For many of the gallerists whose art spaces helped transform Wynwood into Miami's cultural heartbeat, the recent vote to create a Business Improvement District (BID) in the neighborhood is both a blessing and a cause for worry.
The art dealers and gallery owners we interviewed all agree that the initiative, spearheaded by the Wynwood Arts District Association (WADA), might play a vital role in making the area it will encompass---between 20th to 29th Streets and between NW Fifth Avenue and the railroad tracks bordering North Miami Avenue---more pedestrian friendly by heightening security and providing more lighting and better sanitation services.
But some gallerists say they wonder if the BID will represent their concerns over nurturing Wynwood's cultural growth, express fear they may be priced out as rents are raised to cover planned improvements and also complain of never having been contacted by WADA to participate in the BID voting process even though they are due paying members of the organization. In short they object that WADA has not been inclusive and that's a huge problem for the local arts community moving forward.
Beginning in 2014, the BID could raise up to $700,000 for planned improvement by levying funds from property owners within the designated district. BID organizers say it will also act as a unified voice, representing the business owners, galleries, developers, and other commercial interests in Wynwood.
Gregg Shienbaum, who owns an eponymous gallery on NW Second Avenue, is one of several gallerists who say WADA never alerted them to the vote. (Shienbaum is a member of the organization.)
"That money [WADA's $500 annual dues] is supposed to go to print area maps, for security during Second Saturdays and other things, but WADA has had trouble collecting from local businesses and galleries who frankly have been speaking about forming their own organization to address these same issues BID is supposed to," says Shienbaum.
"Don't get me wrong. I think that if BID is successful in cleaning up the neighborhood, putting in more street lamps and elevating the presence of security, it will help attract more people to the area. I also think that those things are necessary to bring more clothing boutiques and funky shops that will make Wynwood more attractive for pedestrians," adds Shienbaum.
"The problem I have is WADA never contacted about voting for the BID process, and I feel they are more focused on development and big business, and these property owners are going to increase rents in the area. I don't have a problem paying my $500 annual fees to WADA and support their effort, but I haven't paid the fee lately, like many other galleries I know, because I don't like the idea of tossing that kind of money down the drain either," Shienbaum says.
WADA director of operations Jose Nava says the reason many local galleries were not contacted to vote was because the process did not allow for it unless the art dealers owned the property.
"The way it works is that commercial property owners were allowed one vote for each folio they hold which represents a single vote in the process," Nava explains. "For example if a business or commercial property owner has three buildings/properties then they were allowed to cast three votes for or against the BID process. The galleries were not invited to vote on the subject because they were renters and not owners," explains Nava, who says those were the rules applied by the City of Miami and not WADA. "But of the 418 folios comprising the area targeted for improvement, 274 or 64 percent voted to approve it, and even if the galleries in the area did not vote they will still benefit from the resulting community services."
But for local artist, Daniel Fiorda, who is also the director of the Lelia Mordoch Gallery, the process of Wynwood's runaway gentrification is encapsulated by the BID proposal.
"It's great that WADA pushed to get more street lighting and security here, since local galleries and businesses have been clamoring for them to do so for years. The problem that follows that naturally favors big real estate interests and not the galleries. People who came to Wynwood early and have continued coming here [are here] to see the art," Fiorda said.
"But some of these people don't understand that. For them, BID is all about raising their property values, and whatever taxes are assed to them they will make up with increased rents. That could quickly change the makeup of the area, when artists are forced to move because they no longer can afford to be here," he continues. "What is strange to me is that WADA, which we are members of and pay a steep annual fee to, never contacted us to vote for this BID thing. That is troublesome to find about after the fact when they send an email congratulating us that the vote passed. That only leads to murkiness over the issue and negative feelings when you feel left out of the discussion."
That disconnect between local galleries and WADA, not to mention Wynwood's devolvement into a block party atmosphere during Second Saturdays, is what first led Isaac Perelman and other art dealers in the district to form the Miami Art Dealers Association (MADA) back in early 2011.
Perelman, who is the cofounder and owner of the Dot Fiftyone Gallery, one of the area's pioneer spaces, joined together with upwards of two dozen local galleries to form the non-profit MADA with the goal of reclaiming Second Saturdays from the throngs of partiers that crowd Wynwood's streets every month. MADA also aimed to make the neighborhood friendlier for families.
He expresses shock that WADA did not reach out to them to support its BID efforts, given that they share the same goals with the organization.
"They did not approach or invite us to be part of the project," says Perelman, who adds that he's adopting a wait and see attitude for how BID will develop.
"I agree with its goals to enhance the community, especially with more police presence to make our visitors feel safer. But I want to see how they plan to accomplish these goals and BID's plans to make them effective," explains Perelman, who has seen efforts by local businesses and galleries to beautify Wynwood fall by the wayside during the last decade.
Robert Fontaine, who owns an eponymous gallery on NW Second Avenue across from Panther Coffee, agrees with Perelman. "I'm cautiously optimistic. Growth, like lack of growth, comes with a price. My hope and wish is that any such move toward this direction will benefit those who own businesses, not just those who own property."
For other gallerists like Dina Mitrani, who is a member of both WADA and MADA, the BID is a potential game changer for an area she says is desperate.
"My family owns this building that houses my gallery. My sister Rhonda just opened The Screening Room next door, and there are two other galleries in the building. These improvements that BID has in the works will increase foot traffic. You have to remember Miami is a young city and Wynwood has become very trendy," says Mitrani. "We need to all work together to maintain the area's cultural integrity and we need to offer visitors an environment that is safer and cleaner."
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