Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti set to reopen Friday to much fanfare

Shuttered for the past 18 years, the Caribbean Marketplace, the iconic, open-air market in the heart of Little Haiti, will reopen on Friday afternoon and lead a weekend festival commemorating its return.

While the outside of the building, with its brilliant yellow, green and blue signature walls, will remain the same, the interior has been totally redone. A $900,000-plus project has added vendor kiosks, air-conditioning, four 70-inch, flat-screen TVS, free WiFi, and new lighting and sound systems.

The project is a partnership among the City of Miami, Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs, the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, the Northeast Second Avenue Partnership and District Five Commissioner Keon Hardemon.

The celebration coincides with Big Night in Little Haiti on Friday evening, which will feature Nu Look, a Haitian konpa group, a photo exhibition and Haitian food and drink at the Little Haiti Cultural Arts Center, 212 NE 59th Terr.

“We’re inviting our brothers and sisters from the Caribbean,” said Sandy Dorsainvil, 37, director of the marketplace.

She said the marketplace, at 5925 NE Second Ave., will host a reggae artist, a Haitian twoubadou band and a steel drum band from Trinidad and Tobago.

Laurent Lamothe, Haiti’s prime minister; Myra Taylor, mayor of Opa-locka; Tomás Regalado, Miami mayor; and the consulates of Jamaica and the Bahamas will make appearances during the weekend.

Dorsainvil, who is also managing director of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex next door, said the marketplace will energize the neighborhood, which is emerging as an arts scene just north of Wynwood and the Design District.

“It’ll totally change the landscape of the community,” she said.

The Caribbean Marketplace opened in 1992 but closed four years later because of physical decay, poor funding and little marketing.

Charles Harrison Pawley, the late, esteemed Miami architect who designed the building, modeled the marketplace after the open-air, five-story Marché Ferrier, or Iron Market, in Port-au-Prince’s commercial district. Pawley was born in Haiti to American parents; his father opened a department store and his mother was principal of an American school. He lived there the first six years of his life, before moving with his parents to Buffalo, Hong Kong and India.

His worldwide travels led him to understand and respect local architecture. His work received many accolades, including an American Institute of Architects national honor award for the Caribbean Marketplace, a rarefied accomplishment.

At the Iron Market, which was rebuilt after the 2010 earthquake pummeled Port-au-Prince, hundreds of Haitians gather to sell fruits and vegetables, birds and small marine animals like turtles.

Dorsainvil said the community was disappointed when the Caribbean Marketplace closed because they felt they lost a meeting spot they could call their own.

“It was one of a few places for cultural gathering,” she said.

Pierre “Pepe” Bayard, the well-known Haitian accordionist, campaigned to preserve the 9,500-square-foot space. Bayard died of cancer in 2008.

“We’re presenting his family with a salute to honor what he did,” Dorsainvil said.

Arielle Derival, a second-generation Haitian from Miami Gardens, said her mother was thrilled to learn the marketplace will reopen.

“They're pretty excited to be at home and feel at home,” said Derival, 19,

Derival is one of three interns who have worked for the past eight weeks — at 16 hours per day —to get the marketplace ready for its reopening.

Altagrace Gustave, 26, has assisted Dorsainvil with the marketplace’s communication and marketing.

“I was actually surprised me to see so many people excited that the marketplace is opening,” said Gustave, who was born in Port-au-Prince and moved to Miami in 1992 . “People were asking me when it's opening and how they can participate.”

For Aliaha Daphnis, 19, a Miami native, working to restore the marketplace is part of her community service project connected to her scholarship to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.

“We’re creating commerce for the community,” she said. “We’re showing them that this is a place where you can be housed and we can support you.”