Designing Wynwood

Developer Tony Goldman has made a big investment in a small neighborhood

Real estate development has different meanings in the minds of different people. Buy land cheap, increase rents, displace residents, demolish, then build big, dreary structures to multiply the investment. This is the typical scenario for greedy, irresponsible developers who only care for a quick return, even at the expense of social upheaval.

Another approach is to turn around a neighborhood with a vision. Making a profit is still vital, but the development process is informed by social awareness and an appreciation for high quality urban planning and beauty.

Tony Goldman is a romantic developer. In the Seventies he recycled a number of properties in New York's SoHo, helping to transform the neighborhood from a bleak manufacturing area into a haven for artists. During the Eighties he was among the first to buy and rehabilitate real estate in Miami Beach's Art Deco District, and became instrumental in that city's renaissance. He is also known for ventures like SoHo's Greene Street Café (the famous, but now defunct, jazz club); SoHo Kitchen and Bar; the Park Central Hotel on Ocean Drive; the Todd Oldham-designed Tiffany Hotel (now called The Hotel) on Collins Avenue; and the award-winning, mixed-use parking garage at Collins and Seventh Street, a private-public partnership.

In 1993 Goldman was named citizen of the year by the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. Three years later he became chairman of the Historic Hotels of America, a program directed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2002 Goldman was again honored by the Miami Beach chamber as its first inductee into the Travel and Tourism Hall of Fame.

In word and deed Goldman is a model for developers who value high quality as much as revenue. New Times had the opportunity to interview Goldman and son Joey, his partner in an ambitious development venture, this one involving nineteen properties the Goldmans have purchased in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.

Also an art lover, Goldman has followed the lead of other Miami collectors -- the Rubell family and Martin Margulies, for example -- by putting his collection on public display. Last month the Goldman Warehouse (404 NW 26th St., Miami) opened with "Jules Olitski: Six Decades," an exhibit of the famed colorist and Abstract Expressionist. The show runs through April 15. For more information call 305-531-4411.

New Times: In a recent article referring to Wynwood, you wrote that the place has "an energy that's about to explode." What are the signs?

Tony Goldman: I'm talking of my own energy and the energy on the street, in the neighborhood, in the destination. You hear the talk on the ground, generated by the tastemakers and scene-stirrers. It's the whispers through the underground scene that follow the young and established artists' worlds, eagerly looking for centralization. People are in many different places, but no critical mass.

Why Wynwood?

Joey Goldman: Several reasons. One, Wynwood is in the center of town. Two, it's less than three miles from Miami Beach. Three, with 35,000 residential condos to be built in the city, I believe Miami is in need of a pedestrian hub, a place where you can find a number of exciting possibilities by walking.

Sort of emulating the Miami Beach model.

JG: Miami has more people than Miami Beach. And obviously, as the city grows, we need more options. South Beach is the only viable destination right now. Yet traveling from Miami, it means being stuck on the causeway every weekend. Miami can have a center for the arts, with restaurants and cafés and retail stores and artists' studios and buildings built to the street line. We could even reverse the one-way trend -- people from the Beach could find the land across the bay really attractive.

What are the problems?

TG: Miami doesn't have a pedestrian walkabout, no place that you can walk and have a Chelsea scene or a SoHo scene. Art Basel brought the major wind into Miami to prove that the city is valuable, the next generation of urban centers. The arts community proves it. The people who are visiting Miami bring this New York energy, an international influence. Still something is missing.

And what's that?

TG: I'm talking about a vital grid system, centralized, with streets and ample sidewalks, where the scale is ready for pedestrians and the buildings are ready for the art. This is what Wynwood could provide.

Where is Wynwood now?

TG: Wynwood is still a community that is architecturally introverted. Few of these buildings have windows.

Is that good or bad?

TG: It's what it is. Let's say that in its present stage, Wynwood doesn't publicize its good. Street life occurs when there is window-shopping, where the energy flows from the outside in, and vice versa. If we look at the big picture, in the future we could have a developed grid with interesting shops and restaurants and cafés together with people and artists living there. Sort of what happened in Chelsea or Williamsburg [in Brooklyn].

And yet the Chelsea formula didn't work.

TG: Unfortunately, but the similarity between Wynwood and Williamsburg is still valid and lies in the integration of the residential single-family homes. They both have blue-collar housing. What Joey and I want to do is to be able to introduce some smart housing into it.

Some people are scared of the bad aspects of gentrification: the displacement, the Gaps moving in, the homogeneity. We're a poor city with a nasty history of highway construction policies.

TG: I think the arts community does need to come together almost as a community development group, and we would like to help and participate with that. We need a balance between the community vision and what you call the "romantic developer" vision. This shared vision needs to be built into the plan. I'm talking about a place that has a broad artistic base. Not gentrification, but "gentlefication," which would be a redefinition of the term. I introduced this idea to the National Trust, this point of view that as you improve the quality of the buildings, you won' t displace the people who have roots in the community. They provide sense of color, of diversity given by the embedded family. There needs to be a proactive approach with the community, because government will respond to what the community thinks it needs.

What can be done?

TG: We want to create a community development corporation that is designed to create a balanced vision between experimental, low-cost commercial facilities as well as housing and studio space.

How would the process evolve?

JG: Well, we're in the process of looking at the whole master plan to decide what we want to do and be patient about it and let things happen naturally.

TG: Yeah, it's about not forcing things.

JG: Perhaps over the next three years we'll see a lot of things happening. The area needs to slowly move from soft bubbly to effervescence. I just approved a lease for a new café to open on 27th Street and NW Third Avenue. We are in the process of getting other structures ready.

What kind of design do you have in mind?

JG: Quality architecture. I like to look at architecture as an artist looks at a painting. If you can be thoughtful and plan for something different and fresh and special and creative -- that is exciting. Whatever gets developed in Wynwood needs to be architecturally interesting and responsible, in the sense of bringing air, light, and incorporating well-thought design. Wynwood needs to become and remain pedestrian. If we go taller, we should treat it artistically. Of course, you have to take your time. Building is not just putting up concrete, steel, and glass. The challenge is to find the best architects, even architects from all over the world. But they must respect human scale and understand what it means to build a community.

How's the future?

TG: We need to keep a balance. The development is good insofar as it promotes and enriches the interaction of the protagonists in situ. Development needs to go in the direction of "gentlefication." We don't want the national chains coming and taking over. There must be a judicious diversity. I'm in favor of heterogeneity as opposed to homogeneity. We need more Bakehouses [the Bakehouse Art Complex], more artists' housing as live-work studio space that ensures the artistic community prospers -- this together with the blue-collar community and the service community that will work to support it. The area should maintain an edge. It doesn't have to be perfect. I think it has to be unpredictable, with an air of danger, so you don't become complacent.

How about zoning?

TG: There needs to be a zoning component so the community doesn't get super big and then we end up displacing the necessary ingredients. Take the less affluent -- there needs to be a creative sector of the community that is not necessarily affluent. Creative affluence is equally as important as financial affluence. It may be the government or a public-private partnership to get the city to share in some of the needed resources.

JG (referring to zoning): My vision involves a range mixture, to see part of Wynwood becoming higher density, low to midrise, and other parts of Wynwood being low-rise residential. You create a balance between the two. We need to solve the parking problem. We own a piece of land to build a parking facility when the time is right.

What is artists' housing?

JG: It's about stimulating the environment and helping the community grow with less expensive options for people to stay and to flourish.

What ideas do you have for your warehouse in Wynwood?

JG: We just opened the [Jules] Olitski retrospective. I think he's amazing.

Why Olitski?

TG: Jules is an underestimated painter. I've known him for 25 years. He always stays original. He is not pushing to make noise. His art is outstanding. Look at his treatment of form and texture and the paint and the flow. It almost looks flat but it's got tremendous breadth. The energy and emotion of his work are enough for me to live with them.

What do you look for in art?

TG: Elegance and uniqueness. But mostly I look for color. The exchanges of color, the way they meet, refract, and recede on the canvas's surface.

Tony, you're a fan of abstraction.

TG: Yes. Abstraction is about the pigment and the form. There's a line between the color extension and what you do with that, and your own freedom. But I look for unpredictability, those things that are aesthetically risk-taking -- to stay fresh and on the edge. Artists need to risk to achieve greatness, to make something exceptional. I don't go with the fad. It has to be more long lasting.

Any other projects?

TG: I'd love to work on some public art in Wynwood. Joey and I are talking about creating a public-art plan. I was impressed with Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Gates in Central Park. It brought light and optimism to the most oblique time of the year in New York. Imagine a project like The Gates extending from Miami north to Hollywood. It would be dynamic and uplifting, a true aesthetic explosion.

What drives you?

TG: To add value and purpose to a community. If we're helpful in inspiring a neighborhood to become richer, we all benefit. To see people walking, enjoying themselves amid good architecture and with a sense of community is an absolute turn-on to us. I know that I have done it. I want to keep doing it.

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