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BALL & CHAIN owner Fuller captivated by Little Havana

Little Havana is not Florence in the 1400’s, but it’s been undergoing no less of a Renaissance for the past five years, according to Bill Fuller, managing principal and co-owner of BALL & CHAIN and my latest guest on Fried On Business.

It’s really just getting started, Bill said. He began investing in small-scale properties in 2002. In 2004, he launched Barlington Group to focus on creating a portfolio of properties in Miami’s urban core. He has been a prominent force in the revitalization of Miami’s historic Little Havana neighborhood.

Art galleries. Restaurants. Clubs. Real estate is hot, hot, hot in Little Havana, which draws more than 3.5 million visitors a year, Bill said.

“It’s the heart of Miami. We like to say it’s the corazon,” he said.

BALL & CHAIN is a classic example. Still in the original space, the dining and entertainment venue opened in 1935 and saw the likes of Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker and Lena Horne.

It closed in 1957, but Bill and his crew opened the doors once again in 2014.

“It truly is one of the centerpieces of the Renaissance of Little Havana,” he said.

BALL & CHAIN is located right on the Calle Ocho, across from the Tower Theater and adjacent to Domino Park. In other words, it’s at Ground Zero for what makes Miami, well, Miami.

As if that’s not enough, BALL & CHAIN is surrounded by fully occupied retail that draws plenty of locals in addition to visitors, Bill said. Azucar Ice Cream. Velvet Creme Doughnuts & Coffee. The list goes on.

Bill said all of the great neighborhoods in Miami’s core are benefiting from the renewed interest in urban living.

Now, I know there had been some talk of new zoning rules that would allow building heights to touch the sky in Little Havana, but that seems to have subsided. And Bill said he believes the medium-density, mid-rise approach really fits the community.

“We’re just stewards of an old brand. We’re just here in this timeline, and hopefully one day people that are just as passionate about what this is all about will continue to carry on this legacy of all this magic that was created here,” he said.

BALL & CHAIN boasts three performance areas and produces about 80 hours of live music each week, which starts every day at noon. Doors open at 11.

And here’s a treat: Tito Puente Jr. will be on hand New Year’s Eve.

“We want to do our part for Miami. We have a lot of great, beautiful musicians in this town. We truly believe in investing in the musicians, providing them with a stable, honest, living wage so they can continue to perform their art,” he said.

As the urban cores begin to fill once again, I think there’s always the danger that they will become homogenized – that they will lose the very character than made them attractive in the first place.

But that’s not going to happen with people like Bill, and many others, defending the heritage of these neighborhoods.

This is a must-listen interview for anyone interested in Miami’s urban core. And don’t miss the tease about the upcoming 500th Fried On Business show to be held live at BALL & CHAIN.

Click here to listen to the full interview with Bill Fuller of Barlington Group.

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