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J.J. Colagrande Headshot

WYNWOOD?

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'Twas the week before Basel, when all through the hood
Creatures were stirring, in anticipation of good;
The murals were sprayed on the walls with care,
Knowing that the neighborhood would soon be there.

The sun faded over the raised WYNWOOD signage on Miami Ave and NW 24th Street -- it's a large white billboard, homage to the HOLLYWOOD sign in the hills of Los Angeles.

It's a fairly new prop that many will appreciate as the neighborhood faces its busiest week of the year with Art Basel and the tens of thousands of art aficionados who've begun to parachute into Miami from all over the world. Wynwood is arguably one of the hippest neighborhoods on the globe; it's a living, breathing outdoor museum -- it certainly will seem so this week, yet at the same time this burgeoning diamond in the rough is suspicious.

Does Wynwood even exist?

Or, is it something we just really want?

I picked up my friend whom agreed to take a ride around the neighborhood. My buddy knows more about street art than anyone in this city. Cut him, he'll bleed paint. Smell his breath and your head will spin from his fumes. He's been chronicling street art in Miami for a few years and recently launched a project called Wynwood Map, an easy-to-navigate website that should become a must-have for visitors of Wynwood.

Like many street artists, my buddy is low-key, so I'll spare his real name and call him Gator.

Gator's a busy bee: there's new work going up; he's coordinating walls for artists to paint, connecting gallerists and landlords to hungry artists with skill just looking to "get-up."

"That's Atomik over there," he points out. "Nunca, Phibs, Ron English of course--"

"Of course."

"There's En Masse crew from Montreal collaborating with MarcPaperScissor."

Everyone's looking to "get-up" during Basel. Wynwood's a wild, wild, west. Some walls are on un-tenanted buildings, some abandoned, other walls are leased or being built.

I'm skeptical of Wynwood. It's my favorite neighborhood. I want it to succeed. But I live walking distance and see what's happening to the locals who've put their blood, sweat, and tears into the neighborhood. They're moving downtown or out west or up north to Little Haiti because rents have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled. What you will see during Art Basel week is not Wynwood. What you see during Art Walk is not Wynwood.

There's nobody in Wynwood during the day. At night, there are a few splashes, but it's not Lincoln Road or Brickell or Downtown -- there's no foot traffic, except during Art Walk.

"Name three businesses killing it in Wynwood?" I ask my friend.

"Wood Tavern, Robert Fontaine Gallery and Panther Coffee," he says.

"I'd throw in Joey's."

"Gregg Shienbaum," he says, making me pull over so he could snap a pic of a CP1.

There's a bunch of birds on a wire....

"I wouldn't say that gallery is killing it. Nor is Wynwood Kitchen & Bar. I know people who work there midweek and leave with $40 in tips. Same goes with Gramps. The Butcher Shop might make the cut. A few other galleries, a salon -- but at the end of the day, only three businesses are killing it in Wynwood: Panther Coffee, Joey's and Wood Tavern."

Three successful businesses do not make a neighborhood.

We drove past Lester's and shook our heads.

"You heard, right?"

Lester's closed down last week. The little coffee shop/café that couldn't was probably doomed to fail, but that place held hundreds of free events over its three-year history.

Lester's was Wynwood's brain and now it's dead.

We drove past Mana Wynwood Miami Production Village, a full-scale, three-football field studio, with amazing light and sound, recently built with the mantra: if you build it, Hollywood will come. Hollywood has not come. It will look amazing during Basel, but for most of the year the production village is sitting empty. There's very little production.

Fair is my love for Miami but not so fair as to not be fickle.

Wynwood is not what you think it is.

The realty of Wynwood is this: It's a small, aloof neighborhood, five blocks long, two avenues wide, surrounded by intense ghetto to the south, and less ghetto to the west and north; it's a neighborhood owned by two or three visionaries with last names like Lombardi and Goldman and one of them is dead; it's a hood losing its local soul and the neighborhood faces serious issues trying to evolve into a thriving metropolis. Major reservations exist -- due to the intensity that surrounds Wynwood -- that it will ever succeed year-round. I'd bet on the Downtown corridor before Wynwood. There's also little unity in Wynwood among the small businesses that operate. Everyone's on their own. Yet when I listen to my friend rattling off every artist on the walls, their bios and back-stories, and I feel the anticipation of what's coming this week, one can only hope for the best, and enjoy it while it lasts.

EXT. WYNWOOD -LATE AFTERNOON

SK545 is re-doing the boombox that can be seen from I95.

FADE OUT