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Tax Dollars Confirm Miami’s New Dining Status

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(Source: AP)

(Source: AP)

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Miami’s dining scene has never been better. A look at the tax records will prove it.

Once again, Miami-Dade in March posted record collections on the 1 percent tax attached to tabs at restaurants and bars on the county’s mainland. It’s a streak pretty much unbroken since 2009, and capturing a shift in fine-dining gravity to downtown Miami.

“We’ve never had this many restaurants, I think, in history,’’ said Steve Haas, who used to run China Grill and other South Beach restaurants but now is opening his own City Hall the Restaurant in Miami’s downtown Omni district.

Because Miami Beach has its own restaurant levy, the county tax is only collected on the mainland, offering a targeted look at the dining scene away from the beach, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.

In the last several years, a circuit of popular restaurants opened throughout Miami’s urban core, including in the artsy Wynwood and Design District neighborhoods and downtown. The new Mary Brickell Village shopping plaza also added to the critical mass.

Since 2006, the tax on Miami-Dade mainland restaurants climbed 9 percent through September 2010. But for Miami restaurants alone, the increase was 26 percent, according to food-and-beverage tax data from the Miami-Dade County Tax Collector’s Division.

That’s an astounding figure, given the economic downturn that gained steam in 2007. And the increase is more noteworthy when you look at how other Miami-Dade dining districts performed in that time period. Aventura: up 12 percent. Restaurants outside municipal boundaries: up 12 percent. Coral Gables: down 4.8 percent. That longtime hot spot also may be suffering for its proximity to the new Miami restaurants.

Miami Beach is holding its own, with restaurant taxes up 14 percent in the same time period. But only Miami seems to be outpacing the other restaurant districts. That’s the latest measure of downtown’s resurgence during the recession and beyond.

A boom in high-rise condo towers brought 23,000 new residential units to the area since 2003, and 10,000 of them came in 2008 alone, according to the Miami Downtown Development Authority.

In the last year, according to a DDA survey, occupancy of those units increased from 62 percent to 85 percent, momentum that is helping sustain the new dining scene. Of the 200 new retail businesses to open downtown since 2006, about 75 percent are in the food or beverage category, the DDA said.

“Five years ago when I started here, I could go get drinks at the Intercontinental or La Loggia by the courthouse,’’ said Leo Zabezhinsky, business development manager at the DDA, which has offices in the former Wachovia tower on Biscayne Boulevard. “It was a 9 to 5 downtown before.’’

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)

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