THE Magic City'sVanishing Venues Act

By Rio Chavarro

Miami became the “Magic City” in the early 1900’s due to its rapid development, apparently rising out of the sea as a full blown city seemingly overnight. But now, that same rapidity is perverting the soul of the city and performing a vanishing act with our most vibrant and historical entertainment venues.

  DISCLAIMER:  I am just another local artist but unlike transplanted locals, I was born and raised in Miami. I have experienced these things first hand and can see how they’re affecting our tight-knit community. Please allow me to elaborate on my slack-jawed, “Wow!”

Well, it must have taken one helluva powerful magic potion with a vast variety of spices to concoct something that would slowly fool this city. Here’s the recipe.



Start with a long river, a swamp, a bay and a coastline. Mix in the indigenous people that lived here before the city’s first invaders with settlers and founders, add slavery, throw in a few centuries of international treaties affecting international finance, commerce and trade, especially with Latin America and the Caribbean, add Spanish-American Wars, Seminole Wars, and one World War, then sprinkle a confetti-like myriad of distinct cultures from Miami’s earliest and latest immigrants. Pour (into your hopeful melting pot) a long railroad track, celebrities, mosquitos, land speculation, drug dealers, tourism, hurricanes, property monopolies, and a few political scandals. Now bake this till the beautiful genetic mosaic burns away, watch the local ethnic and economic demographic melt, and like magic, all the money shall rise to the top leaving you with one gorgeous chunk of magic BS.

In the end, the city by the sea always lets the money talk and the BS stick around because it sells. These factoids are convincing me that my city has been a bad reality show in the making since way before 1896.

There are many who would argue that Miami, for the past 20 years, has sped up its growth with magical makeover after makeover, revitalizing its worst neighborhoods from South Beach to the Wynwood Art District. Much like a David Blain card trick, the populace is always robbed of the truth, for to know it would surely mean to reveal all of its wonderful mysterious glory. Some of us Miami artists are concerned over this freakish sleight of hand.

I would contend that, as of 2006, Miami has been robbed by swift and stealthy pickpockets in an ongoing and insidious race to muscle out smaller businesses and once-affordable residential areas, robbing the community of originality, culture, and historical architecture. Block by block, brick by brick with new building after new boring building. For a local artist such as me, this is most notable in businesses dealing with nightlife and live music. Given the predictable growth pattern, it only takes some basic research and crystal clear retrospect to reveal where we have been heading and the growth shows no signs of slowing.

The result has been nothing short of a silent government-sponsored violence called gentrification, with Miami-Dade County commissioners presiding over the displacement of local businesses, homes, artists, and recreating our city for the sake of big business whales. Or is this really the progress the people want?

Miami in the 1980’s was heading into the unknown with the Cuban Mariel Boat Lift and was a hotbed of local and national fiery political issues bursting on every corner. Media outlets rained down stories of police fighting scarfaces and cocaine cowboys on the streets while poor immigrants poured in. Miami Beach was one giant strip mall of art deco retirement hotels filled with the snow birds that chose to stay. Yet, ever since the 1920’s, there’s always been a booming nightlife anywhere you went with a variety of live entertainment venues lit late into the wee hours. Nowadays, those kinds of venues are few and far between, and “variety” was the key word lost.

The 90’s found the city searching for a major makeover. The drug money of the 80’s found homes and businesses to hide in, and once it was all appropriated, it dissipated into condos, construction companies, suburban home developments, strip malls, and nightclubs. Coconut Grove stepped down from its glory bohemian days of the 60’s-70’s as Miami Beach became the new center for nightlife. Meanwhile, Wynwood was still just industrial warehouses and a handful of minority families in crumbling houses sandwiched between I-95 & US-1 or Biscayne Blvd, the strip also known as streetwalker lane. And Midtown wasn’t midtown (that was the name of the real estate business that dubbed it as such), that lot was a no-man’s land, the relic of Buena Vista rail yard abandoned for over a decade up until the early 2000’s. Miami was primed for the massive mad dash for the city’s largest land grab in its modern history. Why just look at all the resorts and casinos wanting in on the action now.954678_614853685193571_81273363_n

In early 2002, artist’s studios, small galleries, and large fine art collections began to create a home for themselves in one of Miami’s poorest and most derelict areas, now known worldwide as the Wynwood Art District. Hmmm, come to think of it, New York City experienced this same ordeal with its’ artistic community from the 1950’s-70’s. Artists from all disciplines and walks of life, from all over the country, migrated to Manhattan’s East Village and the Lower East Side, beautified it, revitalized it, and then were slowly but surely moved out by corporate take-overs, rising housing costs, bogus zoning laws, public policy, and lest we forget, money. Sound familiar Miami? Slow urban redevelopment caused chaos in the local housing and business economy of the largest, and arguably, most important city in the US. What makes local politicians here think Miami will fare any better, any faster?

