Department Article
Miami's revitalized Wynwood area just might contain America's hottest arts community

by Libby Boren McMillan

A successful redevelopment effort always relies on a visionary who can see beyond an area’s current liabilities, clearly recognizing all that it is and all that it could be. This is a gift that few possess. Simply building new structures is not enough; redevelopment requires putting pieces into play that will bring a vision to life. Miami’s Wynwood Arts District is one of America’s prime examples of this kind of successful re-imagining.

The thriving arts district, adjacent to the Design District near downtown Miami and the city’s beaches, exists in large part due to the ingenuity and resources of Tony Goldman, an iconic developer often credited as one of the primary catalysts behind the transformations of New York’s SoHo neighborhood and Miami’s South Beach. Goldman turned his attention to Miami’s Wynwood area, a dicey warehouse district on the edge of downtown, in 2003.

Where others saw only blight, the founder of Goldman Properties could imagine—as clearly as he envisioned South Beach before it was “South Beach”—a thriving district where people would live, work, and play. The area was, after all, five minutes from the beach, five minutes from the airport, and adjacent to downtown. It had everything except a plan.

Goldman’s son Joey, president of Goldman Real Estate and a Miami resident who grew up witnessing his father’s transformative powers, is also helping to reinvigorate the ’hood. The Goldmans have invested heavily in the area, purchasing nearly two dozen buildings in the past few years. Joey and his wife, Thea, also own the restaurant Joey’s Wynwood, which might be considered the beating heart of the American arts district now compared to Chelsea in New York.

The Goldmans were not the first to recognize affordable commercial space in an easily accessible location. When Brook Dorsch opened Dorsch Gallery in 2000, the Rubell family’s astonishing private art collection was already housed in Wynwood. Also located in the neighborhood were Locust Projects, a nonprofit, alternative arts space; the Bakehouse Art Complex, situated in a former bakery; and the Margulies Collection, a privately owned, world-class collection of sculpture, photography, video, and installation works.

“So there were art spaces here,” says Tyler Dorsch, Brook’s wife and the co-owner of Dorsch Gallery. “But we were the first of the commercial spaces. And with all those ingredients in place, other people decided it was a good idea to move here too.”

The last two to three years have really seen the biggest changes; Wynwood is exploding as an art mecca. And the art world is taking notice. Art Basel, one of the largest and most prestigious art shows in the world, shines an annual spotlight on Wynwood and the adjoining Design District, when adjunct events bring thousands to the area.

Today, more than seventy galleries fill the warehouses of Wynwood, and while vigilance is still required in the district at night, Second Saturdays attract large crowds of curious residents, wanna-be collectors, and art patrons for an evening of fun and discovery. The event has become so popular it’s practically achieved cult status, and neighborhood organizers are looking to add a second night each month.

“We have thousands of people coming into the district that night,” says Thea Goldman. “Bands on the street corner. Whole families out with their children. ‘Starving artists’ wandering around still covered in paint. What you’ll see is every kind of person who wants to do something different on a Saturday night. It’s really an exciting happening. There are not many occasions where you’ll see young, old, rich, and poor, while hearing ten different languages being spoken. You can take your mom, your children, your boyfriend. Art brings everybody together, and looking is free.”

Right now, Joey’s is the only restaurant located within Wynwood proper. “At Joey’s, we have about three hundred people trying to cram into here [during Second Saturdays],” says Goldman. But other dining spots are on the drawing board, and it won’t be long before diners will have to choose between enjoying a meal in Wynwood or at the many upscale eateries of the adjacent Design District, which is, at this point, more pedestrian-friendly.

“The area has been recently rezoned,” says Goldman, alluding to more positive changes ahead. “The city has allocated twenty-five liquor licenses. Several restaurants are coming up.”

Though it’s experiencing a renaissance, the Wynwood area is also holding on to its Latin flavor. Wynwood’s Old San Juan section, also known as “el Barrio,” is one of Miami’s largest Puerto Rican enclaves and is home to a park named for Roberto Clemente, the late Puerto Rican baseball superstar.

Diversity is part of the key to the area’s success. “Truly, Wynwood is the most vibrant and exciting arts community I can think of,” says Goldman. “There are both emerging and established artists. The variety of art is extraordinary. There are galleries that sell $200 prints, and you can find $100,000 pieces of art.”

The Goldman family donated a building to house a satellite of North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art in Wynwood. The resulting MOCA at Goldman Warehouse is not only fun and fascinating, it’s free. (Donations are accepted at the door). On Miami Avenue, visitors will find the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO), which focuses on cross-cultural exchange and showcases emerging artists from Latin America.

And while the neighborhood itself continues to emerge, there’s already plenty there to hold one’s attention. “You’re going to meet gallerists that are passionate about what they do,” says Goldman. “You go through these doors and you’re transported. It’s a fascinating place to be.”

Freelance writer Libby Boren McMillan is a frequent contributor to Times of the Islands, RSW Living, and Bonita Living.