Let’s say you’re a small, bustling neighborhood in Miami and you want to — no, need to — grow and progress without sacrificing your unique artistic and industrial character along the way. Who do you call?
Easy: the Wynwood Business Improvement District.
Over the last decade, the BID has led the 50-square-block neighborhood of Wynwood and its 400+ local property owners into a new renaissance. By providing crucial services that have helped the community come into its own as a vibrant and essential part of Miami life, the BID has made itself indispensable to the 305 at large.
Move over Art Deco and a day at the beach: Wynwood has a place in the Miami pantheon now.
The BID had no shortage of undertakings to tend to when it was founded in 2013. This included navigating a zoning recommendation to get more people living in Wynwood, managing the retail space that became available, a ramp that would open up onto I-95, installing street lights to help pedestrians, and creating more public spaces so residents could get outside and enjoy their neighborhood.
Needless to say, it was a lot.
The group went on to accomplish that and more. Over the last decade, the BID has partnered with hundreds of local businesses and organizations to make Wynwood one of Miami’s foremost cultural destinations.
Wyn takes the win.
The Wynwood BID has experience navigating public health crises. Back in 2016 when the CDC announced Miami was “ground zero” for local Zika transmissions, the BID immediately sprung into action with a successful Zika Management and Outreach program. When the global pandemic hit, they took a lead role in disseminating information directly to the community via proactive media outreach and successful social media tactics. The #WynAtHome initiative, email alerts, and videos all helped to alert the neighborhood of policy changes and provide guidance amid the uncertainty of the crisis. What’s more, Wynwood BID started partnerships with local businesses to create donation programs to help first responders in addition to being the first organization to implement the City of Miami’s Restaurant Recovery Program. Mention must be made of the #FORTHEWYN campaign, which spread awareness about businesses that were reopening through engaging challenges and prizes for participants.
A Decade of Wynwood BID.
Nearly a decade onward from its founding, Wynwood BID is still going strong. To recognize its accomplishments, we sat down with Manny Gonzalez, the BID’s executive director, to discuss its accomplishments, what he’s been most proud to see implemented, and what he’s looking forward to in the next decade.
The New Tropic: For people who don’t know about the Wynwood BID , can you explain what it is and how you became involved with it?
Manny Gonzalez: The Wynwood BID is basically a semi-autonomous agency [within the City of Miami] that represents about 400 businesses as well as approximately 180 different property owners within a 50-block district. Think of it as a homeowners association, but for businesses.
I became involved with the Wynwood BID because I was working at the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District in 2009. In 2017 I came over to the Wynwood BID because there was an opening and it was just an upgrade of neighborhoods, so it was just the natural progression of going from 17 blocks to now 50.
Can you talk about Wynwood’s laidback character, namely, its welcoming diversity, the art, and how all of this is fueling the neighborhood’s growth?
Our goal is to continue being an area that’s welcome to everyone. Here in Wynwood it’s like if you come in a suit, you look like the odd man out. I used to come in [wearing] a suit and tie. At my first board meeting my colleagues were like, “You got to calm it down. You look like you’re out of place.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.”
But the colors, the music, the people, the youth; you go into these residential buildings, and they’re young professionals from all over the world. And they’re coming here because they know that Miami is the gateway to Latin America, the gateway to Central America, and a gateway into the U.S. And with this movement of the Northeasterners just having enough and going “Hey, we need more space,” it’s just a matter of time before Miami goes from a population of 400,000 to a million; everyone’s falling in love with it.
It’s just like the art: it’s all different, it comes from all different parts of life. You look at it, and you fall in love with it. So maybe that’s the secret to Wynwood.
You’ve managed to bring even more international culture to Miami. Do you want to talk about what that has meant for the BID?
We never want to pin ourselves to some sort of identity. [Wynwood was previously] a Puerto Rican haven and a manufacturing area. And when you do construction here, you have to go through a committee called the WDRC. And they actually request that projects keep portions of that old Wynwood here, to never forget that warehouse feel. It’s a neighborhood like almost no other in Miami. I’ve lived in Miami all 42 years of my life, and I’ve never seen such a healthy mix of different types of folks.
Wynwood receives a lot of international coverage; how did this happen and what is the BID’s role in all of it?
