Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

10 years later, Miami Gardens faces the music with successful Jazz in the Gardens

Vickie Rolle dances during the 2013 Jazz in the Gardens festival at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Vickie Rolle dances during the 2013 Jazz in the Gardens festival at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. Miami Herald Staff

When the Jazz in the Gardens music festival premiered in 2006, Miami Gardens hoped it could be the city’s signature event.

Ten years later, that hope has become reality.

The festival at Sun Life Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, is the city’s main attraction, drawing tens of thousands of people to see some of the best acts in R&B, jazz, neo-soul and hip-hop.

“It has surely become a signature event,” said Graylyn Swilley-Woods, interim vice president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau’s multicultural tourism department.

This year’s fest features Run-D.M.C., Maxwell, Toni Braxton, Erykah Badu, R. Kelly, Sheila E., Brian Culbertson and Men of Soul and local artist Karina Iglesias, along with other local performers and dozens of food trucks and vendors. Organizers anticipate a crowd of more than 67,000.

Swilley-Woods said the bureau has surveyed visitors and found that about 20 percent of attendees come from outside of Florida and 88 percent of concertgoers are return visitors. She said the bureau wants to continue to support Jazz in the Gardens as one of the main cultural events in Miami-Dade County.

“It helps to promote Miami and Miami Gardens as a diverse, multicultural destination where not just one group can benefit from the spoils,” Swilley-Woods said. “I think it’s a huge opportunity to promote Miami as a multicultural place to have fun.”

In the early years, the city faced criticism over its investment in the festival because there wasn’t much profit. This fiscal year, the city budgeted more than $3.7 million for expenses and made about $3.6 million in revenue from the 2014 event. The city usually does not spend as much to run the festival as it sets out in budgets.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose District 1 includes Miami Gardens, said she’s proud of the city for sticking with the festival despite its humble beginnings 10 years ago.

“In the first several years it was barely breaking even if at all,” Jordan said. “Now it’s turning a profit and the quality of the talent they have coming in has definitely been a draw and contributes to the growth of the event.”

While profits have increased and the festival continues to grow, the lack of development around Sun Life Stadium, one of the goals in starting the event, continues to be a focus for the city.

City leaders and residents have often bemoaned the lack of hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the area beyond the shopping centers that line Northwest 27th Avenue. In recent years, the city has added some new businesses near the stadium including a Sonic Beach restaurant and an Aldi grocery store.

“We’ve got to make sure we keep people in the community,” Jordan said. “The development has been slower than we’d like it to be but it’s growing.”

Cynthia Willming, a professor in the University of Florida’s Center for Tourism Research, said it’s difficult to use one major event as the catalyst for development. Ultimately, she said, the city should focus on marketing Miami Gardens itself and not just Jazz in the Gardens or other events.

“You have to use the event to market the destination,” Willming said. “It takes a very specialized marketing plan to change the perception of the city.”

Perception has remained a difficult issue for the nearly 12-year-old city as crime is still a major concern for residents. The city’s police department has also faced criticism in recent years and dealt with the recent firing of its police chief after he was arrested in a prostitution sting.

Swilley-Woods said she thinks Jazz in the Gardens can play a major role in improving the city’s reputation.

“It dispels the perception of crime and violence when you have an event where people continue to come and feel safe and have fun,” Swilley-Woods said.

The city council already has started planning for next year’s festival, giving city staff permission to negotiate a new contract with the event’s producer, AEG Live, and allowing the city manager to agree to a one-year contract extension with Sun Life Stadium to host the event.

And supporters believe this 10-year anniversary is only a preview of things to come for both the city and the festival.

Said Jordan: “It has grown tremendously and it has put Miami Gardens on the map.”

If you go

What: The 10th annual Jazz in the Gardens festival co-hosted by comedians Rickey Smiley and D.L. Hughley. Performers include: Run-D.M.C., Maxwell, Erykah Badu, R. Kelly, Toni Braxton, Sheila E., Brian Culbertson and Men of Soul (Peabo Bryson, Jeffrey Osborne and Freddie Jackson). Local performers include: Karina Iglesias, Valerie Tyson and John Erinosho.

Where: Sun Life Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr. Miami Gardens

When: Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m.

Cost: Prices range from $55-$67 for one-day general admission tickets; $85-$105 for two-day general admission tickets.

Information: Visit jazzinthegardens.com or ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000.

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