With plans for a proposed mega Walmart store in Midtown moving forward, reality sets in for many art fair organizers who will have to start looking for new venues once the project breaks ground.
Scope Art Fair, Red Dot, and Art Asia, three Art Basel Miami Beach satellite fairs that last year took place on land where Walmart is planning to build its new store, are confident they’ll be able to set up camp on the lot this year too. After that, they’ll have to start searching for a space somewhere else.
“I will start to look end of October for 2013 options,” said George Billis, director of Red Dot. “We are looking on the beach as well as Wynwood for possible sites, but again we will not begin our search until later this year.”
In a statement, Alexis Hubshman, founder of Scope and Art Asia, said “the Midtown property Walmart is seeking to develop has been home to SCOPE and Art Asia for the last 4 years — it is our hope that Walmart will factor into their construction plans a window of opportunity for SCOPE and Art Asia to present their highly anticipated 2012 editions this coming December.”
Organizers of Art Miami, which last year took place on a vacant lot across the street from the Walmart site, say that they remain committed to their current location in Midtown despite Walmart’s plans to build a trucks service entrance on Midtown Boulevard just a few feet to the south.
“The presence of loading docks is not of any concern to us as some of the greatest art districts in America, like Chelsea or Soho, have many present,” said Nick Korniloff, director of Art Miami and Art Wynwood.
“We will be prepared to deal with the environment once all decisions are final. We are extremely confidant in our partners at Midtown and the fact that our location will continue to provide our collectors the most convenient and accommodating infrastructure available.”
His concern, Korniloff says, would be more for the parking garage being built on Midtown Boulevard than the service entrance.
“I have yet to see the proposed plan, but I would assume that the City of Miami will not allow them to have their parking garage entrance on a main road like First Avenue,” he said. “One thing is seven service trucks a day and another thing is 1,000 customer cars a day.”
Plans for the project show that the trucks entrance and the garage entrance/exit will be adjacent to one another on Northeast First Avenue (Midtown Boulevard). The garage is set to have a 600-car capacity.
The Walmart debate started last October, when the retail giant’s plans for a 160,000-square-foot store in Midtown emerged. Some support the Midtown Walmart, arguing it will generate jobs for people living in the surrounding community. Others have expressed concern that Walmart will stunt the general area’s ongoing development into a hip, cultural center and snatch away customers from small businesses (see local blogger A.C. Fernandez’s anti-Walmart op-ed).
“What we’re trying to build here is something a little more upscale, something a little bit smaller in nature than a big box store, a little bit more intimate, and something with a higher image,” said Brian Goldberg, owner of Sustain restaurant and bar, which is just a block and a half north of where Walmart would be located, at 3055 N. Miami Avenue.
Anti-Walmart advocate Grant Stern recently started a petition to boycott the superstore, which has over 600 signatures.
When the Akerman firm representing Cleveland-based Developers Diversified Realty, which owns the vacant land, recently asked the planning department to approve a design of a truck loading dock and garage entrance on the east side of the property facing Midtown Boulevard (N.E. 1st Avenue), between 29th Street and 30th Street, the debate took on new life (see the design plans).
Akerman attorney and former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin argued in a letter dated Jan. 19 that the new entryways would be a “minor” modification to the street design, impacting the surrounding sidewalk, landscaping, streetlights, and eliminating several parallel parking spaces.
Architect and Midtown resident Winifred Elysse Newman agrees the modifications could be considered minor, but believes the overall repercussions of Walmart will negatively affect the area.
“It’s not a huge modification in terms of what physically changes in the street and on the sidewalk, but it’s a huge modification visually,” said Newman, who also teaches architecture at Florida International University. “It has a huge impact in terms of the quality of the neighborhood.”
She argues that after Midtown Boulevard becomes the back of the Walmart store, with 35-to-50-foot trucks constantly coming in and out, no one will want to develop the vacant lots right across the street from it in a pedestrian-friendly way.
“All of the surroundings buildings kind of have street life at the base,” she said. “You have restaurants and shops, cafes. If they do that, they are going to cut that off. That won’t develop there, because you can’t have a café on a sidewalk facing the back of the Walmart service entrance.”
According to Kasdin’s letter, the placing of the loading dock and garage entry/exit on N.E. First Avenue “is a deliberate attempt to eliminate the prospect of any adverse impacts to the district generally and specifically to N. Miami Avenue and NE 31 Street.”
Mercadito restaurant Manager James Stevenson, who manages Mercadito, aresturant a block sides with the lawyer. For Stevenson, whose restaurant is about a block north of the Walmart site, most traffic comes from 36th Street, so blocking the southern entrance ti Midtown isn’s a concern,
“I don’t see it as much of a problem,” Stevenson said. “It actually might bring more business to the area.”
Francisco Garcia, director of the Miami planning department, is currently reviewing all modifications to Midtown’s streetscape that Walmart and DDR have requested . If the plans are approved, Walmart would then submit the plans for the actual building.
This post was produced in partnership with Open Media Miami.