A new report by the Miami Downtown Development Authority confirms what the restaurant openings, cranes and traffic snarls already tell us: Young professionals are still moving to downtown Miami in droves, and new businesses are following them.

According to the Miami DDA’s Demographics Report that will be released Tuesday, downtown Miami’s full-time population has soared to nearly 90,000 residents. That’s up 32 percent since 2010 and 150 percent since 2000.

Young professionals between the ages of 20 and 44 make up about half of this population, helping to fill the more than 20 new residential towers that have been built since the last real estate boom. More than half of downtown residents have obtained some form of college education, the report said.

“A report is one thing to study and see on paper, but if you go downtown in the evening you will see a different downtown than 10 years ago,” said city of Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell, who is also chairman of the Miami DDA. “You can feel it, there’s an energy.”

Indeed, being in the center of it all is what appealed to Whitney McLees. The 30-year-old moved to the new Melody Tower, at 14th and Biscayne in the Arts & Entertainment District, in May. Within a couple of weeks of her move she began working as marketing and public relations manager for the Intercontinental Miami, so she rarely takes her car out of the garage anymore. McLees, who rents, says she can walk to work or take the Metromover, and Publix is right around the corner. “There are restaurants and stores popping up all over, and I feel like millennials are really driving that energy.”

According to the DDA report, per capita income is also on the rise in downtown Miami, increasing nearly 30 percent since 2010. Within the DDA’s boundaries — roughly between the coast and I-95, and 24th Street to the north and Rickenbacker Causeway to the south — average household income exceeds $110,000, and in the Brickell neighborhood, it’s $127,758. The average household income of downtown Miami is nearly double that of national averages and 83 percent higher than that of the city of Miami.

Yet it takes these much-higher-than-average incomes to afford a place in the downtown corridor. Miami-Dade is one of the country’s least affordable housing markets and Miami isone of the toughest cities for renting, recent studies showed, but the majority of the units selling or renting downtown are pricey. Russell acknowledges that is a challenge.

“Rather than concentrating solely on development and finance and construction, we have to make sure downtown is livable, enjoyable and sustainable. We have to make sure it is affordable so that the people who have made it a vibrant area can continue to live here,” Russell said. “What I want is for someone who works downtown to not have to commute in from very far away. … It’s about the well-being of the entire city,” he said, noting that the biggest cause of traffic is the commute into and out of the core.

He said the city and the DDA have held roundtables on the topic and discussed ways to incent developers to build more affordable options.

Miami Worldcenter, one of the largest retail and residential developments planned for the urban core, is among the developers looking to offer smaller apartments, as the DDA report showed that household size has decreased, from 1.97 persons per household in 2010, to 1.92 percent this year.

“We’ve broken ground on apartment rentals because more and more people are opting to rent, even if they have the means to buy,” said Nitin Motwani, principal and managing director of Miami Worldcenter Group and a DDA board member. “They like the flexibility, the access to the arts culture and entertainment … and they love transit,” Motwani said. “That is why we are moving forward on 863 apartments … with more studios and smaller units.”

Restaurants are also following the influx of young professionals. In 2015, nearly 40 new restaurants opened across downtown Miami, and more than a dozen high-end eateries have opened or will open in 2016, according to the DDA.

Still, continuing to make investments in infrastructure is key, Motwani and Russell said. The DDA is working to implement a number of measures to make downtown Miami streets more livable and walkable.

For example, “the city and the DDA, hand in hand, are trying to open up projects like the Bay Walk and the River Walk that are not fully accessible,” including looking at legislative ways to open it up sooner, Russell said. “You will be able to jog or bike from one end of the city to another along the waterfront, and that is going to be a big transformation for downtown.”

Philippe Houdard, co-founder of Pipeline Workspaces, a Brickell-based company offering shared workspace, moved into a Brickell condo about a year and a half ago and gave up his car. He said about half of the 250 members at Pipeline’s Brickell location also live in the downtown area.

“I have Pipeline right there, all the restaurants and cafes are in immediate proximity, but most importantly it is extremely easy to coordinate with friends and for work-related activities. My life has become more simplified because I am in a part of town where everything I need exists. I Uber everywhere I go.”

By:  Nancy Dahlberg
Miami Herald