Every month there’s a different city in South America or in Europe that asks Wynwood “How did you create this?” But this can’t be replicated — you can’t just fill in certain boxes and become Wynwood. Because what the Goldman family did — in tandem with the Lombardis and the Lerners and the Garcias, all the families that were here for 40 years — is have Art Basel.
All the who’s who of Miami came in the early 2000s… you’d hear these whispers of the walls, Tony Goldman, and this mural neighborhood. And these international artists would finish their Basel events around 7:00 pm and say “Hey, let’s go out to this Wynwood.” This is circa 2004, 2005.
But guess what else happens around that time? Social media: You had Facebook, and then you had Twitter come out. And before that, MySpace. And we were some of the first to use that. So all these people came to this neighborhood to see this free art that’s never been seen before. And those dividends are paying off today, because we had a head start [on capitalizing on this culture] about 15 years ahead of everybody else.
The Wynwood brand was already being created and circulated; it’s almost like a song that comes out in Europe and then becomes popular in the U.S. three years later. We’re blessed that the property owners still here today had this vision of “Hey, these are literally empty canvas murals. They’re blank; they don’t have windows. It’s perfect for murals.”
And that’s what exploded. The local community bought into it and now everybody’s trying to be Wynwood, even in Germany. People are enamored by this ability to come and tour a place that looks like a coloring book.
The international crowd just eats it up because you don’t have to know English, and you don’t have to know Spanish; you see it, and it’s just mesmerizing.
You are working on a GPS-based system for the art. Can you explain that?
This is another one of my wacky ideas: what we’re doing now is adding closed captions to our coloring books. We’re working with a startup company called wEtrek [and they’re building a GPS-based system that the Wynwood BID is going to work with our local artists and property owners on providing messages on who each artist is. And as you walk, your phone will let you know, “Look to the right. This art piece was created by…” You hear the story to it [with details like] — that it was etched with a hammer, the guy behind it is the only person to do this sort of art in the world, and it’s back there on the wall behind a fence.
It just blows your mind. Also, we’re going to start putting plaques that are going to correspond to the maps like a museum. And we’re also going to release a grant program for artists to be able to fund their work.
That’s great, because murals are very popular in Wynwood and have increased dramatically in recent years.
When the Wynwood Bid was created in 2013, there were 63 murals that we identified. For comparison’s sake, this year I believe we had about 230 murals. From 63 to 230… imagine if you were a museum, and expansion-wise, you had that many more exhibits. You would be considered so successful; They’d hail you as the museum leader of the world!
The BID set up and became the first neighborhood in Miami-Dade county to implement the restaurant recovery program, which expanded outdoor dining offerings during the pandemic. What has the reaction to this been?
So every state realized, “Oh my, we can’t eat inside. What are we going to do?” Everyone was trying to create some sort of outdoor café substitute. Wynwood was the first neighborhood to implement this sort of endeavor out of all the neighborhoods in Miami. The minute it came out, we were off and running. KYU was the first restaurant in this whole city to get barricades and fill them with water. We put mosquito dumps in them so they wouldn’t even bring mosquitoes — we thought that far ahead.
The city commission recently passed an indefinite continuance of this program; there’s a lot more faith in the public coming out here than into a mall.
Some of these folks are going to continue going with it and some will continue to expand. And at the end of the day, as this weather gets better, it’s going to be a hit everywhere.
What are the Wynwood BID’s top three priorities moving forward?
If there’s an order, safety and security is number one. Keeping people safe and the neighborhood clean is a top priority. As we are now the highest density district, a lot of families pass through here and we’re responsible.
With that in mind, we focus on making sure that their experience is one that they can always go back and say, “You’ve got to see this place,” to friends and family. So fostering a good reputation is number two.
And then number three is the implementation of the streetscape art. One of the greatest accomplishments that the organization board as a whole did is create an NRD, a neighborhood revitalization district. This allowed for the development of warehouses to be used for different types of [commercial projects such as] food and beverage as well as residential spots. This spurred what you see now with regards to residential projects in Wynwood.
Moving forward, we need to start working on the infrastructure to add trees for birds to chirp and things like that. We also need to expand sidewalks. I would say that’s the next most important thing — the streetscapes themselves.