Sunny Isles Beach – that’s Санни Айлс Бич (Sanni Ayles Bich) to the locals. Namely, the Russians.
You could also call it “Moscow by the Sea” or “Odessa on the Intracoastal.” In 2000 7.7% of the population had Russian as their first language. By 2010 it was nearly 10%. Now, by some estimates, it is 20%. And if you want to buy property here, you can do so at Red Square Realty. Or you could have. This agency seems to have disappeared in 2019 … which is part of this story.
This otherwise run-of-the-mill, over-built Florida beach town got on my radar last October when Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, associates of Rudy Giuliani, were arrested. The news included reports of the properties they owned in this Russian enclave 20 miles north of Miami. (Fruman is from Belarus, Parnas from Ukraine. Both are East Slavic-speaking countries, like Russia.)
Last week Lev Parnas burst back into the news because of his interview with Rachel Maddow.
Time to check out Sunny Isles Beach. I decided Sunday was the day. Russian oligarchs, here I come!
Sunny Isles Beach: Past
From the 1920s to the early 2000s this unassuming barrier island was first sleepy town and then a middle-class tourist destination. In the 1940s and 50s motels were built on Collins Avenue, Route A1A. This postcard shows Motel Row of Miami Beach, that is, North Miami Beach, which is how it was once designated.
At the time, the name distinguished it from South Beach, that is Miami Beach. The Motel Row motels were themed, mostly kitschy and are now gone. The title image is Collins Avenue today. All the monstrous high-rises are on the east side, lining the beach. Collins runs the length of the connected islands straight into South Beach.
As you can see on the map, above, the name North Beach no longer refers to Sunny Isles.
Sunny Isles Beach: Present
I took particular interest in Porsche Design Tower on Collins Avenue, completed in 2016. Condo prices range from $1 to $16 million.
It is the creation of Miami-based luxury high-rise residential architects Sieger Suarez. If you watch the video, below, you’ll see why Porsche Design branded it.
By the way, if you watched the video, you saw the construction zone to the right in its earliest stages. In my photo, above, the new high-rise is in an advanced stage of construction and is now as tall as its neighbor.
First impressions: the whole scene here looks like high-roller tacky to me. And from my point of view, life at street level is not pedestrian friendly. The west (non-beach) side of Collins Avenue has the usual iterations of strip malls and eateries like McDonald’s and Pollo Tropical. Thrown into the mix are the Russian restaurant Old Samovar and the deli/market Matryoshka.
Inside, a Russian news program on the sound system. Lots of Russian products on the shelves. And an unusually long buffet:
Just to be clear, matryoshka are the nested dolls:
And next door is Kalinka, which is more of a coffee shop than a market like Matryoshka.
Not sure I saw any oligarchs there, but I surely saw some of their offspring. Beautiful young people drinking coffee and speaking Russian – likely across the street from whichever “Miami dacha” their family owns.
Again, just to be clear, “Kalinka” is a beloved folk song written in 1860 by Ivan Larinov. You can’t help but love it.
Further point of information: kalinka means ‘snowball tree.’
Not exactly like anything going on on Collins Avenue.
Sunny Isles Beach: The Future
Let’s just get it out there: over the past few decades Sunny Isles real estate has provided corrupt Russian officials a place to stash their loot, safe from the cops and tax collectors back home.
But the good times may be coming to an end.
Anna Nemtsova wrote in The Daily Beast last year how Western sanctions on one side and Russian courts on the other are now keeping some elites behind a new iron curtain. Sure, there are still thousands of Russians soaking up the winter sun in Florida, but now the Moscow-Miami flights are not as full as they once were.
And some folks are even having to put their properties up for sale. As of today, for instance, in the Porsche Design Tower alone, some 42 of the 132 units are for sale. I caught the stat somewhere that some 40% of properties here are unoccupied. Is it any wonder Red Square Realty no longer exists?
In short, the future does not look sunshine bright.
Hey, I hope everybody has insurance!
Always nice to have a chance to brush up on Cyrillic. We have:
СТРАХОВАНИЕ strakhovaniye ‘insurance’
АВТО avto ‘auto’
ДОМА doma ‘house’
ЗДОРОВЬЕ zdorov’ye ‘health’
БИЗНЕС biznes ‘business’
About the word zdorov’ye, you may have heard it in the common toast Na Zdorov’ye ‘To Health.’ It comes up in the musical number “L’Chaim” from Fiddler on the Roof. The Russians (that is, Ukrainians) sing Za vashe zdorov’ye. Na zdorov’ye:
These spare cultural notes are about all I can squeeze out of a place with a not terribly interesting surface, where all the corruption creeps around and festers behind the shiny façades.
The beaches are still public. Narrow pathways run between the high-rises to allow access. I’ll leave you with this:
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen