Multi-storey America
The land of billionaires nesting on the coast of Florida. Why it is so special? Egor Appolonov explores the region.
Its own police, the most lucrative shopping center in the US, $200-worth cocktails — this is all about a patch of land squeezed between the free-spirited Haulover Park and the democratic Surfside Beach — a land for the elite, and a city of wealthy people.
According to official statistics, the average cost of a house in Bal Harbour is $400,000. But this is not exactly true. Realtor Nick, whom I met at the bar, says: A house for one family on the first line will cost $7 million, the second line — $3 million. For the top lots of the Bal Harbour (which are still modest by the US standards), you will have to shell out up to $30 million. An apartment is in a high-rise building on the first line - would be priced at $800,000. Penthouse in the same place — $25 million. Local realtors do not hesitate to quote the founder of the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts: "The three most important things in real estate are location, location, and location."

"Thinking about buying?" — Nick asks with hope (the sales dropped). Blinding me with his white-tooth smile, the manager of the real estate company Batchelor & Voelker reaches for a business card: "Don't lose it. I'm your waterfront expert".

That's right, after having one martini in the bar, I already have my "man" in Florida. "Expert on the shoreline", closing high-profile deals. A man promising to find a house in Bal Harbour that would suit me.

The city is tied to the notion of the sacral knowledge, handshakes, matchmaking, representations. It is fenced off from Surfside to the south by 96th street, and to the north - by an evergreen buffer of the Haulover Park. In the southern part of the 2-km-long park is stretching a nudist beach, in the north - the surfers, hippies, and down-shifters sporting Indian outfits - the quintessence of free-thinking America, which opposed wealth.

"Bal Harbour?" — Asked the sunburned guy, smoking pot. — "Nasty district looted by losers with big money".
I hear neglect in his voice. But if you listen closely, it's rather an expression of anger. Or envy, because the only assets of the tanned Jim are shabby surfboard and a minivan with torn and patched sides. Discarding his underwear (the beach is nudist ), the surfer flies into the breaking waves, cutting through the roar, as if sweeping his rage on the Atlantic:

"Money?" — overwhelmed by water, he turns around and beats himself in the chest, — "To hell with it!" I live for freedom.

Just after crossing the Biscayne Bay you will find yourself in a different reality. The sleeked Bal Harbour looks like a set for an American dream film (with an explosive budget). The palm trees along the road (they were brought here), and the provocative straightforwardness of the central motor artery. Collins Avenue divides the city into two unequal parts. To the right (if coming from Haulover Park ) — one-story America, built for the owners of seven-figure bank accounts. To the left — high-rises for people "less fortunate" and the hotels for visitors to Bal Harbour.
You may dream to live here. But random guests cannot truly belong here — this privilege is inherited.
Ritz Carlton Hotel, Bal Harbour
Here is the "Ritz", fenced off from the central street by a ramp: booking a room is required for entry. A little further — Harbour House, a condominium with a restricted access. Next is Bal Harbour Club, Dorothy Blau, and Tiffany Condo. A series of skyscrapers, real estate agencies, condos, and towers — Bal Harbour, where a square meter of housing beats the records of Florida, is all woven of dreams. The parade of elite real estate culminates at 96th Street by the St. Regis Bal Harbour Hotel, which cost $1 billion to build.

The attractiveness of the Bal Harbour (the decorations are too opulent be true) is confirmed by the plastic smile of the concierge. The fifty-year-old Ken (or is he, after all, Smith?) is flexing his muscles trying to stretch the silicone cheekbones in a smile. Contrived affability is an objective part of contractual relations. Sincerity is key: you pay $2,000 for a hotel room, and I smile at you. When asked about leisure options, the Botoxed Ken offers an evening route: bar, restaurant, bar, walk along the embankment. On the second day, the concierge calls me by name, and the protocol smile turns into a smile addressed to an old friend.

