocean frontage from the Pancoast to 29th Street to the Firestone Estate. It was a wonderful way for a kid to grow up.
ARQ: How did you all get your supplies? Was there a grocery store on that side at that time or did you have to go to Miami for supplies?
Stanley: Well, the telephone book for Miami Beach was about that thick, and in that telephone book was Whitman’s Kosher Meat Market, so that’s all I can tell you about grocery stores.
ARQ: Did you take a boat over to Miami when you had to go into town?
Stanley: Well, my parents, they came to the beach right after Karl Fischer finished the bridge, and they rented a home from the Belchers, the oil people, at 5th and Ocean Drive. So I’m a South Beach redneck.
ARQ: Where were your parents before they came to the beach? Were they up north?
Stanley: They were from Chicago. My father was a printer. He was one of the biggest printers in the country. He did the Sears Roebuck catalog and Montgomery Ward. Sears was probably bigger than Wal-Mart is today. It’s a nice place to be from. Lovely people. Horrible climate.
ARQ: And before air conditioning.
How do you think that Brickell CityCentre will affect, say, Miami Beach, or the Design District, which has a lot of draw right now? How do you think that Brickell is going to affect the tourist landscape in terms of shopping?
Stanley: Well, what happens is the tourists arrive at the airport and they get into their transportation, because they’re staying in hotels on Miami Beach. So that’s why Bal Harbour is just an extension of Miami Beach; we’ve always had the high-end retailing. Your mother knows that downtown Miami had an opportunity—they had Burdines and it was Richards where they could have had a core, but it never happened and Miami never got any fancy New York luxuries. Of course, back then there weren’t such a thing as designers, so what Swire would do, Brickell CityCentre is now, and in just a few years Brickell’s gotten all of these hotels. There hasn’t been anything like that in Miami, and there’s a lot more hotels coming, and they’ve got this urban feel where people walk around, and so they’ll get tourist business. The base will be the business travelers.
ARQ: When my mother was little, she tells me, they would go down to Lincoln Road because it had Saks and De Pinna.
Stanley: De Pinna was one of my stores.
ARQ: I didn’t know that.
Stanley: That’s why I’m sitting here. Because I knew, a young man in real estate and having property on Lincoln Road, I knew how well luxury stores could do with tourists, so here I am. As I told you, I haven’t gone anywhere else with it because you can’t get the tourists. That’s what opens the Brickell thing.
ARQ: Tourists are saving our community and keeping it a viable, flourishing community. There wouldn’t be any development without them.
Stanley: Tourists are what make Miami go round and round.
ARQ: They do.
Stanley: It would be a really southern town without the tourists.
ARQ: Which Saks Fifth Avenue does better, the Saks in Bal Harbour or the one in Dadeland?
Stanley: Oh, much better here. There’s no comparison. And on the luxury end of the scale, its going to be us and Brickell CityCentre. That’s all she wrote.
ARQ: Mother loves to tell the story of how she would talk to her friends and they would all say, “Oh, Stanley, he’s such a dreamer. He’s got that parking lot and he’s getting 50 cents a car at the parking lot and he’ll never build anything.” They loved to tell each other that.
Stanley: That’s very interesting because the whole theory of shopping centers from day one was, number one, people would prefer to shop where they live, as opposed to where they work. That was number one. Number two, free parking. And we opened and charged for parking. No shopping center did that. The customers were enraged. I am not stretching the rubber band. They seriously tried to run over our cashiers, and you know, after five years in the Navy, I’m used to vulgar, profane language. I never heard anything like these nice ladies. Unbelievable. But the reality is, when I started charging for parking, all of my consultants said, “We can’t back you on that. If you charge for parking, you’re flying on your own. We have nothing to do with it.” Well, number one, there is no free parking on my street. There ain’t no such thing. And number two, the parking lot that I had that you’re talking about, that’s the first thing I did after I bought the property. I found out real quick the parking lot was filled up with clerks on Harding Avenue and the hotel workers from the Americana across the street. There wouldn’t be any customer parking if we hadn’t charged, it would all be taken up. There was no choice. But nobody saw that.
ARQ: All the workers would have come in early and taken all the spaces. Does the parking at all subsidize the center?
ARQ: It just keeps the parking lot available to your shoppers?
Stanley: I’ll say everybody thinks that paid parking is a huge revenue source. No way, no way. But what it does do is wonderful; the merchants get the revenue from the parking lot, so it reduces their common area charges and that’s exactly the way it works. So we don’t get it, they get it, but that reduces their occupation costs.
ARQ: Stanley, thank you so much. This has been a little window into the history of Miami.