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Lombardi: Art will always be the focus of a growing Wynwood

David Lombardi is a great friend and one of the first guests we ever had on Fried On Business.

The founder of Lombardi Properties is also a major benefactor for one of Miami’s most exciting up-and-coming neighborhoods – Wynwood.

Fortunately for us, he got there through a series of fortunate events.

Lombardi started selling homes in Miami Beach about 20 years ago. He used his commissions to begin buying multifamily properties on South Beach, but by 2000 that market was out of reach. The condo converters had taken over.

So Lombardi started looking at this forlorn industrial area called Wynwood.

“What I liked immediately was that it only took me seven minutes from Miami Beach to get there. It was two minutes to the Miami Design District and five minutes to Downtown. And you could get on and off the highway very quickly,” he said.

Buildings were priced a $30 to $40 per square foot, far less than construction cost. Retail rents in the Design District were climbing, so Lombardi thought it might be wise to buy some inexpensive industrial space nearby to service that sector.

He bought five buildings and rented them quickly. But soon thereafter he read an article that would change his direction entirely.

He learned about a guy in that very neighborhood who was living in an industrial space and had built an art gallery in the front.

Lombardi attended his next opening and was enthralled with what he saw – crisp lighting, beautiful artwork and a crowd of young people enjoying wine and discussing the artist’s creations.

“That’s when I realized that we could do something else besides utilitarian storage with these spaces,” he said.

The artists were already there, Lombardi said, but you just didn’t know it. After they began doing murals on the walls during the fourth year of Art Basel, Wynwood exploded.

The area now averages 500,000 visitors a month, Lombardi said.

“The impact of art in Wynwood is a story that is being told throughout the world, and they’re trying to emulate this in many other parts of the world,” he said.

In Wynwood, some of Lombardi’s art focused real estate projects include:

– Terminal Lofts: Home to numerous artists and creative companies.
– The 36-unit Wynwood Lofts, specially designed for creatives and artists.
– Museo Vault: Designed and built ground-up to store and protect valuable art.
– Various commercial buildings that combine artist studios with other commercial uses.

Wynwood is very much in transition, Lombardi said. A new zoning overlay allows more units per acre for residential living, but art will always be integral to the area.

“Our dream is to be somewhat of a Williamsburg, Brooklyn – where we have four, five or six stories of residential above quirky one-off, funky retail, galleries, boutiques and food and beverage outlets,” he said.

“I would say that, today, we are in the fourth inning of a nine-inning game in Wynwood.”

In the near term, Lombardi said, residential is the trend for Wynwood. Five years from now, there should be 2,000 units of residential in what he expects to be a live-work-create environment.

Lombardi said his organization is very cautious about the destiny of Wynwood – not wanting it to go the way of homogenization found in some other once-trendy parts of Miami.

“Right now we’re relevant because we have the galleries. We have the unique retailers. The young kids who design their own clothing line. And the Zak The Bakers and the Panther Coffees of the world,” he said.

“We don’t want to bring in Starbucks, or Panera Bread, or Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn because then we’re like everywhere else – and we lose our edge.”

This was a thought-provoking discussion, and we discussed a lot more, including the key to being a responsible philanthropist today.

Click here to listen to the full interview with David Lombardi of Lombardi Properties in Miami.

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