Real Estate

Huge New "Innovation District" Planned at Little Haiti's Magic City Studios

As Wynwood has transformed from gritty, graffitied artist haven to high-rent hipster district, developers have turned to a new frontier. Little Haiti has already seen galleries and trendy restaurants creep in. Now the traditionally Caribbean neighborhood will get a huge signature project.

Developer Tony Cho and investor Bob Zangrillo will announce their full plans today for Magic City Studios, a 45,000-square-foot "innovation district" between NE Second Avenue and NE 60th and 64th Streets.

The area will feature restaurants, a music venue, business spaces, and eventually residential units. The first phase of their project has already drawn some of the biggest Art Basel musical events out of Wynwood this year, including the III Points festival's concert series this week.

Cho promises Magic City Studios would be a boon for longtime residents and businesses. “We want to embrace the history," he tells the Miami Herald this morning. "We want to create jobs in the community and foster companies that want to give back to [community] education programs and support the kids."
The full scope of the plans are sure to reignite tensions with Little Haiti's leaders and residents, though. During last year's Art Basel, residents protested developers who tried to buy out homeowners.

"This is the story of businesses and homeowners being pressured and threatened one minute, sweet-talked the next to sell their homes," Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami, told New Times last December. "They're being offered two, three times the property of their homes to get out. Gentrification is here, baby."

More recently, a heated battle broke out when community leaders finally received official recognition for Little Haiti on city maps. Developers had pushed for the area's historic designation, Lemon City, to remain in part out of fear that the name "Little Haiti" is less marketable.

The Magic City Studio plans are a new level of development for the area. The Herald reports this morning that Cho and Zangrillo have already lined up tenants including the Salty Donut and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

A 15,000-square-foot building will be transformed into a business incubation center, while a space called the Factory will host concerts, including this week's III Points shows, with big names like James Blake and Young Thug.

Cho and Zangrillo, who declined to speak with New Times about their plans last week, will unveil their vision for the area, along with five new pieces of art that will adorn the property, at 5 p.m. today.

Projects like Magic City Studios make comparisons between Little Haiti and Wynwood inevitable, but Cho tells the Herald that's a good thing.

“We are investing money, cleaning things up, bringing more street lights and security in the neighborhood; we’re bringing in art, creating jobs,” Cho tells the daily.
The question, as always, will be how much those jobs benefit the mostly blue-collar residents who have lived in Little Haiti for decades. In Wynwood, rising property values booted most longtime businesses and have led to an exodus of the primarily Puerto Rican families that once lived there.

Take what Joan Milard, executive director of the NE 2nd Avenue Partnership, told New Times last year: "We welcome new people to the area, but they need to recognize that Little Haiti was built on the backs of all the Haitians who came here."
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink