Except for all the masked faces, a recent Saturday in Doral could have served as the movie trailer for post-pandemic life.
Kids cartwheeled on the grass, young parents fed babies in strollers, and couples walked hand-in-hand through the lush Downtown Doral Park as runners and cyclists zigzagged past. At the park’s center, a crowd gathered for a socially distanced outdoor concert featuring the Miami Symphony Orchestra live.
“Doral has really become a place where people can work, live and play without having to leave the area,” said Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez.
Long known as a warehouse hub, the city has begun to shed that reputation. It’s attracted public art exhibitions valued at $16 million dollars in the form of a six-month, outdoor showing of Spanish artist Manolo Valdés’s work. A $150 million parks bond that voters approved three years ago will soon add the Doral Cultural Arts Center downtown. The facility will include gallery and exhibition spaces and is scheduled to be completed in early 2022.
The bond will further beef up the city’s constellation of nine public parks. Doral’s Central Park will host amenities including pools, a skate park and a waterfront promenade. Multiple restaurants have dropped anchor here, including award-winning pastry shop Bachour, which chose Doral for its second home after years of success in Coral Gables, and Novecento, the Argentinian steakhouse group with three other Miami locations. Late last year, the trendy, open-air food hall Wynwood Yard packed its bags and reopened as The Doral Yard.
“For many years, all we had was Applebee’s,” Bermudez recalled.
Doral’s transformation from an industrial suburb ringed by logistics operations, traffic and the airport to one of fastest-growing cities in the state, according to a 2017 analysis by Florida International University, owes its past and present largely to developers. Its name comes from Doris and Alfred Kaskel, who purchased swampland in the 1960s to build Doral Country Club and joined their first names to christen the area. The resort is now called Trump National Doral, after former President Donald Trump purchased it in 2012.
The city’s downtown was born after Codina Partners, led by veteran developer Armando Codina and his daughter, Ana, took a former office park and turned it into the mixed-used Downtown Doral enclave, complete with a charter school, retail and City Hall. A second “downtown,” developed by The Related Group as CityPlace Doral, opened in 2017, boasting additional retail, dining and apartments stylish enough for Brickell.
“The difference between Doral and other places in Miami is its proximity to the airport and that it does have a downtown. It’s a real community with a real downtown,” the elder Codina said.
His firm donated two trolleys to the city for a soon-to-be-announced free service that will ferry travelers from the downtown nodes to Metrorail’s Palmetto Station via a dedicated bus lane.
The city was a natural second location for Doce Provisions, said Justin Sherrer, who co-owns the popular Little Havana restaurant with Lisetty Llampalla. Doce’s new location will land inside the upcoming Shoma Bazaar, a 14,000-square-foot food hall opening this summer at the luxury rental community Sanctuary at Doral. He’d worked in Doral for 10 years before opening Doce. Last year, Sherrer and his family packed up and moved from Coral Gables to Doral.
“I’ve had nothing but good experiences here,” Sherrer said. “It’s more laid back. it’s really clean.”
After a year, he still marvels at the street cleaners, the manicured downtown area and the lack of trash on the roads. Sherrer’s migration is part of a larger trend. About 71,000 people currently call Doral home. That’s more than triple the number of people that lived there shortly before the city became incorporated in 2003.
“I’ve seen it change from when it was basically a bunch of cow pastures and quarries to what it is today,” said Carlos Villanueva, managing broker at The Keyes Company. “What used to be an area primarily populated by secondary homes and industrial warehouses has become more of a community that caters to primary homes.”
There are about 29,000 housing units in the city and roughly another 7,700 in the pipeline, according to city data. Historically the city has been popular with buyers from Latin America, but in recent years Villanueva has seen a jump in clients from states including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois.
Despite its small size, the city has a big economic impact according to an FIU analysis of Census data four years ago. The growth of Doral’s total employment represented over 17% of all new net jobs created in the county from 2002 to 2014. Doral’s post-recession employment growth was double the rate for the rest of the county — 16.4% compared to 8%.
