Tourist visits to South Beach continue to drop because of economic woes nationwide, but it’s the local trade that might well drive nightlife culture west across Biscayne Bay. Welcome to Wynwood.
The bayside neighborhood, known now as much for its art galleries as its status as a center of Puerto Rican culture, offers far lower rates than glitzy South Beach, and a night out there increasingly looks like a reasonable alternative to budget-conscious Miamians. At least, that’s the message Wynwood proponents are trying to emphasize.
It’s tough to argue with the math or the logic. Fewer club-goers can afford $10 drinks and $500 VIP tables, so nightlife entrepreneurs are looking west for alternatives to Miami Beach and locals are following them.
“Professionals had been fairly insulated [from economic recessions] until now,” said publicist Seth Gordon, whose clients include developers and landowners. “…If you were a young 30-year-old professional living the high life, now all of a sudden instead of going to South Beach, you want to do something more economical. Maybe go somewhere to nurse one drink for a while and not pay $30 or $40 to park a car.”
South Beach rents have come a long way since the neighborhood’s rise to glamour status in the 1980s, and in tough times, that’s adding to the overall squeeze. Rents south of Dade Boulevard in the city of Miami Beach are among the city’s highest, so dining and tippling are pricier as well. According to Jeff Morr, CEO of Majestic Properties, a commercial space on Washington Avenue, South Beach’s main club street, goes for between $40 and $60 a square foot. Lincoln Road, a popular South Beach pedestrian mall, demands prices as high as $100 a square foot.
Meanwhile, west across the bay, it costs between $25 and $30 to lease a commercial space Downtown or within the Upper Eastside’s Biscayne Boulevard Corridor, Morr said. In Wynwood, next to the Design District that was once the hub for Miami’s clothing industry, rents are even cheaper: $20 a square foot.
“I see Wynwood as a place large enough and cool enough to be more of a club and restaurant district,” Morr said.
Tipping the trendy scales in Wynwood’s favor are dozens of art galleries, museums and private collections that fill warehouse space emptied as the garment trade moved overseas. It’s on display the second Saturday of the month, when galleries show off their art work to wandering crowds drawn by the art — as well as complementary wine and snacks.
To encourage more restaurants and bars to move into that area, the Miami City Commission designated a portion of Wynwood as the Wynwood Café District, waiving distance requirements for liquor-serving establishments. Tony Goldman, one of Wynwood’s largest landlords, made his name revitalizing South Beach, Soho in New York and South Philadelphia. His son, Joey Goldman, opened the popular Italian restaurant called Joey’s at 2506 NW Second Avenue. Across the street, realtor and developer David Lombardi, who owns several properties in Wynwood, opened a BYOB (bring your own booze) spot with live entertainment called Wynwood Social Club to help “generate traffic.”
“I think it is a logical choice,” Lombardi said of Wynwood. “Our rents are one-third of what they are in other areas and a seventh of what they are in South Beach.”
But it isn’t just low rents. Entrepreneurs want to attract older crowds who don’t necessarily want to party until 5 a.m. in a noisy club in South Beach or the 24-hour entertainment district set up along 11th Street in Miami’s Parkwest area.
“There are a few clubs doing business that cater to young people who like to stay out very late,” Morr said. “Then there are the little bit older crowds who want to sit in nice restaurants, have a drink, and enjoy something more sophisticated.”
That was what entrepreneur Amir Ben-Zion thought about when he decided to set up a lounge called Bardot in Wynwood at North Miami Avenue and N.W. 35th Street. Gordon, who represents Ben-Zion, said the club will open in the fall. “He describes it as more of a grown-up conversational kind of club,” Gordon said, adding that at Wynwood one can find “nightlife for real people.”
Morr said other parts of Miami, such as the MiMo district in the Upper Eastside’s Biscayne Boulevard corridor, is also attracting new restaurants and lounges. “We are starting to come out of a very deep recession,” Morr said. “…There will be something everywhere.”
But don’t expect Miami Beach to lose its nightlife venues, Morr said. South Beach still serves as a second home to many individuals who can still afford to party like rock stars. It remains an international destination. “What you do have in South Beach is you have the tourists who… are not likely to get off the Beach,” he said. “They’ll have higher drink prices, but they will have fun.”