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.
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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.