Miami New Times: The Wynwood Apartment Boom Is Here as Three More Buildings Are ApprovedJul 22, 2016
By Jerry Iannelli
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."
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 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.
“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.