One of Miami-Dade quaintest and oldest neighborhoods, Coconut Grove, is at a crossroads. Again.
The Grove faces a new dilemma about the neighborhood’s future look and feel, brought to the forefront in recent months by a legion of developers. The issue is dividing Grovites — always passionate about their community.
One side favors a new day for the village, welcoming developers who would bring new condominiums and residents, and businesses to replace shuttered ones.
Those developers vow to use a moderate hand, not a massive upscaling like the one that failed in the 1980s, offering a new kind of quaintness for this special neighborhood.
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The other camp shuns large-scale development and wants the Grove to remain the bohemian community it was once so proud to be. A Joni Mitchell lyric — “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” — is often their refrain when talking about growth in the Grove.
In one neighborhood battle, some longtime Grove residents who live on St. Gaudens Road, a tree-lined, quintessentially south Grove street, have banded together to stop the demolition of a 1920 Mediterranean villa.
Whichever side residents are on, it seems the Grove needs an energy boost. The question is: Which side will win out? This is where neighborhood advocates need to demand a seat at any table that includes developers. What they should seek is balance, and their commissioner, Marc Sarnoff, should help them craft a vision that works for all.
The Grove has never been out of developers’ sights, and if the past is any indication, something new looms in the Grove’s future.
This is a neighborhood where one of its first homes, the stately, wooden Barnacle, sits mere yards from contemporary upscale villas.
The Grove went through its hippie phase in the 1970s. In the 1990s, it became chic. Nightclubs, Cocowalk, McMansions sprang up; the Grove was buried under a deluge of big money. That balloon popped a decade ago, and the Grove has teetered since.
In its effort to fight further “upscaling,” the Grove has lost its appeal, even to other local residents. There was a time that saying, “Let’s go to the Grove” promised an exciting time. Today, it’s hardly on the list of must-see locales.
Now it’s on the verge of another renaissance. But how that will be realized without the Grove losing its cherished identity is the real trick.
As they gobble up commercial downtown property, developers say they plan to revitalize with an eye on maintaining “the genteel Bohemia of the Grove’s first 90 years than the glitz and chintz of the last 35,” according to a Miami Herald story recently. That promise remains to be seen.
The centerpieces are the rebuilding of the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse and the makeover of the city’s bayfront, including Regatta Park.
And what about the west end of the Grove — the Black Grove, where early Bahamian pioneers settled? Any kind of neighborhood renewal usually means removal of the least monied from the area. Will the Black Grove die under this latest rebuilding of the village? Everyone from West Grove residents to developers to elected leaders who will eventually let development proceed should make sure this area of Grove history remains intact — and improved.
Grove residents, who are often distrustful of City Hall, vow to be vigilant. They’ll have to be, if Coconut Grove is to move forward without bulldozing all of its past.