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Miami Grid: Learning from the closing of Wynwood Yard

Wynwood Yard and O Cinema are closing to make way for a 189 unit apartment building. While it may feel like the loss of something special, it is a winning test case for projects like it across the city and has broader implications for urban development.

Della Heiman began Wynwood Yard 3 years ago with a thesis of creating an incubator for Miami’s burgeoning food and music scene. The Yard was a slow but steady success, hosting beloved events such as morning yoga, Reggae Sunday’s, Shabbat Dinners, and cooking lessons. Eventually, Shakira performed a secret concert there, Charcoal Restaurant and bar opened there, and countless charities and fundraisers have hosted their events there. It was a meeting of the minds of Miami’s young and hungry, but it was always meant to be a temporary one.

David Lombardi (and a few partners) assembled 1.26 acres in Wynwood between 2003-2005, before a significant price increase in the area. The zoning allowed 190 units to be built on the assembled land, but the area did not have the rental or sale values to justify the “highest and best use” of the property, so the partners decided to sit on the property until it matured. Using the existing retail spaces on the site, the ownership group signed leases with O Cinema, Art Miami, and Tree Scapes. However, the center site was a large empty plot of land, and it did not make sense to spend money on a plot they were going to sell, so it sat empty.


The site of Wynwood Yard in 2015

Enter Della Heiman, who offered to lease the site on a Temporary Use Permit (TUP), activating the site while it awaited maturation. The TUP, which is only in the City of Miami, is meant for short-term projects and has fewer hurdles than the usual Zoning and Building Permits required for a restaurant space. This mutual arrangement allowed Wynwood Yard to open, Lombardi to garner a small income, and the site to have activity and programming, bettering the neighborhood and accelerating the maturation of the site. Sadly, the success of Wynwood Yard is the very thing that eventually led to its end. The proof of this Miami cultural institution, in addition to the many other early movers in the area, have shown developers across the country that Wynwood can be a place for sustained residential development, bringing tens of cranes into the once sea of one-story industrial spaces.

Eventually, the ownership group led by David Lombardi sold the land to Lennar Group, who plans to build a 189 unit apartment building called “Wynwood Green.” However, in the time of maturation, Wynwood Yard, as a concept, was created and is in the works to open up on a city-owned parcel in North Beach. O Cinema now has 2 locations, one closing in Wynwood, but one reaming open in Miami Beach operating in the Byron Carlyle Theater. Without the use of this maturation period, it is possible that neither of these beloved cultural institutions would be household names in Miami, and live on in other spaces. In addition, this story shows developers that holding empty land in areas awaiting maturation is not the best use of it. Mutual arrangments can be made between developers and gutsy tenants willing to take risks. These temporary spaces can allow for Miami’s most creative to make mistakes, test out new ideas, and showcase Miami’s raw talent.

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