While selling sun and sand to the masses is how most view Miami, the city’s cultural pulse and identity has shifted away from the washboard abs and perfectly preserved pastel in South Beach to something more ephemeral- art. A love for the arts is very much engrained in the city’s DNA. As soon you step off the plane at Miami International Airport, you get a colorful taste of this town as you walk past a 72 foot long vestibule adorned with diamond-shaped window panes of translucent glass in hundreds of vibrant colors. This flamboyant display can be seen throughout the city in both large and small gestures; city parks, residential high-rises, and even traffic medians are adorned with pop-art sculptures designed by local artist Romero Britto; the main corridor in the Little Havanah neighborhood is dotted with charming painted tin roosters; and just about everywhere you turn, a wall or sidewalk has been tagged with street art. In addition to public art, Miami also has a vast array of large cultural anchors like the Perez Art Museum, the New World Symphony, and most notably, the international contemporary art Biennial, Art Basel. But no single endeavor in recent decades has had a larger direct impact on Miami than the redevelopment and repositioning of Wynwood.
A formerly industrialized, predominantly blue-collar Puerto Rican neighborhood near downtown, Wynwood has transformed in a few short years from a mostly forgotten barrio by most Miamians to now being considered one of the best street art neighborhoods in the world. The bland facades of the nondescript buildings that line the streets of this once-sleepy neighborhood have been saturated with every color of the rainbow and act as an ever changing backdrop for the Instagram accounts of locals and visitors alike, #nofilter.
Years before Wynwood’s reputation was engrained with world-class street art, a group of local artists, curators, and art dealers began a neighborhood association that focused on promoting the arts through neighborhood branding, gallery walks, and marketing materials. At the same time, local developer Tony Goldman saw potential in the then dirt-cheap neighborhood located in the shadows of nearby Downtown Miami. Most developers at the time were drinking the pre-recession kool-aid and reaching for the sky with glitzy high rises, but Goldman was more interested in finding creative ways to add value to existing properties on the ground.
Decades of disinvestment and neglect made Wynwood one of the cheapest areas to buy property in Miami. Goldman saw the foundation for the next ‘cool’ neighborhood. During the early stages of his plans, he mentioned, “there is plenty of grit here. Keep some of the grit, take some of the grit away.” And with this perspective in mind, he slowly acquired enough vacant buildings and lots in the neighborhood to be able to better control the direction the Wynwood was headed. Goldman Properties initiated several art projects, such as Primary Flight, to get world-class artists to adorn the walls with creative and colorful compositions.
The various art throughout the neighborhood is anchored by Wynwood Walls, a private outdoor ‘street art museum’ where some of the most coveted pieces by the biggest players in the street art world are available to view by the public in a properly lit and secure courtyard. In addition to the street art, Goldman properties began laying the groundwork for new development and investment by creating the Wynwood Building. The 44,000 square foot mix-use commercial building has become an icon for the area with it’s striking black and white striped mural on the façade and is home to cafes, galleries, and most importantly-the Goldman Properties leasing office.
Tony Goldman is no stranger to locating and envisioning potential up-and-coming neighborhoods and successfully coordinating the right parties and resources to bring grand ideas to life. He was a major force behind flipping the sleepy retirement community of South Beach Miami into the capital of pastel Deco buildings and endless partying; he was at the forefront of rejuvenating Center City, the red light district of Philadelphia, into a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood; and most notably, he helped realize Soho, a New York neighborhood so synonymous with art-led development that this type of neighborhood gentrification is oft referred to as the ‘Soho’ effect amongst urban planners and designers.
The neighborhood has proven so popular, that it has had a spillover effect on the surrounding areas. The neighboring Design District has long been home to local artisans conceptualizing, manufacturing, and selling their goods. But since the revitalization of Wynwood, this district has quickly transformed into Miami’s newest high-end retail mecca. Mom-and-pop furniture shops have been replaced by global luxury brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton. While Wynwood is all about paint on walls, the Design District takes on a much more ‘high-brow’ approach to invigorating the area with art and culture. Most of the new stores have striking architecture and even the new public parking garage in the district is an architectural showpiece- with facades by design firms Leong Leong and Iwamoto Scott and murals by artist John Baldessari blanketing the north and south sides of the garage. The area now looks like Rodeo Drive by way of Abbott Kinney.
But not everyone is a fan of Wynwood’s new persona. While Wynwood’s success has been a boon for developers, some long-term neighborhood residents are feeling the negative consequences. Before the galleries and single origin pour-over coffees arrived, the area was home to the largest Puerto Rican Community in the City. And many of these long-term residents don’t feel like any of this new progress is for them. And who would feel included in the progress when one of the prominent developers, David Lombardi, boasts that he “took chicken shit and made chicken salad in this neighborhood.”