It's been happening for a while.
The rent in Wynwood has doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled in some places, forcing many gallerists to move elsewhere. The issue is has divided the community, as a recent panel discussion that turned nasty recently illustrated.
Here's what's certain: Wynwood is no longer just an arts neighborhood. It's an arts and entertainment district. New restaurants and nightlife spots continue to pop up. This trend will not stop, and that's been the developers' plan for years. No, Wynwood is not yet a raging success. Aside from the madness of its Second Saturday Art Walks, the neighborhood is still relatively quiet 29 days out of the month. But as its success continues to build, two things are happening: the developers who built Wynwood are staying put, and many small business owners, most of which are art galleries, appear to be on their way out.
Will these galleries take the pulse, energy and soul of the neighborhood with them? And more importantly, where are they going?
Allapattah / West of Wynwood / Little Vista
There is a no-man's land on NW Seventh Avenue, a few blocks west of the heart of Wynwood. There are warehouses, used car dealerships, a tow yard. The area is big and airy, and the rent nice and cheap. Could this be the next hub of the Miami art community?
It's already proven to be a fertile ground for the arts. In 2008, OHWOW (Our House West of Wynwood) opened a studio on NW 31st Street and Seventh Avenue. They had the foresight to see their location was close to all the action, underground enough to get the cool kids there, and cheaper than Wynwood. (OHWOW has since relocated to L.A., definitely west of Wynwood.)
Francisco De La Torre, a new player in the "west of Wynwood" area, used to operate Butter Gallery in the middle of Wynwood. He moved out about a year ago. "They doubled my rent," he explained. "I'm friends with the owner of my old building. I get it. He came to me and said, 'Paco, this is what the place is worth. Can you do it?' and I said, 'No thanks, that's too much for me.'"
De La Torre recently remodeled a warehouse at NW 29th Street and Seventh Avenue. The building used to be a bike shop; now it's poised to be a hot destination for locals. He owns the property and is renting the space to others, most of whom have Wynwood ties. Those sharing or soon to be sharing his space include Wynwood Radio, Spinello Projects, I Heart 305, and a warehouse outlet of Panther Coffee.
"I promised I will never raise their rent, and we're doing it," explains De La Torre.
Bridges Aderhold operates GAB Studio on NW 23rd Street. Since 2009, his space has been a staple in Wynwood, hosting community outreach events, fundraisers, and live music. Krisp, arguably the hottest pop band in the city, got its start playing free gigs at GAB Studios during Second Saturdays.
Like many in Wynwood, Aderhold's days in the district are numbered. His landlord is selling the property on which GAB stands, including the bus depot next door, for a hefty $2.4 million. The Miami Arts Charter School, currently in the Design District, is buying the property and building a multiple-floor school building from scratch.
"A school is better than a bar, I guess," says Aderhold. "But I'd like to stay here. I don't want to leave the area." Aderhold's been looking around. "I currently pay $10 a square foot. Everything I'm looking at in Wynwood is currently $30 to $40 a square foot."
He has a big decision to make and only a few months to do it. Does he move to a bigger space in a less populated area, perhaps partnering up with other gallerists, and follow De La Torre's model on NW Seventh Avenue? "That actually is an option," he says, "but if I'm going to leave, I'd rather go somewhere with foot traffic, like maybe Downtown."
A lot of people are looking at Downtown. YoungArts and Cannonball (formerly LegalArt) are already set up there, as is CIFO (Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation) and the newly minted Downtown Art House, a conglomerate of local artists and galleries that includes Dimensions Variable, BFI (Bas Fisher Invitational), and the TM Sisters. With the help of the Downtown Development Authority, they took over a warehouse next to Club Space that formerly housed Capt. Harry's Fishing Supply -- rent free.
With the performance art center, American Airlines Arena, and two big museums opening soon, downtown appears the logical place to be. And the recent deconstruction and relocation of the Camillus House makes the area a lot safer for foot traffic.
"Downtown could be great, if you can find the space," concludes Aderhold.
Others leaving Wynwood have looked to Little Haiti. It has ample warehouse space, accessibility to all the burgeoning midtown neighborhoods, and the prices (though on the rise) are still manageable. Sure, Little Haiti is still a little sketchy, but no more so than Wynwood. And a handful of galleries have been operating there for awhile, including the community-based Little Haiti Cultural Center, the countercultural Moksha Studios, and the street-themed gallery Yo Space. Little Haiti already has its own cultural walk night: Third Fridays in Little Haiti. And the community has more in the works.
"I've been talking with business owners in the area about getting an art walk started on the last Sunday of the month," explains Yuval Ofir from Yo Space. The new night would take place between NE 54th and 62nd street and NE Second and Fourth avenues. "We're looking at the last Sunday in March, but we might have to push back to April for the first one."
It's a refreshing neighborhood, well-lit and sparse. Construction is finally complete on NE Second Ave., and now, Little Haiti feels accessible. In fact, it almost feels like Wynwood five years ago, raw and teeming.
"Little Haiti is untapped and full of potential, with old architecture and warehouses," explains Ofir. "It's gritty and a little dangerous, but there's a feeling there's a group of people hidden away in its midst just waiting for the right opportunity to band together and shake things up."
One of the biggest critiques of Wynwood has been the failure of business owners to band together. Maybe Little Haiti has the recipe when it comes to merging business owners?
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The short-term future of Wynwood is uncertain. How high are property owners willing to raise rent on speculation? Can outsiders moving into Wynwood sustain its artsy energy? One thing is for sure: Wynwood, in the long term, is moving toward monetization and gentrification, and with many business owners leaving, a new, grittier scene is due to emerge. And it shouldn't be a surprise. That's what happened in SoHo in New York and also SOMA in San Francisco. Bring in the artists and the art, build up the neighborhood and make it cool, and then capitalize -- even if it means squeezing some businesses out. Wasn't Coconut Grove once an artist's colony? Wasn't Lincoln Road? Is this not how it works?
Don't be surprised. And don't hate. It's actually all pretty exciting.