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Downtown on the Mend PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
October 2016

Café Crème at MOCA Plaza adds some energy to downtown

SPix_MarkSell_10-16eptember 24 was a big afternoon for Cory Finot and Claude Postel, and -- you might say -- for MOCA Plaza and downtown North Miami.

As the owners of the new 210-seat Café Crème on the plaza, the French-born master chefs had pastries baking in the oven and were preparing for the crowds about to converge for their soft opening during La Gran Fiesta, North Miami’s third annual blow-out for Hispanic Heritage Month.

The full opening -- liquor bar, full menu, and the rest -- is targeted for mid-October.

It was a big week, too, for the North Miami Museum of Contemporary Art, with its launch of the acclaimed “Black Gold” multimedia exhibit, a meditation on mankind’s relationship with oil by Venezuelan-American artist and polymath Rolando Peña, running through November 13.

And just in time for Art Basel, which runs December 1-4, MOCA has announced a November 30 reception for Cuban-born Miami artist Antuan Rodriguez, whose interactive art and multimedia provocations will run through January 28.

So far, so good: MOCA is still in business and a new eatery has come to the plaza. But there’s still a slog ahead.

For all the good news, downtown North Miami gets little night traffic. Those tony, mid-century antique houses that run along 125th Street may attract fund managers and celebrities who drive in to pick up $25,000 chairs, but those people jump back into their SUVs bound for I-95 or their Bal Harbour condos. They don’t linger in downtown North Miami.

And MOCA remains on life support. While the city has again extended the museum’s budget through fiscal 2017 at $1.4 million, it’s just a fraction of the old budget of about $4 million -- with two-thirds of that supplied by the old board, which broke from the city in an acrimonious 2014 divorce.

MOCA still has no full-time director or curator. Natasha Colbrooke-Williams, who keeps busy enough as North Miami city manager Larry Spring’s chief of staff, doubles as interim director.

At the artist’s reception for the “Black Gold” exhibit, deputy city manager Arthur Sorey touted the city’s commitment to MOCA, and Spring has said that he plans an independent committee of museum leaders to head a search for the executive director and a rethink of the board, which meets quarterly and has yet to raise money.

Independent curator Jorge Luis Gutierrez has jumped in to save the day and capably curated both the “Black Gold” and Antuan Rodriguez shows. MOCA’s public exhibit manager, Tiffany Madera, is scheduled to exhibit ten Miami Hispanic female artists starting October 6. Gutierrez’s exhibits were two years in the making. “Black Gold” is the first Miami show by Ricardo Peña.

“I could do oil another 50 years,” says the (always) black-clad Peña, age 73, a pioneer of multimedia happenings on the global art scene for more than half a century and who collaborated with the likes of Martha Graham, Andy Warhol, and Alan Ginsberg.

His work explores the connections of crude, science, and money, and the human frailty that produces imploding petro-states. One striking centerpiece is Black Gold, a multidimensional film that ends in a big bang. A meet-the-artist evening is on the calendar from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., Saturday, October 8.

Perhaps the best news for the MOCA environs comes from North Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which is under new management with Rasha Soray-Cameau. On September 20, the county commission voted 12-0 to extend the CRA’s feared September 30 sunset until July 13, 2044.

While negotiations remain between the city and county over the next few months, the county voted its confidence in the new management of the CRA under Cameau and the city under Spring, barely two years after North Miami’s mid-2014 parade of horribles, including former mayor Lucie Tondreau’s conviction, the scandal of the old CRA, a chaotic turn in the city manager’s office, and the MOCA divorce, among much else.

For 2016-2017, the CRA is budgeting $6.5 million, of which five percent is administrative costs, 68 percent capital improvements, and the rest operational costs. In addition to a proposed Chinatown and train station master plans previously reported (see “On the Agenda,” September 2016), affordable housing is a key CRA initiative over the next year.

Café Crème can thank the CRA for $250,000. The MOCA Café, a Haitian-themed restaurant next door, has received nearly $290,000 in CRA help over the past few years, and Billie’s Pub is in line for $80,000 in help.

Café Crème intends to make the most of it, with 210 seats (62 inside, the rest outside). It will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and host a full bar and full menu, plus a full pastry and chocolate selection in the front. (Postel is a seventh-generation chef and direct descendant of official chocolatiers to the French court.)

Postel built a great following with his Buena Vista Bistro at 4852 NE 2nd Ave. in Miami with great food at reasonable prices: $16 for a beef bourguignon, $7.95 for a croque monsieur or a BLT, and $2 for a pecan lemon confit in the chocolate section.

Cory Finot joined Postel in opening Buena Vista Deli, two doors from the bistro, and it too has become a popular neighborhood hangout. (They just sold the deli, in advance of long days at Café Crème.)

Across the street, the Luna Star Café, the folk music and jazz club just celebrated its 20th anniversary and has a niche of its own. Although it has received just $15,000 in CRA money, how has it kept going all this time?

“We’re a destination,” says owner Alexis Sanfield. Luna Star gets much of its traffic from folk and jazz music fans from around South Florida, some of whom get their Luna Star info from Michael Stock’s folk and acoustic music program on WRLN (91.3 FM) Sundays from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

“We always welcome more customers,” says Sanfield, whose kitchen offers eclectic food and a vast collection of exotic and craft beers. Make sure you bring about $40 in cash; Luna Star does not take credit cards. And don’t even think about ordering Miller Lite or Bud, which Sanfield says she’ll never carry.

Walk-ins? Not much, most coming from special events such as the monthly Jazz at MOCA, or special occasions like La Gran Fiesta.

Beyond the CRA money and temporary relief for MOCA, the city is still working to find the right ingredient for a vibrant downtown North Miami, one that will require a master chef’s skill in urban planning and market demand, and just a dash of sorcery.

 

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