In the lobby bar I overhear a dialogue:

"Falseness is deceptive," explains Colin, a bartender who came to Bal Harbour in the late 90s. - "But strangers can't break through the barrier; the indigenous inhabitants of the city have fenced off from the others". Bal Harbour is a truly closed community in Florida.

"Fenced off" is not a metaphor. Entrances to private condominiums are gated with full attributes of power: 24-hour security, lists of residents, checkpoints.

"Strangers forever remain strangers here," Kolin sums up. "You belong, as long as they let you." While you can afford to pay $50 for a martini.

Strangers can't break through the invisible barrier. 25 families who founded the city can allow one to look. To spend money in bars, restaurants, America's most lucrative shopping center. To buy real estate. To settle here. But random guests cannot truly belong here — this privilege is inherited.
It all started in 1929 with the ambitious decision of the Miami Beach Heights construction company from Detroit to acquire an unwanted piece of land. Three guys — Robert Graham, Karl Fischer (Fisher Island was named after him) and Walter Briggs began developing the area - merely an investment project. The design was commissioned the most expensive architectural bureau at that time: Harland Bartholomew & Associates.

During the Second World War, the construction was suspended — Miami Beach Heights were forced to lease the land to the US Army for $1 a year. After the War, the representatives of the air force left, leaving behind the empty barracks. The construction resumed, and the owners of the land spoke out for the formation of the city. Under American law, you could do this by collecting 25 votes from the residents of a commune. Robert Graham invited 25 families (his close friends) to his estate and offered them apartments that he had built by that time. On August 14th, 1946, Bal Harbour received the status of a village. The self-governed district was named Bay Harbor, but a month later the name was changed, as it "did not match the positioning of the city on the US map". Bay Harbour became Bal Harbour. The word "Bal" is the combination of the words "Bay" and "Atlantic". The name reflected the essence of the settlement: the city stretching from the bay to the ocean.

In December 1946, the first hotel was opened in Bal Harbour — Kenilworth-by-the-Sea. In the advertising booklet, it was said that this "ultra-modern hotel with 160 rooms offers a luxurious vacation for the guests." July 16th, 1946 saw the approved charter of the city, according to which they live until now.

Over the next ten years, nine more hotels have appeared in the region — The Sea View Hotel, the Bal Harbour, the Balmoral, the Ivanhoe, the Colony, the Singapore, the Beau Rivage, and the Americana. In 1950, Bal Harbour came to be known as American Riviera, and the city became a magnet for tourists who like spending money on recreation. Frank Sinatra spent evenings at the Carnival Supper Club at the Americana Hotel. Count Basie, the legend of jazz music, almost became a resident.

In 1953, the showman Arthur Godfrey appeared on air from Bal Harbour and addressed the 60-million audience from the lobby of the Kenilworth hotel ( Godfrey was the first person to be broadcast live from Florida ). To the question "Why?", he replied: "When I like something, I want my friends to like it." Soon, having fallen in love with Florida, Godfrey transferred his show to Miami. "Arthur Godfrey has done his best to promote the region," said Arthur Signer, the author of Godfrey's biography.

Last year, Bal Harbour celebrated 70 years since its founding. The community and the authorities are doing everything to keep the reputation of the best resort in Florida while keeping it a resident project. The main difference between Bal Harbour and its neighbors is that the authorities readily invest money in the area development.

A loud investment, which caused a lot of controversy in the tabloids, was constructing the Atlantic Walk, costing the residents $3 million. On a 1.6 km route, 7,500 orchids were planted as part of the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden's Million Orchid Project, designed to preserve rare types of flowers.

And what's the result? The tiny Bal Harbour provides huge income to the state. In an effort to stand out, the district quickly secured the status of the first city in Florida with the engineering communications hidden underground; The first city with a hotel costing a billion; The first city with shopping center that broke the record for revenue from a square foot.
A loud investment, which caused a lot of controversy in the tabloids, was constructing the Atlantic Walk, costing the residents $3 million
The foundation of the financial well-being of Bal Harbour was laid by the developer Stanley Whitman, who in 1956 committed an act that only a few people understood. With his family money, Whitman bought a plot of 67 thousand square meters in the western part of Collins Avenue, which saw the barracks during the Second World War. The city authorities wanted to build a gas station. Whitman promised: he will make Bal Harbour the US capital of fashion.

