Wynwood: Soho South

The artsy, pedestrian-friendly district is attracting cafes and hip retail, but challenges remain as the industrial neighborhood evolves

Nov.November 03, 2012 07:00 AM

Tony Goldman

It’s an edgy area, full of art galleries, well-worn loft spaces and a few intrepid retail tenants — an Italian restaurant, an indoor-outdoor tavern and a few coffee shops.

It may sound like one of Brooklyn’s fast-evolving neighborhoods or parts of downtown Manhattan in the 1980s, but it’s not. It’s Wynwood, the small, mostly industrial zone on downtown Miami’s western frontier that is rapidly becoming one of the city’s meccas of urban cool.

During the second half of the 20th century, Wynwood was a manufacturing neighborhood, specializing in clothing manufacturing firms. Many Puerto Rican residents of Miami called the neighborhood home.

A building in Wynwood

Over the decades, as a number of clothing companies shuttered, the area fell into disrepair, a canyon of empty warehouse spaces and a small smattering of single-family homes. But with the new millennium, the area — situated primarily between 23rd and 29th streets near NW Second Avenue (and technically from NE 20th Street to NE 36th Street from I-95 to the railway) — drew new attention, buoyed by a revitalized interest in the Design District neighborhood a few minutes to the north.

That was when the late New York–based developer Tony Goldman — known for his work in helping to revive similarly gritty neighborhoods like New York’s Soho and the onetime urban slum of South Beach — began buying up properties in the area.

Goldman died of heart failure in September; he was 68.

Graffiti in Wynwood

“Tony had a huge impact,” said Tony Cho, president of Wynwood’s Metro 1 Commercial, which has many of the current commercial listings in the neighborhood. “I think he very eloquently articulated his vision of what he believed in, and he accomplished a lot in the time he was involved.”

That vision, which was implemented by Goldman, his son, Joey, and his daughter, Jessica Goldman Srebnick, was centered on such premises as the importance of art and the attractive quality of restaurants. Soon, art galleries began popping up in former warehouses as Wynwood began to attract the creative class. But it didn’t attract a substantial retail presence until the end of 2008, when the Goldmans opened Italian restaurant Joey’s on 25th Street.

Wynwood walls

About a year later, entrepreneur Joel Pollock and his wife, Leticia, headed to Miami from Portland, Ore., looking to establish a coffee-roasting facility and coffee shop. After a month of searching, they settled on Wynwood, opening Panther Coffee in a building on 24th Street.

“We took a risk on Wynwood,” Pollock said. “There wasn’t really any way to know if Wynwood would turn into a place people wanted to go or not. Because, I can tell you, it was not really a place people wanted to go when we first signed our lease. But it’s changed 180 degrees — the neighborhood cooperated, and it’s become part of something bigger.”

Pollock’s Panther Coffee, which is also expanding to a location in Miami Beach, has become one of the hubs of the NW Second thoroughfare that is typically packed on a weekend night. “It’s become a place where people actually walk around,” he said. “And South Florida is not known for its pedestrian-friendly zones — but it’s becoming one.”

It’s all brought the area something of a New York flavor,  thanks in part to Goldman, although Pollock touts Wynwood’s distinctly Miami fusion.

Today, Pollock, the former Wynwood frontiersman, has created one of Wynwood’s signature destinations — something that led to the opening of a competing coffee shop, Lester’s, two blocks north.

The Wynwood building

But while Wynwood has grown in hype and bustle, it’s not without its challenges. The increased retail traffic has made the NW Second Avenue stretch significantly more active, but that remains the center of most commercial interest in the area.

“We have all these tenants who are looking for space and are all hearing about Wynwood,” said Lyle Chariff, president of Design District–based Chariff Realty. “But when they get to Wynwood, they’re like, ‘Wait a second, there’s only a few blocks of anything substantial.’ ”

But Chariff believes in the potential of the neighborhood, and is helping to lead an as-yet-unnamed project there.

A street corner in Wynwood

A cyclist in Wynwood

The project is the brainchild of developer Marc Kovens, who, along with mortgage banker Shawn Chemtov, is planning a two-story enclosed mall with an open roof à la the Bal Harbour Shops.

Chariff is the exclusive marketing agent for the project.

“These guys are developing a space where you can come into Wynwood and, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to touch the street,” he said. “We don’t want to do what everybody else is doing, just restoring these warehouses or just poking holes in buildings that will always remain graffitied. We think there’s enough momentum already in place to capture a real audience that’s just craving something like this.”

Panther Coffee

Chariff said that prior to his death, Goldman, who was developing the Wynwood Building mixed-use project on NW Second, envisioned a boutique hotel component to the project, although it’s not clear whether that will still come to fruition.

And Wynwood’s hype, while perhaps overblown, Chariff said, serves an important purpose in luring tenants. “I see Wynwood, based on the brand, as an area that could really be exploited because of the momentum and the physical stuff that’s going on,” he said.

And the hype has drawn the attention of the national — and international — retail market. Ducati, the Italian motorcycle manufacturer, plans to open a retail showroom and service shop on 29th Street soon — easily the biggest name to bet on the neighborhood.

“I think Wynwood is well on its way,” Cho said. “People have a genuine soft spot for Wynwood — it’s got that allure; it’s got that cool factor, which you can’t quantify.”

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