Indoor shooting range to open among the art galleries in Miami’s Wynwood district

07/08/2013 12:00 AM

07/08/2013 5:11 PM

When visitors show up next month for Wynwood’s monthly “Art Walk,” they’ll find a newcomer to the chic street scene: Lock & Load Miami, a slate-gray and bright-orange big-box shooting range — where, for $575, a customer can pull the trigger on Uzis, machine guns and other exotic firearms similar to those used by SWAT and special-ops teams.

In an area where another big-box business, Walmart, has been fighting business opposition for months, Lock & Load Miami is quietly putting the finishing touches on its 22,000-square-foot soundproof facility at 2545 N. Miami Ave., in hopes of a mid-July opening.

The owners are aiming their new venue at high-end customers willing to shell out top dollar for an evening of fantasy, said general manager Mike Pryor, who was a Miami Beach police officer for 28 years.

“I think you’re going to get a wide range of people. The gun enthusiast; people looking for something different; somebody buys a package for a Father’s Day gift,” Pryor said. “We expect to see tourists and people just looking to have fun. It’s very controlled. It’s very safe.”

Some business owners are fretting about the new neighbor.

A shooting range seems out of place with Wynwood’s new direction, said Kareem Tabsch, co-founder of the O Cinema.

“I don’t think it’s anything that would interest our patrons,” he said.

Elias Sultan, manager of the nearby Ascaso Gallery, also wonders about the new neighbor fitting in.

“I never thought this could be an area destined for that,” he said. “But if it chases the crime away, I’m all for it. They should open more stores.”

Jack Silk, general manager of the Pride & Joy BBQ was more blunt.

“What is this — the O.K. Corral here?” Silk said. “I don’t know where this neighborhood is going. Why would they have that when they’re trying to cater to the artier, hipster crowd?”

Wynwood, once a thriving garment and manufacturing district, devolved into a desolate area of shuttered warehouses and vacant lots by the 1980s. But over the past few years, the neighborhood has undergone a renaissance; now it’s a vibrant arts hub where monthly gallery walks draw hundreds and bars and eateries are crowded with well-heeled office workers from downtown skyscrapers.

The resurgence has drawn a wave of investments to the area — including a controversial plan to build a 156,000-square-foot Walmart Superstore in nearby Midtown.

But street crime in Wynwood — especially car break-ins — still is a problem, prompting commercial property owners to assess themselves an additional tax over the next 10 years to make streets safer and cleaner.

When Lock & Load Miami opens, visitors will be greeted by a smiling hostess and offered a variety of packages, including the pricey “Automatic Gratification” for $575.

A mere $82.50 fetches the basic “Cadet” (25 rounds each on three different rifles: a Sig 522 commando, a GSG-522 and a MK22 sport). Then, there’s the mix-and-match “A La Carte” menu.

Customers will be able to shoot in air-conditioned comfort and under strict supervision of veteran weapons specialists with military and law-enforcement backgrounds.

“It’s the opportunity to experience trying out firearms that most people don’t even get to see,” Pryor said. “We want to have a family atmosphere, that entertainment atmosphere.”

The facility hopes to host bachelor and bachelorette parties, birthday celebrations, grad nights, even wedding receptions.

The concept for Lock & Load Miami is similar to two other ventures in Arizona and Las Vegas, but the South Florida operation — based in Hialeah and registered as a Florida corporation under the name Range Ventures LLC — touts more modern firearms.

The corporation had to obtain special permits regulating automatic weapons from The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

When guns and ammo are not in use, they’ll be locked away in a vault. Guest shooters must attend a safety orientation and will be accompanied by a range specialist for the entire experience.

Family and friends may watch from the lounge and sip on soft drinks or fruit juices. Alcohol and drugs are not allowed.

When the session is over, guests may take home their targets. Video and photos are available for purchase.

Local activist Grant Stern, who is leading the fight against Walmart, said the firing range hasn’t become an issue in his circles.

“I don’t think anybody is thrilled, but I don’t think it can be stopped,” Stern said.

Unlike his arguments that Walmart is skirting city zoning rules, Lock & Load “is going in, by right,” he said.

As for Tabsch at O Cinema, “as long as you’re legal and you’re not hurting anyone, welcome to the neighborhood,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’d still prefer them to Wal-Mart.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Charles Rabin contributed to this report.

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