Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sears Tower on Biscayne Boulevard...Then and Now

1930s. (Click to enlarge)
2011.


POOR SALES FORCE CLOSING OF SEARS ' LANDMARK STORE

Miami Herald, Saturday, February 5, 1983
by DAN FESPERMAN Herald Business Writer

After 54 years of selling everything from pajamas to power saws in downtown Miami, Sears , Roebuck and Co. will desert its deteriorating Biscayne Boulevard store this summer for greener pastures in the sprawling suburbs.

In Friday's announcement of the closing, scheduled for June or July, Sears officials blamed poor sales and the age of the building, which has become an Art Deco landmark and a rallying point for historic preservationists.

Sears announced that it also will close its Northside Shopping Center department store, at NW 79th Street and 27th Avenue in Liberty City, and a smaller appliance-catalog store at 8682 SW 24th St., to redirect its efforts toward more lucrative markets.

Stewart Thomas, Sears ' South Florida district manager, said that employes of all three stores will be offered jobs at the company's other stores. Those jobs will be available because of two stores scheduled to open -- one at the new Aventura Mall and the other at Miami International Mall.

Sears had hoped to stay downtown, Thomas said, but virtually gave up last spring when plans to rebuild the Biscayne Boulevard store fizzled.

Those plans, which stirred opposition among advocates of historic preservation, would have razed the old four-story building and its 66-foot tower to make way for a two-block complex of stores, offices and hotel rooms.

But the combination of a sluggish economy and a bank foreclosure on an adjacent property persuaded the project's Canadian developer, Cadillac Fairview Corp., to drop its plans, and the company's option on the land expired last March.

"After that fell through," Thomas said, "we couldn't make economic sense of it any more."

Fred Flagler, a Sears spokesman in the company's Southeast headquarters in Atlanta, said, "The cost of refurbishing the building far outweighed the actual benefits we could have gotten
from it."

The store also has been a victim of a boom-bust business cycle downtown.

Two years ago, business downtown was thriving, thanks mostly to a surge of Latin American tourists. It was no surprise in those days to see shoppers buy stacks of 10 to 20 shirts or slacks at a time.

But when Central and South American countries began devaluing and restricting their currencies, the number of tourists dropped dramatically, and those who came spent less.

"After that great influx, we've been hurt like everyone else as the buying has dropped off," Thomas said.

As for the fate of the historic tower, the options include "about anything you could imagine," according to Flagler.

Ralph Russell, another Sears official in Atlanta, said, "If anybody wants to buy it, then I guess it would be for sale, but as for now I guess we'll just hang on to it."

Joyce Meyers, the city of Miami's heritage conservation officer, said Friday afternoon that she and Sears officials will meet before the end of the month to discuss how Sears might use city and federal tax incentives to attract a developer to the property.

Because the tower is listed on the Dade County historic survey, a hearing would be required before it could be destroyed.

For now, the tower stands on the threshold of garnering extra protection from both the city and the federal government, although neither would guarantee the building's survival.

On Feb. 28, the city of Miami's nine-member Heritage Conservation Board will hear a proposal to protect the building under the city's new historic preservation ordinance.

In addition, Meyers said, the tower is eligible to be placed on the national register of historic sites. Either the city or the owners could nominate the building for the distinction, Meyers said, and the listing would mean that developers could receive a 25 per cent federal tax credit for money spent to renovate the building.

The closing of the store Sears leases in Liberty City, where a Woolco closed last month, is less likely to leave a gap for long.

Officials of the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. confirmed Friday that they will pick up the lease for the 183,000-square foot store once Sears leaves.


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