That boom for artists by artists happened in Miami from 2004-08. It came and it went leaving a few neighborhoods ripe for investors’ pickings. In 2005, the Miami art scene began to pick up steam, Wynwood grew, the Design District kept venues like The District and Soho Studios, and Midtown was just being built. Older venues saw resurgence in the love for live music, theatre, dance, and dozens of new venues opened a variety of spaces for local artists to blossom. To the arts-loving public, it was like finding water in the desert. Unfortunately, it grew to an irresistible size that was soon swallowed whole by the real estate Gorgon ready to develop the latest land acquisition.

To plead my case, below, I have included a sad and growing list of some of our most cherished places to close in the past several years.

As with any aspiring US Alpha-city in the throes of its upward economic mobility, “change” and “progress”, although rarely synonymous, are the prominently used words to describe this magic trick of “revitalizing” poorer and “up & coming” neighborhoods. Local politicians with their hands in the real estate cookie jar are the first ones to green light urban redevelopment projects that will land gains in their accounts, even if it means bulldozing a historical building, or buying out a mom & pop shop.

The Magic City’s vanishing venues act: Poof! Something old disappears, Poof! Something new replaces it. The new space, more often than not, is seldom the same type of business or venue that it replaces, and in most cases, it’s not even in the same income bracket, demographic, or relevant culture. Ahem, seen Tobacco Road lately?

When developing a city, it seems natural that many things must change in order for “progress” to take place, but not when “developing” equates to destroying the natural habitat of every living thing, including, and especially in this case, local artists. Within the past 5 years, nearly 15 live music & entertainment venues, some with a long-standing and well documented history, have closed their doors to make way for “progress” and it’s progressing at a frantic rate with 4 more venues due to close in 2016.

While Miami is widely recognized for its international tourism and trade industry, it exists in a mostly service based economy, and real estate speculation, with all its insanely huge oversights, continues creating a playground for the rich that will never stay and never cared for the locals in the first place. Developers don’t care about the local community. If they displace thousands of families and small businesses, it’s just business as usual. Meanwhile, the city’s culture is usurped by looming condos left empty for years, its historic buildings leveled to plots of land left unused, and its residents coerced to restart their lives, businesses, and homes elsewhere. Is this still considered “progress”?

It doesn’t help that most live-music audiences here are lazy, cheap, and unsupportive, as witnessed by many venues trying to keep an audience. It’s also demoralizing that many remaining venue owners are more supportive of the EDM scene which perpetuates Miami’s nightclub frenzy for travelers. They’d prefer one popular person for a few thousand dollars to push buttons (DJ) and replace the local 8 piece original band with a following (that they never paid enough anyway). Miami has lost too much of its local artistic history already to peevish venue owners, now the city-wide redevelopment will step in to finish the rest.

Perhaps Miami should lose the nickname. All that old magic has disappeared behind the great glass wall of the new skyline. If they’ve remained at all, venues that once fostered all of the local artistic talent have been relegated to smaller and more obscure locations further from the current hub. Its artists are the only magicians left to find new neighborhoods to beautify, new homes to create, and new venues to tell the tale of what had once been a Magic City. Our local artists will always find a way to survive, that is, until we have to move again.




giphy (19)

Grand Central (being forced out 2016), Steam / Railroad Blues (Previously, The Vagabond – after nearly one year, rumored to be closing in 2016), 7th Circuit Productions & Moksha Family Artist Collective (moved & settling into a new location), Churchill’s (new owners, still the CBGB of Miami), Sweat Records (Miami’s only badass record store), Jada Coles (moved to cooler spot), Vinos in the Grove, Jazid, Ball & Chain, Bardot, Blackbird Ordinary, Titanic, Luna Star Café, Bougainvillea’s Ole Florida Tavern, Naomi Gardens, The Social Lubricant, and Gramps.