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Jerry Libbin

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Miami Beach Has Found Its Niche

Posted: 12/13/11 04:22 PM ET

We've all heard the saying, "the only constant in life is change." This rings especially true for the city of Miami Beach. From its humble beginnings as a coconut plantation to a popular playground for the rich in the 1920s to a Mecca for the elderly in the '80s, the "Sun and Fun Capital" outdoes even the queen of reinvention herself, Madonna.

Its latest incarnation is marked by a fervent commitment to the arts, culture, architecture and high-end entertainment -- attributes that will serve to further our track as a city of the 21st century. Already, the Miami Beach of today is a powerful economic engine driving the entire region's economy. According to a 2010 Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau survey, we are setting records in tourism revenue and adding jobs at a time when the economy is struggling. But this was not always the case.

I'll never forget my introduction to Miami Beach. It was 1972 and I came as a college student on Spring Break. My love affair with the beautiful oceanfront town was instant -- the Art Deco and Mediterranean architecture, the weather, the Caribbean and Cuban food and more than anything else, the possibilities. The city seemed ripe with opportunity.

Exactly 10 years later I received a job offer to build the new Miami Beach Jewish Community Center and moved. At the time, the city was an unusual assortment of nightclubs, drug trafficking and a burgeoning retirement population.

A far and distant memory to today's cultural hustle and bustle. The genesis of this sea change can be attributed in part to Art Basel Miami Beach. Since Basel first erupted on the scene a decade ago, momentum has been mounting and Miami Beach's visual and performing arts scene has morphed into so much more than a one-week-a-year spectacle. Subsequently, a bevy of top-shelf marquee events now also call Miami Beach home: South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Sleepless Night, Swim Week, Miami International Fashion Week, Winter Music Conference and more. These attractions serve to enhance our profile as a cosmopolitan city, while boosting tourism and strengthening our local economy.

No longer is Miami Beach simply a sexy, beach town or retirement community.

In just the last few years, a new skyline has emerged. One marked by cutting-edge design and architecture. There's the universally acclaimed Frank Gehry New World Center perched on the Northeast corner of Lincoln Road Mall. It is the home base for the New World Symphony, which features internationally acclaimed musicians from around the world. On the opposite end of Lincoln Road, there's the parking garage/vertical piazza designed by lauded Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron. Most recently, superstar architect Zaha Hadid won the bid for a $12.5 million Miami Beach municipal parking garage, which will be erected in the Collins Park neighborhood.

Other notables include the new home for the FIU College of Architecture + The Arts located within the 1940s keystone building at 420 Lincoln Road, and the Miami Beach Cinematheque's new digs on Washington Avenue.

Of course, we can't forget Miami Beach's Art Deco District and the Miami Design Preservation League's relentless efforts in ensuring the character of Miami Beach stays intact. The city boasts the world's largest collection of Art Deco Architecture (800+ buildings), which serves to bring countless tourists to this world-class destination.

With all of this activity, we are poised to compete with the great cities of this country like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. This cultural and arts boom is not only strengthening our community and adding richness to our lives but it brings people from all walks of life together and helps to clearly define our vision for the future. Together, we the residents, businesses, tourists, civic and community leaders, are not only furthering our track as a great metropolis, but making the greatest contribution to the human spirit.