From the beginning, the growth of Wynwood has always been in connection with the pursuit of fame. The presence of the smartphone has compounded the visibility of Wynwood, accelerating growth and gentrification.
Many artists attribute the connection between Wynwood and Art to the “Wall of Fame.” An abandoned wall at the old RC Cola factory, prominently viewable from I-95 between FL-836 and FL-112. The scarcity of space and the commodity of being seen were important to artists trying to make a name for themselves. The “Wall of Fame” created an art scene in the neighborhood large enough so, that when the South Florida Art Center moved out of the grove in 1987, they chose Wynwood as their new home.
The art scene was already robust in the area before David Lombardi and Tony Goldman began buying property in the area in the early 2000s. However, the creation of Wynwood Walls in 2009 opened the area to the general public, but more importantly, their smartphones. Images of Wynwood Walls began to populate Instagram feeds across the world.
Internationally known street artists began to come to Wynwood to be seen. Art murals were free forms of publicity, in the newly developing world of the “Instagram artist.” Followers represented currency to galleries, business owners, and buyers of art, and Wynwood was a place to be seen. Every Art Basel, street artists descended upon Wynwood to leave their mural and their Instagram handle, in the hopes of being followed.
Around the same time, businesses looking to build a brand saw Wynwood as a potential opportunity. Panther Coffee opened in the neighborhood in 2010, exporting most of its freshly roasted beans to shops across Miami. The popularity of the small 2nd Ave shop has allowed them to open 3 other locations and a roastery/lab. Zak the Baker moved to Wynwood to open his first storefront in 2013. The brand is now known across the country, and his bread is sold in Whole Foods. People visiting the neighborhood were sharing pictures of coffee, bread, art, etc. compounding the visibility of the area and its purveyors.
Other businesses began moving in, valuing the visibility of the neighborhood into their business models. Dasher and Crank opened in Wynwood last year on 2nd Ave, aiming to build a brand and sell all over the country. Plant the Future‘s retail store sits along 2nd Ave as a billboard for their brand, earning them large commissions nationwide. National brands such as Warby Parker, Marine Layer, and Shinola have opened in Wynwood as their own brand billboards to the millions of visitors to the neighborhood annually. President Obama, while giving a speech in Wynwood in 2018, walked into Coyo Taco, shooting their fame into the stratosphere.
People visiting Miami were taking notice. Each Art Basel, Tens of thousands of people were coming to Wynwood, compounding this visibility even more. Real estate developers and investors from New York, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, etc., began buying assets in Wynwood, accelerating the turnover of the neighborhood tenfold. Within the span of 10 years, properties that were trading at $100-200 psf, were now valued at $2,000 psf. The retail valuation was no longer about income, but about visibility. This visibility, like the muralists on the “Wall of Fame,” was now currency to retails stores, restaurants, galleries, etc.
The Wynwood Business Improvement District is desperately trying to make Wynwood into a 24 hour, live/work/play community. A neighborhood zoning overlay has been implemented, opening the door for residential and hotel, and up to 12 stories on new construction. Cranes and towers are beginning to loom over the once very flat neighborhood. However, the businesses that will succeed, will be the ones that can capitalize on this unique opportunity of visibility. This will come at a cost to cultural institutions in the neighborhood, as we have already seen with the closing of galleries such as Dorsch Gallery, and the scheduled closings of O cinema (March 2019) and Wynwood Yard (May 2019).
Wynwood is as popular as ever, but its future has never been more in question than right now. Is Wynwood still an arts district of consequence? Can the area be enough to justify the exorbitant land costs? Can the area attract the creative office workers and residents they are desperately trying to build for? Can a neighborhood based on Instagram visibility be sustainable?