|Artist rendering: Grand Avenue and Gibson Plaza|
A gala day on Grand in The Grove, for the Gibson groundbreaking. This mixed-use, residential-educational building is the first all-new affordable housing built in West Grove in almost 50 years.
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|
Gibson Plaza, named for Reverend Theodore R. Gibson and Thelma Gibson, will be geared to the 55-and-up demographic, with 56 one and two bedroom units. Among the common amenities will be an exercise room, community center, library and computer lab. However, what has the neighbourhood excited is what’s slated for the ground floor. It is dedicated to providing continuing education, job training and after school programs for the neighbourhood at large.
“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.
Every speaker who came up to the dais to say a few words (under the white tent in the 89 degree heat) spoke of how this project will lead to a neighbourhood revitalization of a sorely neglected area of Miami. That’s why residents were so upset about 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.
The two people who came in for the most praise and sustained ovations at yesterday’s ceremony were the two people who everyone acknowledged deserved the most credit for seeing this project through to fruition. First and foremost is Thelma Gibson, who, though the Foundation named after her late husband, helped aquire the 1 acre site, parcel by parcel, and who insisted that any project of this kind simply had to have an educational componant; and Jihad Rashid. President of the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation, who worked tirelessly to bring all the partners to the table and see that they all understood the vision.
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?|
IRONY ALERT: Another politician got short shrift in all the speeches. That’s just as well because [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff arrived 10 minutes late and missed the shovel photo-op. His West Grove constituents accuse him abandoning them for monied interests and out of town developers.
Further reading: Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt
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.
The slogan on the banner in front of which every speaker spoke read CATALYZE • REVITALIZE • TRANSFORM, which is everyone’s hope for this stretch of Grand Avenue. Immediately across the street from Gibson Plaza is the Collaborative offices. Just to the east of that is the brand new KROMA Gallery, which hosted a lunch for attendees after all the speakers were finished.
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.
“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.
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.