In Miami’s West Coconut Grove, the need was great, the timing was right, and the partnerships were in perfect alignment: the Miami REALTORS® were seeking a neighborhood in which to conduct a Better Block project with funding from the REALTOR® Party; the University of Miami School of Architecture was planning to create a marketplace for local vendors; and the residents, while lacking resources, had plenty of entrepreneurial zeal and neighborhood pride.
Miami REALTORS®’ 2018 Chairman George Jalil identified West Coconut Grove as an area in need. Known for its colorful, deep-rooted Bahamian heritage, the area had fallen on hard times. In fact, Miami’s downtown Business Improvement District fell just one block short of the once-vibrant area, and adverse gentrification issues were also in play, says Danielle Blake, Miami REALTORS®’ Senior Vice President of Housing & Government Affairs. A team from Miami REALTORS® walked through the area with a staff member of the local city commissioner; going door-to-door, they talked with local business owners and residents and listened to what they wanted for West Coconut Grove. The answer? A strong return of Bahamian culture.
Scouting prospective locations, the REALTORS® came across an abandoned building with a blank wall overlooking an overgrown green space that seemed ripe with potential. Investigating the property, they discovered that the University of Miami’s School of Architecture was already developing a plan for it, with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The two groups joined forces. Sharing their information and resources, the University focused on creating the marketplace for both established vendors and incubator spaces, and the REALTORS® took the lead on developing a landmark mural and launching the vibrant new market with a Better Block celebration. The REALTORS® also provided considerable volunteer manpower, assembling Bahamian-inspired market structures designed by the School of Architecture.
Early on, YPN Chair Jorge Fernandez had suggested a mural as a feature for the Better Block project. “The mural design was a way for us to bring the community together, most especially the kids,” says Fernandez. As a local vendor served a group of neighborhood children a Bahamian lunch, a team of YPN volunteers had them draw representations of the flavors they were tasting. The artist, Wendell McShine, then adapted elements from these crayoned pictures into his final design for the bright and colorful mural. “It feels true to the neighborhood, celebrating its heritage, its flavors, and its children,” says Fernandez. A plaque on the painted wall recognizes the Miami REALTORS® and its partners in the project.
On February 3, 2018, Miami REALTORS® hosted a festive Better Block celebration launching the new ‘MKTPlace at Goombay Plaza.’ From 4:00 to 7:30 p.m., locals, visitors, and elected officials enjoyed Bahamian food, reggae music, dancing, and a dramatic light show on the new site, where every Saturday, local vendors now have a place to sell their wares and perpetuate the beloved local Bahamian culture.
Associate Professor and Director Chuck Bohl of The University of Miami School of Architecture says, “There’s really a thousand things that have to happen to get a simple market like this up and running, and there’s never enough hands, so to have a group as resourceful as the REALTORS® Association to come in and help us has been really instrumental.” Forging a strong relationship with Bohl’s department has been a great benefit for the REALTORS®, notes Blake. New partnerships with the local community and strengthened connections with elected officials will also be invaluable moving forward.
“Here at Miami REALTORS®, we are very excited about our community outreach program,” says Chairman George Jalil. “The West Coconut Grove neighborhood is rich in history and the residents are very welcoming. The Goombay Plaza project, a great success, raised critical awareness that REALTORS® care, and are very involved in the growth of their communities. We look forward to many more such projects in the future.”
To learn more about how the Miami REALTORS® are serving their communities with REALTOR® Party resources and a strong culture of volunteer man-power, contact Danielle Blake, Senior Vice President of Housing & Government Affairs, at 305-468-7015.