The real estate market is booming, and Miami’s neighborhoods are changing so quickly it can be hard to keep up. While there are a lot of developers thinking in big buildings and bigger dollars, we caught up with a few developers and organizers who are thinking at the slightly more human scale, to ask them about what they think is next for Miami’s changing neighborhoods.
Avra Jain has developed more than two dozen boutique projects in Miami and New York, most of them with an artistic focus. Most recently she’s known for her renovation and reopening of the historic Vagabond Motel in MiMo (where the new restaurant just opened), and she has new projects in the works along Biscayne Boulevard and in Little River.
A lot of good things got started in 2014 and it’d be great to see that continue: more neighborhood building, more community building. More small businesses and startups getting homes and storefronts, more young people getting a jump start—the person who makes pies at home can have a place to make or sell them.
It’s legitimizing Miami as a city. It’s no secret that culture and arts build communities and cities. We’re focused on that in Little River. We’re curating it in a way that’s affordable. With a lot of the development in Miami, people are being pushed around. Part of the issue is, you might have one landlord who is trying to do the right thing. There are artists who do have good space in Wynwood, but they might not want to be there anymore. One thing that’s helpful is when you can assemble enough interesting space that you can keep the vibe. If you’re a single property owner, it makes it difficult. And then the one guy offers you a number you can’t refuse. The trick is to have a group of investors that are invested in a macro vision to build an actual neighborhood.
We own enough that we can do that. When you have that, it affords you the ability to make more creative choices, and you end up curating that balance. That is new. Maybe that’s our fault as local developers that we haven’t been able to sell that earlier. It’s hard. People like Tony Goldman did it because he could sell it himself. It’s easier now because Miami is on everybody’s radar.
I look at transactions like [in Brickell] and they’ve got a lot more zeroes than mine. You would hope people have a good sense of the need and demand, and that what they have planned is going to fill that. What you don’t want is for those buildings to get built and then be empty. We probably don’t realize how much global interest there is here–it’s not hard to sell Miami; we live where everybody else goes on vacation. We’d all like to see more jobs and fortune 500 companies. I know there are more hedge funds and people like that looking to come down, but those new young entrepreneurial businesses here will be some of those fortune 500 companies; when they start here they stay here.
We have eight properties on Biscayne Boulevard, finishing up historic renovations. There’s a lot of other people now doing really thoughtful renovations on Biscayne. Biscayne Boulevard is going to feel more and more like a village by the end of the year. I’m looking forward to all the neon signs coming back, and I will do my part in that.
Tom Curitore is the founding executive director of the Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID), which will be a year old in March. Curitore oversaw community organizations in the New York City mayor’s office from 2002-2006, and he was director of operations at Union Square Partnership in New York from 2007 until he moved to Miami.
The biggest thing for this year is that we have a zoning recommendation in with the city to get more people living here and more retail space. It’s a long shot, but we’re also looking at trying to get a ramp opened up on 95 that comes directly into Wynwood. We’re trying to get a more pedestrian friendly walking environment here. We’re putting up lights to help pedestrians and we’re looking to improve the streetscape. You’re going to see more tables and chairs, more public spaces, and more people out in the community.
We’re definitely looking for livability. We want more retail and more residential growth. We’re trying to preserve the character of the neighborhood, while still making it a place where people can live. On the outskirts, we’ll have more density, but along 2nd Avenue, that area is going to continue to be the same. We’re not talking about knocking down blocks and putting up giant residential towers, but people want to live here now, and we want that to happen. We have a saying in Wynwood — without the art and the artists here, we’re just another neighborhood. Our growth is still organic and we’re still focused on keeping the feel of our neighborhood as we grow.
The BID’s only a little over a year old, so of course we have some growing pains. I like to say we’re not toddlers yet, but we’re not infants anymore either. We’re trying a lot of different things, and a lot of them are positive. We have garbage cans now on the streets, and we have people cleaning the streets every day. We’re using off-duty police to patrol the neighborhood, and each business owner has a special number to call to get in touch with them. There were some hiccups with [paid] parking in the beginning. Most of that is really working now. People are getting used to it. We put in additional meters for people who don’t have the Pay By Phone app, and the Parking Authority allows people to stay longer than three hours at a premium rate.
Come to Wynwood. We’re open for business here. Our new motto here is live, work, eat, play, work, learn. We’re really doing it all now.
Andrew Frey is a real estate developer and urban designer who’s currently development manager at CC Residential. He is also executive director of Townhouse Center, a nonprofit focused on promoting the development of small, adaptable, urban infill buildings.
My resolution is to have the small building parking exemption passed. Technically right now, Miami21 has a transit oriented development parking reduction. That’s been on the books for five years and the sky hasn’t fallen. There aren’t rioters in the street, demanding an end to this. It seems to have worked pretty well. City staff wants to expand on it. They want to expand the exemption to all of the zoning codes [except single family and duplex], and they want to increase the reduction from 30% to 50%.
I, and a coalition of like-minded folks, started pushing the city to say, that’s great, but small property owners need more. Even a 50% parking reduction doesn’t unlock the development potential of these small infill sites. They need to go to zero. So, add a 100% reduction for buildings that are 10,000 square feet and smaller. That’s the proposition.
Why is that important? It’s important for a number of reasons. Some groups, like Miami Coalition for the Homeless, see it as a major win for housing affordability. If you take out the cost of structured parking from development, developers can pass those savings on to buyers and renters. Some see it as a way to unlock the development capacity of small sites and generate jobs in the construction industry, particularly for the smaller contractors who are really the base of a healthy economy and job market.
And then there’s an overarching reason, which is the vision for Miami neighborhoods. Not everyone wants to live in a tower or a suburban subdivision. There are mid-scale urban neighborhoods that are amazing everywhere they appear, but we don’t have much of them in Miami aside from South Beach or Little Havana.
No one is doing new construction, because the law just doesn’t allow the kind of buildings that they want to build. You can’t tell me there aren’t investors for it, contractors who will build it, designers who will design it, brokers who will sell it, tenants who will occupy it. In my opinion it all falls back on the zoning code.
Ralph Rosado is president of Rosado & Associates, an urban planning consulting firm focused on neighborhood revitalization projects in Greater Miami. Previously, he was executive director of the South Florida Community Development Coalition, a nonprofit membership group focused on building the capacity of community development organizations.
As Miamians we must urge our local leaders to keep the full public – especially everyday citizens of modest means – in mind when making decisions about the built environment. This should be the case on a number of current trending issues: replacing roofless bus benches with covered bus shelters (to shield current and future transit users from the challenging sun and rain…hashtag #TopThemOff); protecting our precious waterfront; adding barriers to protect bicyclists from speeding cars on the Rickenbacker Causeway; expanding housing opportunities near Metrorail stations, and making the Underline and the Ludlam Trail iconic trails/exercise paths. We need to continue to create a Miami that is safe, healthy, accessible, and affordable for all.
[We need] greater civic engagement and vigilance. I think it ultimately comes down to reminding our local leaders to prioritize people – hardworking, everyday people who expect their local governments to provide quality services in an efficient manner – when making important decisions that have lasting consequences. I’ve adopted the hashtag #prioritizepeople and plan to use it moving forward as a way to call attention to this issue. When deciding what gets built where and when, our electeds should #prioritizepeople and their needs and wishes.
Corrections: An earlier version of this article indicated there was a “parking exemption” for transit-oriented development. There is a reduction, not an exemption. This article has been updated to reflect this information.