The Magic CityMiami, as we’ve said in these pages in the past, is one of the most distinctive of American cities. From its deco architecture to its Cuban cultural influences, Miami is one of the most heavily visited cities in North American in any given year, as well as being the de facto cruise ship capital of the world. It’s also one of a select group of urban centres currently experiencing a property renaissance. Though prices and values took a serious hit after 2008, the “bargain” nature of the market, the year-round climate, strong tourism (12.6 million visitors in 2010, almost 8 million in the first six months of 2011 according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau) and status as a major industrial and business centre have made Miami something of a star of late — aside from pastel-washed (Burn Notice) and retro-chic (Magic City) television series.

Enter into this picture Swire Properties, no stranger to the city and the latest major developer to take an interest in Miami’s Brickell district. Swire has just broken ground on Brickell CitiCentre, a major mixed-used development in the financial district that will, upon completion, total almost 3 million square feet of office, retail, dining, hospitality and residential space on a nearly 400,000-square foot site acquired in 2008 and 2011. The address (addresses?) will include a station on the Miami Metromover light rail and be situated a few minutes from the I95. Miami-based Arquitectonica (New York’s Westin Hotel Times Square, City of Dreams, Macau) is heading up the architectural work for Brickell CitiCentre, which will be completed in two phases in 2015, followed by a final office tower in 2018.

CitiCentre, however, is more of an expansion of Swire’s presence in Miami. Swire has been active in nearby Brickell Key (a man-made island off the coast in the Miami River) since 1980 and currently boasts a portfolio in the area that includes 2,100 residences in nine condominium buildings and two office towers as well as the Mandarin Oriental Miami. As a self-described respected developer with strong community ties, expanding its holdings seemed logical as well as timely. Don’t forget the economics of BRIC. “Miami’s economy is benefitting from investments from its neighbours in South America, and we see strong growth potential for the city,” explains a spokesperson for Swire Properties. “The location of Brickell CitiCentre offers an excellent opportunity to attract business both from local businesses and residents as well as visitors.”

International trade and investment aside, The Brickell district has often been referred to as the Manhattan of the South, and it does its best to live up to the name. The area is dotted with countless upscale restaurants, five-star hotels, swish condos and, tellingly, the highest concentration of international banks in the United States. Little Havana is literally across the road and Brickell and the official Downtown Miami district are the fastest growing neighbourhoods in the city. Still, it’s urban America, and fair or not, the country’s cities don’t have the greatest reputation. That’s nonsense according to Swire. “Brickell is one of the most recognised and sought after addresses in Latin America, if not the United States. Swire Properties have been developing and operating in the area for over 30 years,” stressed Swire’s spokesperson. And for years Miami has indeed been considered the unofficial “capital” of Latin America. In a statement, Swire chief executive Martin Cubbon stated simply, “We felt that acquiring the site at Brickell CitiCentre was a compelling investment, in that it offers us a rare opportunity to develop within the heart of a thriving financial district. We’re very keen to expand our presence in Miami by doing what we do best — developing large-scale, mixed-use complexes anchored by retail.”

Which, perhaps not accidentally, is the area’s one weakness. And combined with residential projects — which will indeed be for sale when the time comes — Swire is convinced it has a strong investment project on its hands. “In the retail market, there is little existing or expected retail competition in the area of the scale and quality planned for Brickell CitiCentre,” notes Swire’s spokesperson again. If that’s not convincing enough, residential stock currently available has almost bounced back to its pre-2008 levels, hotel occupancy is up and rates lag only behind those in New York and San Francisco. And those tourism numbers are holding steady for 2012 and in some quarters exceeding expectation. The city has turned into a brand and that bodes well for the long term. As Cubbon summed up, “We’re confident that Brickell CitiCentre will transform the Brickell neighbourhood and become a key urban destination.”