Episode 3: Wynwood: The Quintessential Miami Turnaround

Old Structures, New Purpose: Mastering the Practice of Adaptive Reuse
Lawcast Podcast
May 4, 2021


Carly Grimm and Jennifer Fine, attorneys in Bilzin Sumberg’s Land Development & Government Relations Group, discuss Wynwood’s take off as one of Miami’s most popular neighborhoods while highlighting how adaptive reuse has been a pivotal part of its transformation. They cover Wynwood’s history, the unique land use and zoning initiatives defining it, and where the neighborhood is headed in the years to come.


FINE: Hi everybody, I'm Jennifer Fine, an attorney at Bilzin Sumberg's Land Development & Government Relations Group. I'd like to welcome you to Bilzin Sumberg's interview series, Old Structures, New Purpose: Mastering the Practice of Adaptive Reuse. In this series, we explore timely and salient issues as they relate to adaptive reuse from both a business and legal perspective.

Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Carly Grimm, an attorney who also practices in Bilzin Sumberg's Land Development & Government Relations Group about one of the most popular neighborhoods in Miami, Wynwood. Wynwood represents the quintessential story of a Miami turnaround, going from warehouses and empty sidewalks to a bustling mix of art galleries, retail, restaurants, and residential development in what feels like an overnight success story. It leads us to ask how did it all happen?

Carly has been working on land use and zoning issues in Wynwood for years, allowing her to walk us through the neighborhood's evolution, highlight lessons learned from its development, and tell us what we can expect to see coming for it in the years ahead.

Carly, thanks for joining me. I'll start with this question: Wynwood was an industrial district for decades. What changed in the two thousands to prompt a wave of adaptive reuse?

GRIMM: Well, thanks Jenny for having me, happy to be here. As you noted throughout the mid to late 1900s, Wynwood was primarily an industrial district. It was Miami's garment district. So it was characterized primarily with industrial warehouses, factories, and manufacturing uses. And we did see in the beginning of the two thousands, a handful of more forward-thinking developers starting to come into that neighborhood and renovate existing warehouses to new uses. But there were a number of other events that happened somewhat simultaneously in that era that really helped guide the trajectory of that neighborhood. One being the development of Midtown, which is a mixed-use development adjacent to Wynwood that came online in the early 2000s and just generated a lot of renewed interest in that area in general.

At that same time, artists were becoming a lot more active in Wynwood. Art Basel came to Miami for the first time in the early 2000s. And it wasn't too many years later that Tony Goldman, a developer who had a big role in the transformation of Wynwood, he commissioned a couple of artists to create Wynwood walls, which is now an internationally recognized art exhibit; it's outdoors, has murals and other street art. So all of these activities together were really the catalyst to bring new uses into Wynwood. So we started seeing cafes and restaurants, art galleries, those types of uses pop up around that time. And it was in the early 2010s that the Wynwood business improvement district or the BID was created. So the idea behind that was to create a body that would help in the transition of Wynwood from a primarily industrial area into a more mixed-use urban neighborhood.

FINE: Yeah, having grown up here, I remember a lot of those changes and it really has been interesting to see the area evolve so much as you described over the years. So coming back to our business and what we do, is there anything unique you can explain about the zoning allowances in Wynwood that really helped to usher in that new investment?

GRIMM: Sure. So all of that activity, that momentum that was going on in the neighborhood, that eventually led the city of Miami in 2015, with the support of the Wynwood BID and other stakeholders, to create a specific zoning overlay. So there is a specific zoning district that's known as the Wynwood Neighborhood Revitalization District or the NRD. And that overlaid does contain more flexible development regulations. So it allows for increased residential density on Wynwood properties, more development intensities, more floor area for developments in Wynwood. It also contains parking reductions. So relaxations in required off-street parking. Some would argue maybe not enough yet. But definitely a notable reduction from other areas of the city. The code also allows for unique uses in Wynwood. So manufacturing-enabled retail, which is, some think of the breweries, the beer is brewed onsite and sold on site. So the idea behind this zoning overlay was, as stated in the actual code, to put in place a set of land development regulations that would help transition the Wynwood industrial district into a more active, diverse, mixed use urban neighborhood.

FINE: I'm definitely grateful for some of those changes, specifically, the ones that allow for breweries onsite; it's very exciting and really helped bring the neighborhoods to the forefront of people's minds when they come to visit Miami or whether they grew up here and they weren't used to going to that area. I think it really helped drive a lot of retail and other restaurants to the area as well. And so what types of considerations does an owner or developer have to make when contemplating a change in use from something that was industrial to a retail or commercial space in that area?

GRIMM: Sure. So there are a lot of considerations to look at when starting adaptive reuse projects. Overall I think a developer really needs to look at just the general feasibility of an adaptive reuse project, whether it makes financial sense in that particular situation to take a building that was designed and constructed for a specific purpose and to turn it into something new. So whether that makes financial sense, and then there are specific building code regulations that developers should be aware of. So when you're dealing with a renovation, for example once the value of the improvements that you're making hit a certain threshold, it does trigger requirements to then bring the entire building up to code. So to meet the current Florida building code, which can be a very pricey endeavor.