A graduate of Duke University — one of the 25 founders of the district — believed in a dream. The dream that one day on the map of the United States there will be a commercial Mecca, and he himself would open a shopping center in the sultry Florida.

A plot of land between 96th Street and Collins Avenue cost Whitman $500,000. Not satisfied with the idea of joint ownership, in 1957 Whitman bought the remaining piece of land for $750,000 from Robert Graham, the "master" of Bal Harbour, to build a shopping center that would become the best in the US.
Only his mother and wife believed in his ideas. So a retired lieutenant of the US Navy, a graduate of a prestigious university, assumed the path of loneliness, disappointment, and difficult victories. The ambitious idea got nearly destroyed with the pragmatism of those who could extend any support. The future billionaire was meeting with representatives of fashion brands months after months, urging them to open branches in Florida. If Whitman was refused a meeting (no one believed in the success of his ideas) — he was waiting for the directors in the lobby to deliver the idea of a shopping paradise.

"I spent half a day in the lobby of large corporations, waiting for a big fish to get into my net," Whitman recalled in an interview. — "I was a skunk on a picnic." I was thrown out of stores more often than any other person who lived on the planet Earth.
"I was a skunk on a picnic. I was thrown out of many stores".
Whitman, who grew up in a small house at the intersection of 32nd Street and Collins Avenue, developed equanimity. It took five years to convince the first partners and begin construction of the century, with the support of only a few. The project cost $2 per foot — the astronomical sum for those times.

Another problem faced by the founder of Bal Harbour Shops was the ambitions of the architects with whom he often fought. Whitman was against the construction of a covered shopping center - he claimed that air-conditioning was annoying to everyone. Instead, he pointed out that the Bal Harbour Shops nestled on the Atlantic coast, and enjoyed the natural breezes from the Biscayne Bay. Obsessed with the idea of "fresh shopping", the entrepreneur invited wind experts from the University of Miami to design, in the sweltering Florida, a shopping center, which would "catch sea breezes, and direct them at the shoppers."

The first two architects claimed the project was nonsense. Whitman dismissed the upstarts, who did not get the ideas. After exhausting searches, he hired the Bureau of Herbert Johnson from Miami, which agreed to design an open-air mall.

Bal Harbour Shops opened in 1965. Originally there were 30 stores. Among the first was flagships of New York's Fifth Avenue: A toy store FAO Schwarz, menswear brands Maus & Hoffman and Abercrombie & Fitch. Whitman said: "Good-bye, Fifth Avenue", and this became the unofficial tagline of the project. In 1976, Whitman persuaded the very Stanley Marcus, the executive director of Neiman Marcus, to open the first store outside of Texas. Saks Fifth Avenue joined the Bal Harbour Shops project in 1976.

"He is the Walt Disney of the shopping industry," recalls Bal Harbor Shops marketing director and a family friend, Sheryl Steffenson. "Seven decades ago, Whitman saw a piece of land that he promised to turn into a special place, and he did it." He was an innovator.

Whitman was a pioneer in everything. He became the first who brought European luxury brands to the United States. The first who laid out asphalt parking near the shopping center. The first to charge a parking fee at the shopping center. Whitman was called a madman, but behind these decisions was a solid reasoning: the clerks and workers of nearby hotels would not occupy parking spots of paying customers who come to shop. Whitman spent a lot of money on landscaping and decorating the territory, he had planted palm trees, which are still the highlight of the property.

"I broke all the rules of shopping centers," recalled Whitman. "What I did not break, was the Highway 101 Economy."

"The man who changed Bal Harbour," says those who knew him.

In 2015, a shopping center with an area of 41,000 square meters marked its 50th anniversary and broke the record for revenue per a square foot - $2,730, which was six times the US average. So Bal Harbour Shops is now officially recognized as the most profitable shopping center in the US.

