Art turning Allapattah upmarket

Property | 12 Dec 2019

Nathan Crooks

Miami art week's center of gravity moves every couple of years -pulled at one moment by the gritty muraled walls of Wynwood, at another by the gleaming shops of the Design District. But during this year festivities, a new neighborhood that's been overlooked by the artistic glitterati is seeing a flurry of activity.

Allapattah, nestled just west of Wynwood and north of Little Havana along the Miami River, is known for its Dominican community and grain warehouses. It's now the home oftwo major art complexes - the 100,000-square-footRubell Museumthat opened on December 4 and the new El Espacio 23 experimental art center, developed by billionaire real estate magnate Jorge Perez to exhibit his private collection and develop artists in residency.

The Rubell Museum, set along abandoned rail tracks, houses40 galleriesin six former industrial buildings near the original Wynwood home outgrown by what was previously known as the Rubell Family Collection.The warehouse was purchased for US$4 million (HK$31.2 million) in April 2015.

Almost 5,000 people showed up for the opening night on December 3, which was sponsored by Bank of America. Across the street, at another building bought by the Rubell family, Dior held its men's fashion show, with Kim Kardashian in attendance and police cars around the block. Masked country music sensation Orville Peck rocked the house in an outdoorconcert. Then fireworks lit up the sky.

"Art transforms neighborhoods," saysMera Rubell, a former teacher and the matriarch of the family clan."There are always frontiers. You just have to go there."

Just several blocks west in Allapattah, El Espacio 23 is a 28,000-square-foot arts center designed to serve artists, curators, and the general public with regular exhibitions.

Its inaugural exhibit - Time for Change: Art and Social Unrest in the Jorge M Perez Collection - features more than 100 works curated by Bogota-based Jose Roca.

"The first topic that was important to me, from the very beginning, was the artist as a social change agent," Perez said at a preview of the exhibit. While his name sits atop the famed Miami-Dade County art museum in downtown Miami, Perez sayspart of the reason heopenedthe new space to the public was to have more control over what was exhibited.

To do what he wanted to do, he needed space. "I could not do this in Wynwood; it would be twice the cost, at least," he said.

As Allapattah emerges to attractgalleries and artists, Perez said he was aware of many of the issues that can emerge as neighborhoods change, adding that he area could be important for the development of affordable housing.

He'll be bidding on 7.28 hectares thecity willputup for sale. Although he doesn't say what he eventually wantsto do with the area, affordable housing is on his mind.

"The affordable rental market is extremely strong," he explained. "If I could build any amount of rental building at rents people can afford, they would be 100 percent occupied all the time. The problem is that we're building a lot of rentals that people can't afford because of land prices."

Experts in affordable housing are wary of the addition of glamorous arts spaces to the area.

"The cost is people being forced out of their neighborhoods, and the ethnic and cultural vibe of a neighborhood gets completely transformed," saidRobin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement at the University of Miami. "Even just looking at Allapattah, there's been a tremendous increase in the average home value in the last five years."

Most residents of Allapattah don't own their homes or businesses, Bachin said, andthe number of firms that own parcels in the area have risen dramatically inthe past two years.

"It's actually beneficial for an absentee landlord to not invest in the property, because if they think that they can sell it, the gain will be that much greater. It's detrimental to the residents, who don't own their property, as well as business owners, the mom-and-pop stores who most likely don't own their building.

"There's a great deal of concern of the impact that kind of massive development has on these working class communities of color - in the case of Allapattah, a large Central American community," she explained.

"Historically in cities across the country, when art spaces, studios, and galleries move into a neighborhood because it has cheaper rent, that is a harbinger of gentrification."

While his art spaces will undoubtedly make real estate in the neighborhood pricier, Perez wants to use them to confront the issue.

"Housing affordability is one of the biggest issues that we have,in order for there not to be a complete displacement. There are many things that the private and public sectors can do, and exhibitions like this, I hope, will make everybody think about it."


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