Wynwood, the former district of warehouses, garment wholesalers, and light industrial that has become an international street art mecca, is maturing into something else. Galleries and artist studios are being joined by high-end, hip retail and—in the ultimate sign of change—condos. Yes, Wynwood south of 29th Street will soon have something it has seen remarkably little of: residents. And if everything goes according to plan, these new neighbors will be the same young creatives who populate its streets on a daily basis.
A spate of construction is bringing some very sleek new apartments and condo buildings to the area, but the real change will happen under a new, dramatically overhauled neighborhood zoning code currently in the works. Both Wynwood Central, a mixed-use project with 69 rental apartments and a rooftop bar and pool area, and Fortis Development Group’s 250 Wynwood, a condominium with 11 larger units over ground-floor retail, will be the first new residential construction in Wynwood in over a decade. Those will likely be joined by 30 to 40 units in Fortis’s follow-up building next door, 230 Wynwood, that is still in the planning stages.
The architecture of these new projects, of course, is intended to contribute to the unique visual identity of the neighborhood. “We still want to do a little bit of daring architecture,” says David Polinsky, managing director of Fortis, referring to 230 Wynwood’s design, which includes deep balconies with undersides decorated by a group of artists selected by gallerist Anthony Spinello.
Over at Wynwood Central, a giant rooftop sign saying Wynwood will add some nighttime pizzazz and sparkle to the retro industrial look of the area. As the former associate editor of Curbed Miami, Emily Schmall, once quipped, “Can’t you just see the letters now, dancing in the moonlight?”
Nearby, Goldman Properties, the company that created Wynwood Walls, is in the early stages of planning a hotel/residential/office mixed-use property, while farther east, two taller residential projects are in the works. Bazbaz Development is doing an as-yet-unnamed building of condo and hotel units on North Miami Avenue, and a luxury apartment building will straddle Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop (a community stalwart) on NE Second Avenue.
In the face of a blossoming new Wynwood, the neighborhood has banded together to create the Wynwood Business Improvement District. Its aim is to guide Wynwood’s growth and (crucially) draft a rezoning plan with the help of urban planner Juan Mullerat of PlusUrbia Design. “This is the cynical opinion,” says Polinsky, who is director of the Wynwood Business Improvement District and chair of its planning and transportation committee, “but a business improvement district in a way exists because of failed government. It is businesses banding together and assessing themselves for the communal benefit.”
When Miami 21, Miami’s progressive citywide zoning code, was made the law of the land, it was with the goal of creating a denser, more walkable, and altogether more urban city. It was the first time the principles of the New Urbanist movement in urban planning had been applied to an entire pre existing city, and it became the master plan of Miami’s urban renaissance. Many complain that Miami 21 is also overly formulaic, with exorbitant parking requirements carried over from the old code, an inferior mass transit system, and has other holes that over time became increasingly large obstacles to progress. Plus, when Miami 21 was designed back in the 2000s, the new Wynwood was hardly more than a glimmer in the late developer and “godfather” of Wynwood Tony Goldman’s eye.
The current zoning code for most of Wynwood keeps residential capped at 36 units per acre and has to be live-work (with more than half the square-footage devoted to “work”). It also has onerous parking requirements, and hotels are only allowed along NW Second and NW Fifth Avenues. Because the zoning was originally designed for industrial use, developers have had to apply for zoning variances for other uses, including residential, creating a disorganized patchwork of rules and regulations, and a mess. A broader solution was clearly needed, and that solution became the Wynwood Zoning Study, which the members of the BID hope will become law. “It’s a set of development regulations…. basically a [neighborhood] business plan morphed into a master plan,” says Joseph Furst, the chairman of the BID board.
Although Wynwood is practically writing its own zoning code to replace Miami 21, the two share the same ideals. Wynwood will be more pedestrianfriendly, less automobile-reliant, and will have more public spaces and mixed uses. Aesthetically, a neighborhood Design Review Board will ensure that new construction doesn’t obliterate Wynwood’s incredibly unique visual identity. Substantially more residential units will be allowed, with a cap on building heights to save Wynwood from that Miami affliction of towering residential-palooza. Hopefully. After the city’s evaluation of the Wynwood Zoning Study, ongoing negotiations between the Planning Department and the BID, and a trip through the bureaucratic roller-coaster, the resulting new zoning may change somewhat, but it will be a road map for the new Wynwood vastly better equipped for the job than the one it’s replacing.