Developer Would Build Mini-City in Wynwood

Nov 12, 2015

By Andres Viglucci 

The other big shoe — the one everyone was waiting for — has finally dropped in sizzling-hot Wynwood, and it’s a doozy.
 The burgeoning creative district’s largest landowner, moving-company and cultural entrepreneur Moishe Mana, has filed a special zoning application with the city of Miami that would allow him to redevelop 24 acres of mostly vacant land and buildings into a mini-city of large-scale industrial-style buildings designed to lure major creative and tech companies and arts groups to Wynwood. The plan also envisions an expansive central square that would provide the former warehouse district with no parks its first significant open green space. The massive, multiyear project would be centered around the old Wynwood Free Trade Zone complex, a failed publicly subsidized venture that Mana purchased in 2010 for $5 million and subsequently renovated but that remains underused. Mana, who made a bundle in New York with his Moishe’s Movers and gradually assembled land in Wynwood at bargain prices during the financial crisis, has been working on the plan for a year with architect and planner Bernard Zyscovich, who’s also responsible for the plan that created nearby Midtown Miami. As happened with Midtown Miami, formerly a derelict railyard, Mana seeks in Wynwood to “make something out of nothing,” Zyscovich said in an interview. If approved by the city, the plan would permit Mana to build up to 9 million square feet, the bulk of it “flex” space with big, open floor plates and high ceilings that could accommodate a variety of uses — something Zyscovich said is largely nonexistent in Miami. The project would also include some housing, though its focus is on commercial and job development, he said, and perhaps even light manufacturing. “It’s going to be a very exciting new neighborhood for the city,” Zyscovich saidWednesday. “It is really different. It’s a hybrid mix of commercial and exhibition spaces, of innovation-oriented shared spaces and arts infrastructure. I think of it as Brooklyn comes to Wynwood.”I think of it as Brooklyn comes to Wynwood. Mana, who has also been amassing property on Flagler Street in downtown Miami, hopes to replicate in Wynwood some elements of a well-received cultural complex he developed in renovated industrial buildings in Jersey City, N.J., across the Hudson River from Manhattan, Zyscovich said. Mana’s Jersey City complex includes exhibition, studio and performance spaces as well as storage and crating families for artworks. The Mana proposal could also prove controversial because of its scale, expanse and potential impact on neighboring Overtown as well as the rest of Wynwood, which has boomed as art galleries, small creative businesses and now a slew of shops and dining and drinking spots have moved into renovated small-scale warehouses. The assembly Mana seeks to rezone extends from frontage on Wynwood’ s “main street,” Northwest Second Avenue, all the way to the edge of Interstate 95 to the west, and from Northwest 23rd Street to 25th Street, Zyscovich said. Mana is requesting approval of what would be by far the city’s biggest Special Area Plan under Miami 21 — others include Miami World Center and Brickell City Center. The SAP provisions of the zoning code allow developers with large assemblages to create custom-tailored rules in consultation with city planners to guide development of new districts that respect Miami 21’s urban, pedestrian-oriented parameters while allowing greater flexibility in site plans and scale.The application, which must ultimately be approved by the Miami City Commission, is expected to go to the planning and zoning board for its first public review within a few weeks. Mana’s application follows the commission’s recent approval of a special new zoning district for Wynwood’ s warehouse areas, which have little housing, that increased residential densities and heights to foster development of reasonably priced condos and apartments appealing to the young creative types now flocking there. That plan was sponsored by the Wynwood Business Improvement District, a city-chartered coalition of local business and property owners who say it’s critical to establishing Wynwood as a true neighborhood. (The hip warehouse district is distinct from the mostly residential, working-class section of Wynwood north of Northwest 29th Street.)While most of Mana’s holdings already benefit from the new higher-density zoning, what he’s now seeking from the city would substantially increase the scale of what he could build compared to building heights in the rest of Wynwood, now limited to eight and 12 stories. His proposed zoning plan calls for buildings at that scale on the eastern side of his property, where it borders blocks of small-scale warehouses, but would also allow towers up to 24 stories backing up to I-95. Those towers would serve to “buffer” Wynwood from the noise and visual impact of the highway, which has so far discouraged redevelopment on that end, Zyscovich said. David Polinsky, a BID board member, said the organization has not yet taken an official position on Mana’s application. Though its leaders received a presentation by Mana’s team, they have not seen the final application and don’t want to comment on it until they’ve had a chance to review it carefully, Polinsky said. The BID board is scheduled to get an update from Mana on Nov. 30. On the south side, Mana’s property also borders on Overtown, whose northern border sits roughly at Northwest 22nd Street, and whose residents have already aired concerns over Wynwood developers “grabbing” land in their neighborhood. After angry Overtown residents turned out in force at the hearing where the Wynwood zoning district was approved, city commissioners pared back its original south border to 22nd Street. Though Mana also owns property on 20th Street, it’s not a part of his new application. Zyscovich said Mana will hold public meetings in Overtown to explain his plan and reassure residents that he will respect the neighborhood’s border. The Mana project also holds out the promise of construction and good permanent jobs for Overtown residents, Zyscovich said. 

Pictured Above: A conceptual rendering shows how developer Moishe Mana hopes to cluster modern industrial-style buildings around anexpansive public square on a large tract in Wynwood (by: Zyscovich Architects)

Andres Viglucci: @AndresViglucci
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