Stanley Whitman passed away on May 24th, 2017. He was 98 years old. He died in the same house that he built in 1949. Whitman kept working until his death - having transferred the management of the center to his son Randal Adam Whitman and grandson Matthew William Lazenby, he retained the role of advisor and appeared in the office three to five days a week.

He devoted his last years to the struggle for expansion of the shopping center territory. Some residents of Bal Harbour had opposed the expansion; in the 1940's, a church near the sea was demolished, and prior to that Whitman had purchased it for a similar expansion. Another fierce opponent of the expansion was Saks Fifth Avenue - the anchor store of Bal Harbor Shops. The brand representatives have stated repeatedly that the ergonomics of the shopping center would change, and the parking load would increase. 60% of parking space would need to be served by a valet, which alters the transport logistics and causes traffic problems.

Shortly before his death, the founder of Bal Harbor Shops finally received permission from the city council to expand the territory of the shopping center. The work will cost $400 million. Gabriel Groisman, Mayor of Bal Harbour, commented on this decision:

"What's best for Bal Harbour is what's best for me" And if it's good for the city's economy, it's good for everyone.
Bal Harbour Shops
St. Regis Bal Harbour ( opened January 19th, 2012 ), located at 9703 Collins Avenue — is the closest hotel to Bal Harbour Shops. The project that emphasizes the maximalism of those who live here.

"If the luxury segment is dead, then welcome to paradise" — said the President and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Frits van Paasschen, at the opening ceremony of The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort.

The hotel is a graphic illustration of the motto "Bol Harbour is the Paradise of Florida". Each room has a view of the Atlantic Ocean. Last year, a new phase of construction was completed, which cost $35 million and saw the addition of four Signature Suites.

To commemorate the opening of the new rooms, the hotel launched a gourmet-spender program — a series of culinary experiments in partnership with Lalique.

The first lot: a macaroon in Lalique crystal vase. The price: $9,703. The vase is sculpted in the shape of a dahlia bud. A confection made from white tea sprinkled with edible gold and laid on a pillow of white crystals. The dessert is accompanied by the new Sky Palace Suite.

The second lot: a cocktail for $200, served in Lalique glasses. "Muse" (referencing "Sirens" collection of Lalique, designed by Terry Rogers ) — gin, fresh lemon, chamomile, honey, and raspberries. "Immortal" (the cocktail is inspired by the "Hope, Love, and Beauty" series by Damien Hirst) — gin, peach, and grapefruit. The third cocktail is made in partnership with Hennesy and is named the "Awakening of The Senses" (it is inspired by Geo collection by Mario Botta). The ingredients are Calvados, Amaro, Hibiscus, and Angostura bitters.

Another flagship of Bal Harbour is the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour. Taking the opposite side of the city, the hotel offers an extended panorama of Bal Harbour: the rooms have views both at Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Otherwise, it is a classic "Ritz" with well-trained staff, a club floor, and loyalty to regular guests.
Bal Harbour, Florida, USA
Bal Harbour is 245 acres (0.99 square kilometers) of land, purchased by Miami Beach Heights Corporation in 1929. Originally called Bay Harbour (on the west side it is washed by the Biscayne Bay), but later renamed to Bal Harbour. Interestingly, "Bal" was not an English word, but was formed as a portmanteau of "Bay" and "Atlantic". The area of Bal Harbour has increased to 2.5 square kilometers. According to the latest census, 2,623 people live in Bal Harbour.
Bal Harbour, Florida, USA
Bal Harbour is 245 acres (0.99 square kilometers) of land, purchased by Miami Beach Heights Corporation in 1929. Originally called Bay Harbour (on the west side it is washed by the Biscayne Bay), but later renamed to Bal Harbour. Interestingly, "Bal" was not an English word, but was formed as a portmanteau of "Bay" and "Atlantic". The area of Bal Harbour has increased to 2.5 square kilometers. According to the latest census, 2,623 people live in Bal Harbour.
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