New Yorkers invade Allapattah

Allapattah has been increasing in notoriety and interest among speculative developers. After this year’s Basel, its comprehensive change seems all but inevitable.

On Tuesday, December 3rd, Dior debuted their first show in the US during Art Basel Week in Miami. However if you look closely at the pastel colored building wrapped in the brand’s name, it is not on the sands of South Beach, or near the glass towers of Brickell, or even in front of the graffitied walls of Wynwood, but in fact in a humble warehouse district in Allapattah.

Even if you are born and raised in Miami, you may have to take out a map to find Allapattah. It is bordered by the Miami River / 836 to the south, I-95 to the East, 112 to the North and NW 37th Ave to the West. Its history is a layering of demographics over the 20th century.

Allapattah means Alligator in native Seminole language, and after the construction of the FEC railroad, was a primarily white suburb. After the construction of I-95 in the 1950s, displacing thousands of African-Americans, many moved to Allapattah. In the 1960s-70s many Cuban Americans fleeing the Cuban Revolution chose this neighborhood to settle. In the 1980s and 90s many Central Americans and Dominican Americans chose Allapattah as well. Today it is a diverse neighborhood with over 50% of the population being foreign born.

Currently Allapattah has a few thriving industries and commercial centers. The largest obviously is the Miami Health District, the second largest health district in the country. With Allapattah’s proximity to the airport and warehouse style buildings, importing industries are also a natural fit for the area. Along NW 20th ST sits a large fashion district with shop owners primarily from the Caribbean and Central America. Finally, the Miami Produce Center, a collection of warehouses and bodegas boasting fresh fruit imports from South and Central America.

Now, Allapattah’s proximity to Wynwood, not the Airport may be defining its future. The hyper interest in Wynwood has exploded land prices and has become too expensive for the experimental galleries and food concepts that made it so popular in the first place.

This week, two world class art collections made their debut in Allapattah, the Rubell Family Collection and El Espacio 23. The Rubell moved from their location on NW 29th St in Wynwood to the Miami Produce Center on NW 23rd St. They also own the warehouse across the street from the new museum, which hosted the Dior show mentioned at the top of this article. Their new museum is a massive expansion of space and capacity, totaling 76,000 sf, including a cafe, a library, sculpture garden, event space, and storage. El Espacio 23 is the former art storage space for Jorge Perez turned Museum space. At 28,000 sf, it is more intimate than the Rubell but is meant to be a changing space that can take more risks than Perez’s contemporary art namesake, PAMM.

Both of these world class museums brought thousands of visitors that otherwise never entered this neighborhood of Miami, attracting the kind of attention that made Wynwood so popular to out of state investors.

One large Special Area Plan (SAP) is already underway, adding a dense residential development at the Miami Produce Center. Bjarke Ingel Group’s design hovers these residential blocks above an existing fabric to thoughtfully preserve the warehouse district.

It includes 1,200 residential units, a hotel, and office space. The area is also close to Metrorail, and has 1,000 parking spaces (less than usual) in order to encourage using public transportation. As more SAPs are filed, it will be important to note these details to see if they are in keeping with a positive direction for the neighborhood.

Allapattah is not Wynwood. It is much larger, boasts 3 commercial centers, and a population nearing 50,000 people. It has good access to public transit, and many vehicular access points.

Its change will not be as rapid as Wynwood’s, and as such has the potential to be better and more thoughtful. However, the primary reason for Wynwood’s rapid rise comes from out of state buyers over speculating on the neighborhood after seeing it during busy Art Walks and Art Basel, and not in the much slower summer months. We are already beginning to see this kind of speculation in the neighborhood.

As such, we must demand that City of Miami institute a more thoughtful process for approving SAPs and Zoning Waivers that moves neighborhoods in a positive direction. Local developers, business owners, institutions, and community residents should organize and map out the kind of neighborhood they want to live in proactively. Change is inevitable, but thoughtful change takes work. Miami neighborhoods should be for people who have a stake in this community, and Allapattah should be no exception.

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