Postcards from the Edgewater

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Some of the founders of Concerned Citizens of Edgewater Area (the later incarnation of the homeowners association Carriero assisted) are sitting around a conference table in architect Juan Crespi's office, located off Biscayne Boulevard on 27th Street. In addition to Crespi, the group includes Armando Rodriguez, an assistant principal at the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School (not related to Joel Rodriguez); and Benito Diaz, a lawyer who represents the local Jesuit retreat. Crespi and his father own four properties in Edgewater but haven't lived in the area since 1970. Rodriguez used to live here, too, but has moved to Coral Gables. His family has owned property in the neighborhood since the 1960s, when his father, a Cuban exile, began to buy apartments and single-family homes. Relatives, including a brother and an aunt, still live nearby.

The three men have waged a campaign for years to rid the neighborhood of crime and encourage businesses to set up shop. Their efforts have contributed to the creation of a police ministation in the neighborhood and the installation of brighter street lights. With the help of Edgewater residents, they helped shut down a motel that doubled as a brothel. They also successfully fought off efforts to turn the neighborhood into an industrial storage zone for the Port of Miami. Their struggle hasn't been easy. It took four years, for example, to persuade the city to plant palm trees along a few of the streets, says Armando Rodriguez.

No one disputes that in the past five years Edgewater has improved steadily. The price of property per square foot has doubled since 1995, when the average cost was $26.14, and this for property located off the water or away from Biscayne Boulevard. This year the price is about $52.41 per square foot. Waterfront square footage costs about $80 and is rising. In the past twelve months, according to Joel Rodriguez, 72 properties were sold (the figure doesn't include condominium units), an increase from 48 in 1995 and 1996.

In addition, just past the southern boundary of Edgewater, a much-anticipated performing-arts center will break ground when the county approves a contractor. A little further south developers are buying up properties to create movie and music studios. The United Teachers of Dade union currently is building offices on Biscayne Boulevard. Plans for at least one waterfront residential tower are in the works. And a few blocks past the northern border, the Design District has taken off. In 1996 New Times moved into the neighborhood. (New Times owns no property in Edgewater.) Internet startups geared toward Hispanic markets also are taking up residence.

As you drive along some of Edgewater's streets these days, you'll see beautifully restored houses on manicured lawns with SUVs and expensive foreign cars parked out front. On some blocks the upscale residences seem to be getting the upper hand over nearby dilapidated homes and apartments where, at 3:00 a.m., you can still see front doors wide open and young men lounging outside like watchmen.

Joel Rodriguez says he and his wife have tried to buy one building per year since they arrived. Unfortunately, he notes, it seems they are being priced out of the market.

Despite the real estate upswing, no one seems to know what kind of a future will be best for Edgewater. While the city has developed master plans for the nearby neighborhoods -- downtown to the south and the Design District and the Upper Eastside to the north -- it has none for Edgewater. “We haven't had a substantial involvement on the part of the residents or developers in the area pushing for it,” says Gregory Gay, an urban community planner with the city.

Perhaps the neighborhood's biggest booster is Miami Police Lt. Mario Garcia, who grew up near Edgewater and today oversees police activity in the area. He's so well-known here that some residents have taken to calling him the mayor of Edgewater.

Garcia, age 43, makes his rounds as a social worker and evangelist for renewal, as much as a policeman. On any given day he'll check in with a number of businesses. If someone is new to the neighborhood, he'll offer a welcome. He's not shy about fundraising, either, and enlists support for a host of community-building activities, mostly for children.

When he first arrived to patrol the area in 1996, he recalls, the employees at one local business on Biscayne Boulevard would sit by their window and take bets about how many johns the sidewalk prostitutes would service in a day. The city cemetery on NE Eighteenth Street and Second Avenue, where many of Miami's early civic leaders are buried, served as a sort of hooker hotel.

Garcia acknowledges city government is to blame for the deterioration here in municipal services, such as garbage removal, street maintenance, crime prevention, and code enforcement. And he recalls the hostility he faced when he came on the job. “There was a lot of mistrust and resentment,” he says, much of it left over from riots in 1988, set off after a police shooting in neighboring Wynwood.

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Jacob Bernstein
Contact: Jacob Bernstein