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An artist's rendering of a planned mega-innovation center in Little Haiti.
An artist's rendering of a planned mega-innovation center in Little Haiti.
via Dragon Global

Magic City Developers Want 2,500 New Apartments, 27-Story Buildings in Little Haiti

Many Little Haiti residents already have indigestion over the 45,000-square-foot Magic City Innovation District proposed for their neighborhood. In 2016, developers announced plans to build a gigantic, "walkable campus" smack in the middle of the area, along NE Second Avenue from 60th to 64th Streets. In a community already worried about gentrification, it's the kind of megaproject that could push local rents to a point where immigrant residents are forced out. The developers already bought and cleared out a trailer park to begin the project.

And all of that anxiety has come even before the developers revealed their full plans. Now new details have emerged: Namely, the Magic City construction team wants to add a whopping 2,500 residential units to the property. In addition, the investors want to build 432 hotel rooms, 313,165 square feet of retail space, and 1.8 million square feet of office space. The plan calls for 17 new buildings, some as tall as 27 stories.

The developers say the project will begin construction in 2020 and take ten to 15 years to complete. So far, the only major structure on the property is Magic City Studios, a music and event space that hosts chic parties during Art Basel weekend.

The development group formally disclosed the information in a January 12 zoning-change application to the City of Miami. The anonymous real-estate blog the Next Miami obtained the application files yesterday afternoon and first posted them online.

Before anything can get built, city officials need to sign off on the concept and rezone a handful of plots. The project's lawyers sent a huge packet of documents to the city's planning director, Francisco Garcia, last month. The team pitched the project as a "unique and unparalleled addition to not only Little Haiti, but to the entire City of Miami, accomplished through a transformation of the existing SAP Parcels [i.e., the current land] into a hub for community-based entrepreneurship and innovation, technology, arts, and entertainment, sustainability and resiliency and health and wellness, while at the same time reflecting (and preserving) the rich cultural heritage of the Little Haiti community."

Magic City Developers Want 2,500 New Apartments, 27-Story Buildings in Little Haiti
via Dragon Global

On its face, the pitch seems great — the city does need walkable cultural hubs where people can gather and hang out, and much of the proposed land is currently occupied by crumbling old warehouses. The development team, led by investors Tony Cho and Robert Zangrillo, has verbally committed to "preserving" the surrounding Haitian and Caribbean culture, "embracing the history" of the neighborhood, and creating "local jobs" nearby. The developers told the City of Miami they spoke to 30 groups and nonprofits in the area, including Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami (FANM), the Community Justice Project, the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance, and the Haitian Chamber of Commerce of Florida.

But, of course, Miami has heard this kind of promise a thousand times before: Wynwood, for example, used to be a working-class garment district where a sizable immigrant population lived. Now you can't live nearby unless you have a trust fund, and anyone who lived in the neighborhood before its rapid-development phase can't afford a home within miles. (The median monthly rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in Wynwood as of fall 2017 was $2,100, and prices in the surrounding neighborhoods are beginning to spike upward as well.)

Longtime Little Haiti residents are worried the same fate will befall their neighborhood. As developers have offered to buy out homeowners for two to three times what they paid for their properties, anti-gentrification protests have swept through the community. According to the real-estate analytics site Zumper.com, rental prices jumped 13 percent in Little Haiti over the fall 2017 quarter alone. In December, artist and longtime Little Haiti resident Wilfrid Daleus died months after rising rents forced him to close his studio and art gallery on 59th Street. Friends reported he died of "heartbreak" — Little Haiti activist and FANM executive director Marleine Bastien told the Miami Herald she considered Daleus "the first victim of gentrification in Little Haiti." (As the online magazine The Root expertly detailed last year, Little Haiti also sits about ten feet above sea level, which basically makes it Aspen compared to the rest of Florida — and means land there will grow more expensive as the ocean swallows coastal areas nearby.)

Many of the problems tied to gentrification stem from city, county, and state governments rather than from developers. Miami has repeatedly failed to mandate that investors build affordable housing within or near all of these gleaming new developments.

Though the Magic City Innovation District hasn't yet inspired all-out protests, another proposed, 28-story development nearby, Eastside Ridge, severely pissed off neighbors when it was announced in 2016. The project would have steamrolled the entire Design Place apartment complex on NE Second Avenue and replaced it with an ultramodern one — until residents complained and zoning officials deferred voting on the idea. (The plan isn't entirely dead yet, though.) Miami developers have their hearts set on buying up gigantic swaths of land and building multiblock, "microcity" fiefdoms. (See: Mana, Moishe.)

The new Magic City proposals seem likely to spark another fight. On the surface, they don't seem all that different from what Eastside's developers pitched for the land fewer than ten blocks south.

Here are the documents the developers filed with the city:

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