The Wynwood building where Don and Mera Rubell house their collection is a Parthenon of modern art. The white walls at the 45,000-square-foot, former DEA warehouse are adorned by as many icons as there are Greek gods: Richard Prince, Keith Haring posters, loud Barbara Krugers, Warhol Maos.
For 17 years, it's been the anchor of the neighborhood. But in April, the couple chose to take their art elsewhere. A thousand miles away, to be exact, in cheap, ripe-for-the-developing Washington D.C. The Rubells bought an abandoned school for a bargain $6.5 million, and they plan on turning it into a school, hotel, and satellite of their collection.
It's the kind of cheap real estate deal that brought the New York couple to South Florida in the first place, but also the kind they don't anticipate seeing in Miami again. "Could we go into Wynwood and do what we did 15 years ago? No, it's too expensive," Mera said in an interview. "Art goes where it can afford to go."
When the Rubells first came to South Florida in 1993, Wynwood was a cesspool of illicit crime and empty warehouses. "People thought we were out of our minds to go into that dangerous area," Mera said. It was also cheap. They bought their warehouse for a cool $450,000.
In the time since, the property has increased 80 percent in value. Wynwood itself has mushroomed into a hotbed of galleries and artist studios, with not just property values skyrocketing, but rents as well. That bubble has driven out some 20 galleries out of business, while other galleries and artists have relocated to cheaper parts of the county. Last year Locust Projects moved to the Design District, and Spinello Gallery moved first to Miami Shores, and then into the District as well.
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D.C., on the other hand, is luring developers to its blighted neighborhoods with cheap real estate and tax incentives the way Miami once did. The abandoned school the Rubells are buying is worth six times their paying price, $26 million, the New York Times reported. Mera says she's doesn't expect to leave Miami soon, but if artists can't afford to stay in Florida, then they might follow them by investing elsewhere. "Nobody should take us for granted."