|Artist rendering: Grand Avenue and Gibson Plaza|
Gibson Plaza has been in the planning stages for many years. However, it took a unique and unlikely group of partners to move this project forward, including the Theodore Roosevelt Gibson Memorial Fund, the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation, Miami-Dade College and the Mitchel Wolfson, Sr. Foundation. Miami-Dade County kicked in $9 million dollars, and Pinnacle Housing Group will construct the Bahamian-styled building that pays homage to West Grove's original inhabitants.
|Thelma Gibson's 1st shovelful at the project she helped spearhead|
“It has always been a dream of ours to have affordable housing, continuing education and after-school programs for children running side by side,” the 88-year old Ms Gibson said.
Trolleygate when they learned about it. This is a neighbourhood struggling to overcome a century of racism and neglect.
While east Grand Avenue got revitalized with CocoWalk, restaurants, and fancy hotels, the west end of Grand -- Black Grove, or Kebo, as the original Bahamian residents called it -- has struggled and become blighted over the decades. The non-conforming diesel bus garage is just a few very short blocks away from this development. The reason people were so upset with the trolley garage is because it does not comport with the vision of those who want better for the neighbourhood. Gibson Plaza is the beginning of that revitalization plan.
One of the politicians mentioned over and over, by speaker after speaker, is Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who fought to get County Commissioners to allocate the $9 million. "On behalf of the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners, and as Commissioner of Miami-Dade District 7, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to be associated with a project that I believe will spur the re-birth of the long neglected segment of our community - The Coconut Grove Village West." Yet, that wasn't just promotional bumf.
Thirty years ago Suarez helped set up the Gibson Memorial Fund and he's been behind this project from the get-go.
|How close is Trolleygate to Gibson Plaza?|
Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?
Last year when Trolleygate erupted in controversy, Sarnoff staged The Trolleygate Dog and Pony Show to protect the profits of Astor Development and Coral Gables against the interests of his own constituents. After Sarnoff insisted he couldn't talk about Trolleygate because it was before the courts, he presented a one-sided slide show to insist diesel fumes and bus traffic on residential streets is perfectly safe. However, it's what he did in the middle of the meeting that Sarnoff demonstrated his despicable side. At one point in this contentious meeting this reporter heard Sarnoff covertly threaten to withdraw support for Gibson Plaza (and other projects) if the community continued its fight against Trolleygate.It was slyly done, but was not lost on anyone in the room.
So, colour me thrilled that Sarnoff missed his photo op -- another way to grab credit. Judging from the sotto voce murmurings when he gave his short speech, he's lucky he wasn't booed.
|Even as the Collaborative's Jihad Rashid celebrated |
this achievement, he warned against gentrification.
While everyone hopes Gibson Plaza leads to a revitalization of the west end Grand Avenue, the fear is that this is just another step along the process of slow gentrification that has been eating its way into West Grove. Even Rashid recognizes the danger. As Nick Madigan in the Miami Herald notes:
After waiting for a standing ovation to die down, Rashid reminded the crowd that there had been a “history of disinvestment and disenfranchisement” in the West Grove, and remarked on the irony of expensive hotels and condominiums perfectly visible only a few blocks to the east. Rashid also cautioned against the danger that the neighborhood’s longtime residents will be pushed out by construction projects and investors looking for profits.Those in the know tell this reporter that due to property speculation along Grand Avenue, nothing less than 5 stories will pay for itself. Nothing taller than 5 stories is allowed by the Miami 21 Plan. This means that only 5-storey high condo buildings will be built along Grand, making it a new canyon for colonization and gentrification. Otherwise, West Grand will continue to undergo Demolition by Neglect, which passes for progress in West Grove. There appears to be no room left for anything in between.
“If they get gentrified out in the name of progress, I don’t think that’s progress,” Rashid said. Still, he concluded, Gibson Plaza is a huge step forward.