How to fix Coconut Grove (and Miami)
Most of you who know me in real life, know how I champion Coconut Grove as my favorite place to live in South Florida. No other neighborhood offers the combination of walkability and entertainment and atmosphere that the Grove offers its residents. Despite this, Coconut Grove is no where near its peak having begun its backslide years before the recession hit town and provided the Grove with a double whammy. Now this is not to say that the neighborhood is dead, or far from salvation; no, the area still is ripe with potential to revive itself, it just needs the right ingredients.
During its peak, around the early 00s or late 90s, Coconut Grove was a bustling hub of entertainment and revelry for Miami. It had few areas of competition, the housing boom hadn’t driven tens of thousands of condos to be built in nearby Brickell & Downtown yet, and areas like South Miami and Midtown were still largely deserted from an entertainment standpoint. It really only had one area competing with it: South Beach. So what did the powers that be in the Grove do? Nothing, they rested on their laurels and ignored the increasing competition and changing landscape, and let many of their iconic attractions whither away (the playhouse being a prime example). Additionally they pushed for alcohol to be sold for fewer hours (3AM is last call, vs 5am citywide, and no last call in some cases).
As a result of the infighting and powers that be trying to mold Coconut Grove to their own taste, instead of realizing its beauty all along lay in its laissez faire attitude, Coconut Grove is filled with empty storefronts and failing restaurants. Those who have succeeded are those that understand the inherent culture, and don’t try to change it; they are the ones who embraced the NUT in coconut.
So how can this neighborhood revive itself? Free parking. Live Music. Revive the playhouse, or tear it down and build a new venue that can work for music, theater, and other performances. Build a community center for the locals to share. Host more events that draw people in (think concerts, not antique shows). Embrace change, and foster it (i.e. make it easy for new businesses to get construction permits expedited). Teach new businesses how to market to their community (if we’re the only ones coming here, why not embrace us?). Turn the empty office and retail space into subsidized office space for small businesses.
Can this revival occur? Sure, if the village council, BID, and NET offices all get their acts together. The property owners who’ve had empty spaces for years need to get the message and lower their pricing as well.
Lots of these changes affect the city as a whole and county as well, these aren’t all Coconut Grove specific.