Wynwood BID to Launch Early With $40K Knight Foundation Grant

The Wynwood Business Improvement District is now $43,500 closer to cleaning up -- and possibly pissing off -- the trendy art community, thanks to a donation from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Issued late this month, the funds allow the Wynwood BID to launch immediately, instead of waiting until January 2014 when the organization can officially collect taxes from property owners in the area. Wynwood Arts District Association director of operations Jose Nava-Lujambio, who secured the grant, says the Knight Foundation's funds will be used set up the program's foundation and future direction.

"All the procurement activities and hiring of staff would have been delayed until the BID had revenue," Nava-Lujambio told New Times. "What we're doing before then is setting up the entire framework for the BID, so once the assessments start coming in, it can immediately start focusing on activities that are relevant to the community."

See also: Wynwood Gallerists React to the New BID: "We Didn't Get a Vote"

Because the BID is a municipal corporation rather than a nonprofit, the organization can put more direct pressure on city departments to fix problems. The BID will assume responsibility for financing security efforts, which are currently financed by WADA. Sanitation and security improvements are among the first priorities to accomplish by the end of the year, Nava-Lujambio says.

"Getting trash cans on the streets is extremely critical, we've been working on those for years," he said. "Wynwood has been underserviced for years. The city has been so constrained in terms of its resources that Wynwood hasn't been able to receive what it deserves with security and presentation."

In the future, BID and WADA will collaborate on several projects, from cultural programming for the community and public arts initiatives, to streetscape improvements and developing a master plan for the arts district. "In the short term, it's more about being able to jumpstart operations," Nava-Lujambio said.

Organized by the WADA, the BID plan to make the neighborhood safer and friendlier was both praised and criticized by Wynwood creatives earlier this year. Although weary of the possible directions the project could take back in June, artist and gallery director Daniel Fiorda has grown more optimistic about the BID's future.

"From all the new storefront developments opening now until December and so on, I can see a positive outlook," Fiorda said. "I think if the money is very well budgeted and spread throughout the entire neighborhood to businesses of all kinds, not just one avenue, it will be very positive."

See also: Wynwood's New Business Improvement District Promises Fewer Car Break-Ins, Cleaner Streets

Other art staples are still skeptical. Miami gallery director Frederic Snitzer's unenthusiastic comments about Wynwood in the Miami Herald drew criticism at a January ARTtuesdays/Miami panel.

"I don't know what is going to happen here," he told the Herald. "One of the initial aspirations I had for the neighborhood is that there were so many beautiful kinds of raw spaces that perhaps serious galleries from out-of-town would come in and there would be a Chelsea or SoHo feel -- a cluster of galleries showing solid work...I don't have the aspirations I used to have about the neighborhood anymore."

Snitzer's stance hasn't shifted much since then, except to clarify that his comments were referring to the nature of the art displayed in Wynwood, rather than the changes trying to be made in the community.

"I don't see any evidence that the direction is towards a high-quality district. They have a lot of galleries but not necessarily of an international caliber," Snitzer said. "That doesn't mean I don't hope it gets better. There's tons of retail and restaurants developing there and that's great."

Despite Snitzer's outlook, the majority of business owners in Wynwood are much more enthusiastic about how BID and WADA will elevate the neighborhood, Nava-Lujambio says.

"This year, we have proved to the community that we're at a point where we need to go further to enhance our community, and nobody else will do it if we don't do it," he said. "And we can do that while keeping art and culture at the core, which is the most important thing."

Keeping Wynwood's cultural core intact while making it more open to business is the primary concern of most stakeholders, Nava-Lujambio says. He cites the Wynwood Ways project -- colorful crosswalks designed by kinetic artist Carlos Cruz-Diez -- as an example of how public and private efforts can solve the community's beautification problems while not compromising its artistic integrity.

Nava-Lujambio wouldn't disclose exactly what creative initiatives WADA and BID have in place for the future, but said he's received an excited response from businesses, artists, and gallery owners.

"I think we're doing something good here."

--Shelly Davidov

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