From March 2020 to March 2021, the city registered 1,021 new businesses. Of those, 24 were restaurants, snack bars or take out venues. The median property price is about $368,000, according to Miami Association of Realtors data. That’s up from $275,000 five years ago.
Median income for Doral households in 2019 was $77,493, significantly higher than the county median of $51,347, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015-2019 American Community Survey. Transportation and warehousing, along with retail and technical services are among the most common industries. Two key county industries are housed here: cruise lines and television networks. Carnival Cruise Lines, Univision and Telemundo have headquarters in Doral.
Immigrants make up two-thirds of Doral, Census numbers show. About a third of the city identifies as Venezuelan — “Doralzuela” is a common moniker. Instead of the sequence of Cuban bakeries selling glossy pastelitos found elsewhere (and one can find those here, too), a visitor is more likely to run into shops selling Venezuela’s corn-based savory cachapas.
For those with any doubts of Venezuelans’ prominence in Doral, all they had to do was tune into the concert that Saturday. The crowd swelled when Eduardo Marturet, the orchestra’s conductor and a Caracas native promised “something special for the people of Venezuela” before musicians swung into “The Beautiful Nights of Maiquetía” – known in music circles as the Venezuelan waltz. But the city draws people from all over. For New Jersey native Jorge Mejía, Doral had a Goldilocks effect. He and his wife Lucero moved to the city 11 months ago.
“Here we’re not too far from the beach and we live at eight feet of elevation,” said Mejía.
These were two important factors for him as an environmental engineer who knows a thing or two about climate change. Miami-Dade’s flood zone maps indicate large swatches of Doral’s residential areas have minimal flood risk.
As the Mejías meandered through the park, the orchestra played behind them.
“I love the people here,” Jorge added. “There’s always something to do.”
Sitting on the grass underneath the shade of a tree ahead of the Mejías, Mariano Bolaños played with his 11-month-old son. Doral beckoned him away from Kendall three years ago.
“We like the parks, the schools, there’s less traffic,” Bolaños said. “We hardly leave.”
But not everything is peachy. The traffic is precisely what makes Mac Arthur Alexander think twice before he goes into the city for regular visits to some of his favorite restaurants.
“You won’t catch me dead going into Doral after 4 o’clock,” said Alexander. “But I’ll go after 7.”
Still, he remains “absolutely impressed” with the city he once called home for two years, before the Medley landfill shooed him away to nearby Miami Springs.
“I’ve witnessed all those changes in Doral, but the traffic is the one thing they didn’t really plan for correctly,” Alexander said.
Ed Easton, founder of the commercial real estate firm The Easton Group, agrees that the roads could be built a little faster.
“But gone are the days when the city was all work and no play,” said Easton, whose company has been Doral-based for 40 years. “This still is the best hub for industrial real estate,” Easton said, pointing to the web of highways and nearby airport that feed the city’s import and export industries to South and Central America.
As the skies dimmed on a recent weekend night, the downtown area lit up. Strings of bulb lights that crisscross the main avenue downtown illuminated a bustling but laid back scene of diners and pedestrians – both two-legged and four-legged.
Live music and the clinking of plates and forks mingled with the scent of barbecue, Peruvian, Italian and Spanish cooking that wafted through the air downtown. As they waited for outdoor seating, diners took selfies in front of the public art installations that dot the main square closed off to vehicles. Take your pick: from a flower-filled vintage pickup truck to a colorful walkway that lights up with music and color as people walk through it, there’s plenty of things to savor.
“I think we’re still a little bit of a secret,” said Bermudez. “And people are starting to find out.”
DORAL AT A GLANCE
Demographics: 88% Hispanic, more than one in four residents identify as Venezuelan
Median household salary: $77,418
Primary work/industry: Management, sales, administrative
Median property value: $369,016
School grade: A
Personal crime: 45
Property crime: 51
Source: Data USA, Florida Department of Education and Esri, which ranks crime using a national base line of 100.