There are three stages in the life cycle of every "hip" urban neighborhood. First, broke artists move into an economically depressed area of town, set up studios, and slowly make it cool — and often push out longtime residents as rents climb. In Stage 2, the full-on explosion arrives. The neighborhood becomes an international capital of nightlife, dining, and fashion, tourists arrive, and Vogue writes about how your city's neighborhood is a "new capital of cool."
Then, in Stage 3, condo developers try to capitalize on that wave. Huge apartment complexes arrive, bringing residential urban living — but also threatening to totally drive the edge out of the scene. Similar tales have played out, from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Capitol Hill, Seattle.
Last week, new evidence arrived that Wynwood has officially hit Stage 3.
On Thursday, Wynwood's Design Review Committee, which must approve any pitches for new development in the area, signed off on three massive apartment complexes — each slated for the dead center of the neighborhood.
"Everything that’s happened here, the energy, excitement, we're just taking that to the natural progression of the next level," says Joe Furst, chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District. "Ten years ago, very little was happening here."
The first project, Wynwood 25, would bring 289 rental units to the corner of NW Second Avenue and NW 24th Street, along with a yoga studio, collaborative co-working spaces, a coffee lounge, and a dog-washing facility.
The second, which would basically sit across the street from Wynwood 25, has been dubbed "222 Wynwood" and would stretch eight stories tall and house 35 rental units. The third building, dubbed Wynwood 26, would add 176 new apartments at the intersection of NW 26th Street and North Miami Avenue.
The proposals come after the city changed Wynwood's zoning codes last year to allow condo development. Prior to that change, Wynwood had remained a low-lying "warehouse" district for the past decade because local multistory apartment complexes were banned in the area. (The new rules allow buildings of up to five, eight, and 12 stories, depending upon the location.)
Though developer Moishe Mana has been fighting for the past year to build what amounts to a tiny city at the south end of Wynwood, he had until this point been an outlier among Wynwood land developers. But as the Wynwood DRC's slew of coming proposals shows, Mana is not alone anymore. The Wynwood apartment boom has arrived.
The Wynwood DRC's approval, of course, is the first in a multistep process to get anything built in the area. There's no guarantee that any of the buildings approved last week will break ground. But given the glut of development proposals builders expect in the pipeline, it's likely many will.
Furst (who, full disclosure, is New Times' landlord with Goldman Properties) helped lead the three-year fight to change Wynwood's zoning codes. He says he's ecstatic to see so many new complexes pitched for the area.
"What’s great about previous zoning code is that you couldn’t really do much, so it forced people to do 'adaptive reuse' on the existing buildings," he says. 'That created the street life and vibrancy you see today."
But, he says, area developers believe they've done just about all they can do to "push for evolution" without building bigger and taller. Without change, he says, he fears tourists might "get over" Wynwood and stop visiting in another ten years. Some longtime Wynwood tenants have pushed back against the change, he says.
"But what you see today, did that disrupt anything in a negative way? People are uncomfortable with change. We're doing the very best we can to keep the uses, character, fabric, and vibe of the neighborhood," he adds.
Despite approving all three designs, Wynwood's own Design Review Committee members weren't exactly pleased with the first trio of apartment pitches. When reviewing 222 Wynwood, the DRC called the complex ugly and boring.
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“It’s just standing there, massive, big, and there's nothing to look at,” DRC member Victor Sanchez, of Goldman Properties, said, according to the Real Deal Miami.
“No one is going to want to take a selfie in front of that,” said fellow member Zak Stern, who owns the über-popular Wynwood bakery Zak the Baker. (The DRC ultimately forced 222 Wynwood's developers to add some more color to the building's design.)
“I hope that future projects will push the envelope a little more on the design,” Sanchez said at the end of the meeting.
Wynwood is cool precisely because it does not look like anywhere else in America. Furst says he trusts the DRC to ensure that new development doesn't kill the character of the neighborhood. After all, if Wynwood simply resembles a tropical Williamsburg ten years from now, Miami will have lost something truly unique.