Postcards from the Edgewater

Miami's slummiest oceanfront neighborhood could be the next big thing. It could also turn into the next condo canyon.

They loved the house and the waterfront location, but by 1982 they knew the neighborhood was turning rough around the edges. True, the Juan Pablo Segundo retreat for Jesuit priests stood just down the road, but she also remembers counting three drug rehab houses right across the street.

As she chats a family of ducks waddles down the sidewalk past her house. They belong to a neighbor whose menagerie also includes roosters and often spills out on to the street and stops traffic. Carriero pays them scant attention but does take note of the latest wave of immigrants in the neighborhood. Most, she explains, are from Central America, and they've brought a change to the area.

“Nobody threw papers or littered,” she remarks wistfully. “Now they don't care.”

Neighboring identical buildings, but one radiates South Beach, the other slum
Steve Satterwhite
Neighboring identical buildings, but one radiates South Beach, the other slum
Sergio Guadix and Lt. Mario Garcia have made it a mission to clean up Edgewater
Steve Satterwhite
Sergio Guadix and Lt. Mario Garcia have made it a mission to clean up Edgewater

Why did Edgewater begin to fall into decay? Many of its old-timers say the changes began when their own children grew up and moved away from the neighborhood, robbing it of continuity. Houses were sold rather than passed down within families, and over the years, absentee landlords filled the vacuum.

In the 1970s and 1980s, economics and politics dealt a one-two punch to the neighborhood. Speculators, many of them wealthy South Americans, bought millions of dollars' worth of property in the community but neglected their holdings as they waited for buyers and the next development boom. By 1983, hoping to ease the growing blight by encouraging developers to demolish old buildings and replace them with high-rises, the Miami City Commission rezoned the neighborhood from single-family homes to multifamily residences. But there was no boom, recalls James Stover, the former owner and president of Bay Realty of Florida, located in Edgewater. He began selling property in the community in 1973 and remembers that economic collapse in South America brought much of the investment to a halt.

There has been social as well as economic unrest: The 1980 Liberty City riots and the Mariel boatlift were the final straws for many Edgewater homeowners, who fled north to Broward. In their wake came a flood of newly arrived Cubans. The city commission rezoning lure backfired on the neighborhood as property owners exploited the high-density allowances to subdivide the old houses, duplexes, and buildings into tiny apartments to shelter the immigrants. Edgewater became a place to begin anew and then leave as soon as possible.

And as the community atmosphere evaporated, prostitutes, drug dealers, and vagrants also moved in. The city government, mired in corruption and inefficiency, did little to stem the tide. Neglected buildings fell into disrepair as they were abandoned or taken over by squatters.

Carriero and other residents of the neighborhood say they struggled over the years to try to reverse the decline. In 1987 she joined a homeowners organization that through the years harangued the city into razing dozens of derelict buildings that had become havens for crack addicts.

“We fought very hard, and that was good,” she says.

Stover, who is 88 years old and retired, sees slow signs of renewal. He sold his company to Arvida Realty but retains a financial interest and is hopeful that sales will increase. “It looks like we might not come out smelling like a rose,” he admits. “But maybe we can break even.”

Carriero, however, is tired. She's weathered all the neighborhood's ups and downs and has trouble getting around. She's not interested in waiting to see how Edgewater turns out. Her taxes are getting too high. She's had offers to sell that become more appealing as time passes.

Some of the founders of Concerned Citizens of Edgewater Area (the later incarnation of the homeowners association Carriero assisted) are sitting around a conference table in architect Juan Crespi's office, located off Biscayne Boulevard on 27th Street. In addition to Crespi, the group includes Armando Rodriguez, an assistant principal at the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School (not related to Joel Rodriguez); and Benito Diaz, a lawyer who represents the local Jesuit retreat. Crespi and his father own four properties in Edgewater but haven't lived in the area since 1970. Rodriguez used to live here, too, but has moved to Coral Gables. His family has owned property in the neighborhood since the 1960s, when his father, a Cuban exile, began to buy apartments and single-family homes. Relatives, including a brother and an aunt, still live nearby.

The three men have waged a campaign for years to rid the neighborhood of crime and encourage businesses to set up shop. Their efforts have contributed to the creation of a police ministation in the neighborhood and the installation of brighter street lights. With the help of Edgewater residents, they helped shut down a motel that doubled as a brothel. They also successfully fought off efforts to turn the neighborhood into an industrial storage zone for the Port of Miami. Their struggle hasn't been easy. It took four years, for example, to persuade the city to plant palm trees along a few of the streets, says Armando Rodriguez.

No one disputes that in the past five years Edgewater has improved steadily. The price of property per square foot has doubled since 1995, when the average cost was $26.14, and this for property located off the water or away from Biscayne Boulevard. This year the price is about $52.41 per square foot. Waterfront square footage costs about $80 and is rising. In the past twelve months, according to Joel Rodriguez, 72 properties were sold (the figure doesn't include condominium units), an increase from 48 in 1995 and 1996.

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