Quick approval is expected when the Miami City Commission on Thursday considers zoning changes to clear the way for a new Design District museum and sculpture garden spearheaded and financed by well-known local billionaire Norman Braman.
But as is normally the case within Miami’s older neighborhoods, historic preservation and progress often clash. That’s what happened when the 37,500-square-foot Institute of Contemporary Art along Northeast 41st Street and Second Avenue wanted additional land to build an adjacent sculpture garden.
The problem: The garden would spill over from the already redevelopment-heavy Design District into another — the historically significant Buena Vista, a lush residential neighborhood of well-designed homes, duplexes and bungalows from the 1920s and ’30s.
To secure his sculpture garden, Mr. Braman paid a handsome price for three non-historic duplexes next door in Buena Visa East for demolition, leaving preservationists wary of setting a precedent and a few homeowners outraged about losing privacy.
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But it appears a unique agreement reached by Mr. Braman, museum partner and the Design District’s main developer Craig Robins, CEO of Dacra Development, and the Buena Vista East Historic Neighborhood Association, could be a bit of a victory for the neighborhood — at least for now: To get the land for the sculpture garden, Mr. Braman and Mr. Robins signed a contract with the homeowners association agreeing not to further encroach upon Buena Vista’s boundaries.
“Instead of fighting a bunch of battles, we won a war with the biggest developers in the area,” Schiller Jerome, president of the Buena Vista East Historic Neighborhood Association told the Editorial Board, adding that not all homeowners are pleased with the compromise, which also comes with a promise of life-time free admission to the museum and job opportunities for the neighborhood’s residents.
For the most part, Buena Vista East will not have to worry about redevelopment from its southern border. That’s a better deal than Little Haiti, Wynwood and Little Havana have secured. Their boundaries are being breached by speculators and investors turning to older areas. “I know some residents wanted to fight, fight,” Mr. Jerome said. He added, “A third opposed allowing the sculpture garden into our neighborhood; another third were OK with having the sculpture garden and a third didn’t have an opinion either way.”
Mr. Jerome said he wants to make it clear that the association’s original opposition was never to the museum. “How can you go against a museum? It’s not a condo or retail store. Our issues were with the garden and what that would lead to,” he said.
Now, construction of museum and garden should be done by the opening of Art Basel 2016, and the matter is closed.
Mr. Jerome thinks the contract with the powerful developers will keep them and others at bay. “I think what our residents want is to preserve our quality of life.” And Buena Vista has pushed back the tide of development, for now.
But across Miami-Dade, other quaint and historic neighborhoods, where the working-class families have traditionally resided, are being gobbled up. When such neighborhoods go upscale, part of the collateral damage is the disappearance of the affordable housing they provided — not to mention the displacement of its residents. It’s a sad reality. Good for Buena Vista for fighting the best way it could. The deal residents and developers struck should be a model — and the city should be a better advocate for such residential neighborhoods.