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The temporary closure of the Wynwood Marketplace has sparked a debate over the neighborhood's future.
The temporary closure of the Wynwood Marketplace has sparked a debate over the neighborhood's future.
Photo by George Martinez

Miami Leaders Say "Archaic" Nightlife Laws Need to Change for Wynwood

Tensions in Wynwood have boiled over in recent weeks. The temporary shutdown of the Wynwood Marketplace over alleged permit violations was the rock that got turned over, exposing the underlying clashes and launching the Save Wynwood campaign, which many business owners argue is a sham.

Yesterday two emergency meetings were called to hash out problems about noise, code enforcement, reportedly illegal temporary businesses, and supposedly preferential treatment for developers. The meetings marked the first time City of Miami officials have weighed in on the neighborhood's future and the need for changes to the city's laws. But the tone and tenor of what city leaders had to say varied between meetings — and it left some people with questions about where their elected officials' support lies.

First up was a morning meeting at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse organized by the Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID) — a city board that represents neighborhood interests. The gathering was intended as a platform for Wynwood business owners, residents, artists, developers, and employees to air their frustrations. Sven Vogtland, a member of the BID board and owner of Coyo Taco and 1-800-Lucky, said that the code enforcement issues are "911" for businesses and that the pressure to turn down their music to inaudible levels to comply with regulations could irreversibly threaten establishments.

"Three or four more weeks of this pressure could fold a business," he said.

Mayor Francis Suarez, Police Chief Jorge Colina, City Manager Art Noriega, and Commissioners Keon Hardemon and Ken Russell also attended. Some of the 200-plus people at the meeting booed Hardemon, whose district includes most of Wynwood, when he said he needed to leave "out of an abundance of caution" owing to a potential violation of the Florida Sunshine Law. Because two commissioners were in the same room listening to information that could result in action during a future city commission meeting, he said he had to go. A city attorney backed up Hardemon's decision, but many business owners took it as a slap in the face.

"It's very frustrating," Philippe Kalifa, co-owner of the bar El Patio, told New Times. "We would have wanted to talk to our officials."

Suarez acknowledged that the city was aware of the issues the BID and business owners raised: establishments operating without permits, increasing noise complaints, late-night code enforcement visits to places that hadn't previously received violations, and temporary businesses exploiting Wynwood's growth to the detriment of longtime tenants. He said all stakeholders in the neighborhood need to come together so Wynwood can continue thriving.

"This is a neighborhood that is growing incredibly fast, and we want to make sure we continue to foster that and not do anything that destroys what all of you have taken so much time and so much energy and capital and risked so much to create," Mayor Suarez said.

But there was no discussion about how or why those issues have persisted. Suarez said the business owners need to tone down their "rhetoric."

"It's painful for us in the city to watch the infighting because we don't think it's productive," he said.

"Compromise" seemed to be the word of the day. Chief Colina told business owners they would regret it if they didn't come together.

"Make sure that you put in the effort to continue to grow this neighborhood instead of thinking about ways of attacking each other," Colina said, "because you're going to be sorry down the road if you don't do your part and this neighborhood becomes something that nobody wants."

El Patio's Kalifa said he didn't feel reassured by what city officials had to say. "We feel diminished," he told New Times.

A few hours later, billionaire developer Moishe Mana and Tony Albelo of the event production company Swarm — originators of the Save Wynwood campaign — held their own event. The afternoon meeting resembled a sponsored pep rally rather than a forum for discussion. Suarez, Hardemon, Colina, and Mana sat together and answered questions moderated by Swarm's vice president of marketing, Albert Berdellans. About 200 people, many in black "Save Wynwood" T-shirts, attended the rally, which was staged on a vacant lot across from the Wynwood Marketplace.

The Save Wynwood campaign alleges that City of Miami officials and luxury developers are conspiring to stifle nightlife and shut down businesses by 11 p.m. daily. The campaign organizers take particular issue with a city ordinance that prohibits outdoor music after 11. The organizers want the law changed, and Suarez and Colina said they agree it needs to be revisited.

"A lot of the code is, in fact, archaic," Colina said.

Swarm's Albelo attended the afternoon event but said he skipped the morning meeting because he didn't want to get "dragged out." Despite claims to the contrary, Swarm has maintained it was legally operating the Wynwood Marketplace and that its permits were up to date until 2021. Albelo said the Wynwood Marketplace acted as a "testbed" for the concept to make money and, it was hoped, set up shop permanently at a later time. He added that the venue was an incubator for small businesses and said the closure is a loss to the vendors and businesses that benefited from the space.

Whatever the next steps will be, Hardemon, Suarez, and Colina agreed something needs to change. Suarez called the city's current noise ordinance "nebulous."

"I've seen a lot of neighborhoods rise and fall because of government regulation," the mayor told New Times after the meeting. "So I think we have to be very careful with how we proceed. We want to balance enforcement of our laws with having common-sense laws and make sure that our laws are not outdated, which they might be."

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