|Written by Erik Bojnansky|
Wynwood property owners are trying to do what the city and FPL have failed to do -- shine a light on the neighborhood
On the second Saturday night of every month, the streets of the Wynwood Arts District are crammed with people in search of art, food, drinks, music, and general amusement.
But go to Wynwood after dark on a weekday, when no special events are planned, and you’ll find a very different place. On this particular Wednesday night, the BT sees only a handful of people walking along NW 2nd Avenue, a major thoroughfare in the neighborhood.
Walk farther west and the area resembles the set of a horror movie. The 30-foot-tall, cobra-head-style streetlights provide dim and spooky light -- when they work. There aren’t many people wandering NW 3rd Avenue right now.
But there are a few.
Frank Taboada is a uniformed security guard from Top Line Group. For nearly a year Taboada has walked or biked the streets surrounding the zebra-striped Wynwood Building at 2750 NW 3rd Ave., a converted warehouse that serves as home to Goldman Properties, Miami New Times, a furniture store, a shoe store, a gallery, and a salon. At night those businesses are usually closed and empty, but Taboada doesn’t mind the seclusion. “It’s quiet,” he says.
Taboada isn’t completely alone on this particular night. Photographer Shawn Brooks is working on a lingerie shoot with model Latoi Williams. It’s Williams’s first visit to Wynwood. “Back there is a little scary and back there is a little scary,” she says, pointing at pitch-black areas where streetlights aren’t working.
If Brooks, a physically imposing man, weren’t nearby, Williams says she’d never pose by the darkened street corners. (She isn’t sure about posing with Brooks present.)
But the Wynwood Building is a different story. It’s a 45,000-square-foot beacon thanks to a series of downward-pointing lights attached to its roof. “This building is well lit,” Brooks says. “It gives a feeling of security.”
Expanding that sense of security is among the priorities of the recently formed Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID). David Collins, project director for the Wynwood BID, says even the functioning streetlights don’t provide enough brightness for an area that hopes to attract more pedestrians at night. That’s because Wynwood’s streetlights are designed to illuminate highways, not sidewalks.
Someday the Wynwood BID will want to consider replacing the giant cobra heads with pedestrian-friendly streetlights between 13 and 15 feet tall, according to Collins. That will take time, money, and the cooperation of the current streetlights’ owners: Florida Power and Light and the City of Miami.
But there’s a more immediate solution, Collins says: Encourage property owners to install “downlights” on their buildings by offering grants that will cover up to 50 percent of the installation costs. Various other buildings, many of which (like the Wynwood Building) are owned by Goldman Properties, already have downlights. “These sorts of lights, along the sides of buildings, give nighttime illumination,” Collins says. “It will be sort of a white light, as opposed to the yellow light” from current streetlights.
A major source of funding for these proposed downlights for Wynwood property owners will likely be… Wynwood property owners.
On June 4, most of the property owners within the Wynwood BID’s boundaries agreed to form a zone in which all commercial property owners will be charged a special annual assessment of 11 cents for every square foot of vacant land and building space above the second floor. For ground-level office and retail space, property owners will be charged 22 cents per square foot.
On October 1, when the special taxing district begins operating, those assessments will give the Wynwood BID an annual $700,000-plus budget for enhanced services like security, sanitation, marketing, and lighting.
“The priorities are to make Wynwood a clean, safe, exciting district, and now we actually have the funding to do it,” says Joseph Furst, Goldman Properties’ managing director, who pushed for the creation of the Wynwood BID.
Milagros Bello, owner of the Curator’s Voice Art Project at 299 NW 25th St., says she’s in favor of the BID, but doesn’t see a need for a special lighting program. Instead, she advises, just make sure the existing streetlights actually work. “On 25th Street, between 2nd and 3rd avenues, it’s completely dark,” Bello complains. “We already contacted the city almost two months ago and nothing happened. They just have to change the bulbs. It’s easy. It’s not expensive.”
In fact, according to Collins, it isn’t always easy. “The problem is that the streetlights are hard to identify,” he explains, adding that sometimes the serial numbers are faded, so when an outage is reported, “you have to identify it with a ribbon.”
Streetlight outages aren’t always caused by burned-out bulbs. Besides faulty wiring or deteriorating fixtures, there are also vandals who throw rocks at the bulbs, says Juvenal Santana, Jr., chief civil engineer for Miami’s public works department. In such cases, a community can request that “vandal shields” be added to the lights.
In addition, the city or FPL must be notified of the outage. “We don’t have someone assigned to roam the streets at night,” Santana says. “We depend on reporting from the public.”
Indeed, following inquiries from the BT, FPL sent crews to repair streetlights by NW 20th Street and NW 2nd Avenue, says Marie Bertot, a spokeswoman for FPL. At deadline, it remained unclear if the streetlights along 25th Street, about which Bello complained, had been repaired, although Bertot acknowledges that they, too, are maintained by FPL.
As for the pedestrian-level streetlights advocated by Collins, Santana says there’s a catch. Sure, shorter poles will provide more light in the immediate area, but that’s it. The shorter the height of a streetlight, Santana notes, the more streetlights you’ll need to illuminate a block.
Gita Shonek, assistant director of membership and development for the Bakehouse Art Complex at 561 NW 32nd St., says the lighting is indeed dim on the art collective’s block. However, she’d rather see less crime than more lighting. During an event last year, a few cars parked near the Bakehouse were burglarized. Since then, she says, “for every single event, we need to have security officers patrolling here.”
Security guard Taboada says car break-ins were common around the Wynwood Building before he came along. Photographer Brooks says car burglaries still happen -- day and night -- the farther you get from the Wynwood Building, whether west, beyond NW 5th Avenue, or east, between NW 2nd Avenue and N. Miami Avenue.
“We did a shoot down here [a month ago] with 20 photographers, and four cars were broken into,” Brooks recounts. So when working in Wynwood, Brooks parks his car where he can see it. To deter a burglar from smashing windows, Brooks keeps his door unlocked, “so if you want it, just go in there and get it.”
Furst of Goldman Properties vows that an increase in security will come along with increased lighting. The assessments, he says, will enable the Wynwood BID to hire more security guards for the area, as well as off-duty Miami police officers.
FPL has a hotline to report streetlight outages: 1-800-468-8243. You can also report online at www.FPL.com/streetlight.
Streetlight outages within the City of Miami can be reported to the public works department’s operations division at 305-416-1200 or 305-960-2870.
Volume 12, Issue 1, March 2014
A local couple share their love -- and collection -- of visual poetry
Sales, special events, and more from the people who make Biscayne Times possible