Also generally, developers should evaluate the extent of existing nonconformities on the properties. That means looking at those portions of the building that no longer comply with current building or zoning codes. So buildings that were constructed under previous codes pursuant to a legally issued building permits, but that due to changes in the code over time, no longer comply with the current code; those buildings can continue to exist, but subject to certain regulations. So for example, there are limitations on the type and extent of renovations that you can do to a non-conforming building.

There are provisions that regulates rebuilding in the event of a disaster. There are also benefits. So if you are dealing with the adaptive reuse of an existing building, and for example, the new use that you're bringing in, if you're creating a restaurants, it's something that was industrial and it now requires 20 off street parking spaces. If you are staying within the existing footprint of that building and not creating new space, you are not required to provide the newly required parking on site. So there are definitely pros and cons to adaptive reuse.

FINE: Yeah, but in our practice, we know that can definitely be a sticking point for a lot of developers and can be helpful in many ways, readapting a space that had been serving a previous use and give it new life, so to speak.

But, definitely compliance with the regulations in effect at the time of redeveloping property, those are important things to keep in mind. So I think people will find that very helpful. So now that residential development is underway with developers like PMG and Related planning multifamily projects in the area. What's next from a commercial use standpoint, do you think?

GRIMM: So I think first of all, there's still a lot of residential development in the pipeline. We have a lot of big multi-family residential projects in the works that are going to be continuing to be constructed over the next couple of years. And also changes though to the type of residential development. So for example, co-living is a trending type of residential development around the country right now, and is certainly coming to Miami. That's the concept where there's shared amenities, so shared kitchen facilities or shared living room and then individual bedrooms. There's actually pending legislation right now in the city of Miami to create a new set of regulations and definitions that will regulate co-living.

And these residential projects also generally come with commercial and retail uses on the ground for their generally mixed use projects. So when a new rental or condo building goes up, we generally see new restaurants, new cafes, new retail opportunities on the ground floor as well. But in general, the last couple of years, we've definitely seen a major uptick in the development of office space in Wynwood. I think a lot of developers have recognized that Wynwood is a very desirable neighborhood. Employees want to be able to leave the office and walk a few blocks to go to a great restaurant or to a great cafe or go to a brewery for happy hour after work. So we definitely got a lot of new office buildings come online the last couple of years. In addition to a handful of hotels in the neighborhood.

FINE: It's very exciting. And just wanted to say thank you for always being on the forefront of that co-living legislation in the City of Miami. I know that's been eagerly awaited for many years, since many developers, as you said, are eager to utilize that new legislation to bring co-living apartments to the area.

There was a new streetscape master plan that was approved with the BID. What can we expect in terms of the changes in the area due to that new master plan?

GRIMM: So the streetscape master plan is something that has been in the works for years. The Wynwood regulations have always focused on the relationship of private development to the public realm and the experiences of a pedestrian in Wynwood, with the goal of creating truly activated, safe, walkable streets in the neighborhood.

And to that end, the City Commission actually just recently adopted the streetscape master plan for Wynwood which is going to bring a lot of renewed attention on additional landscaping requirements, like shade trees; it’s going to incorporate a new network of trails for pedestrians and cyclists in Wynwood. It's also going to contain Florida's first "woonerf", which is a concept that was originally from the Netherlands. It's a street with a shared access. So cars can drive on this street, but the street was designed primarily with pedestrians and bikes in mind. So it incorporates a lot of traffic calming measures, open shared community space. So yeah, the master plan is definitely going to help Wynwood be even more walkable, pedestrian friendly, and just have safe, active streets throughout the neighborhood.

FINE: Yeah. So I'm definitely looking forward to that. Having been to Wynwood on various occasions, I think we could use some more shade and a little bit safer access for pedestrians and vehicles to co-exist. So I won’t try and butcher the "woonerf" name, but it does sound very interesting. I remember reading about it. So I'm excited to see how that turns out as I'm sure a lot of the business owners and developers are in the area as well. So any thoughts on how the district can manage growth going forward? I think sometimes people are concerned about how fast and quickly the area has grown and all of the redevelopment. So what do you think we can expect?

GRIMM: Sure. So I actually think this neighborhood in particular already has a lot of the right infrastructure in place to effectively manage growth into the future. You know, we already have a specific zoning overlay that is specific to land development within this neighborhood. We have the Wynwood BID, which of course monitors and pushes policy kind of in a larger scale for the neighborhood in general. And there's also the Wynwood development review committee. So that's a separate review board that evaluates proposed developments of a certain size coming to the neighborhood to make sure that they are in keeping with the scale and character of the surrounding neighborhoods. So really looking to the future, it's just a matter of city planners being open to future revisions to the code, just based on what's best for the neighborhood at the time, whether that's additional reduced parking requirements, new uses in the neighborhood or more incentives for adaptive reuse. So really just keeping a finger to the pulse of trends in urban developments and what's going to help create a truly high quality urban environment.

FINE: I couldn't agree more. Carly, thank you so much for this excellent session. I think we've shed a lot of light on Wynwood's transformation and its trajectory. To our audience, thank you for tuning in. We look forward to bringing you the next episode of Old Structures, New Purpose: Mastering the Practice of Adaptive Reuse.

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