Coconut Grove is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, founded by Bahamians over a hundred years ago. For much of the twentieth century, the Grove was a thriving community. However, systemic disinvestment and marginalization decreased economic development and opportunity in this historically Black neighborhood. Then gentrification struck.
“Coconut Grove sits between downtown Miami and the affluent community of Coral Gables. To get anywhere near the bay and downtown from the southern portion of Miami-Dade County, you have to drive through the Grove,” says Oliver Gross, President/CEO of New Urban Development (NUD) on the community’s key location. “Today developers are tearing down existing homes and building houses that sell for more than $700,000.” That price is much higher than average real estate in the area, he notes.
By 1983, gentrification had become a serious issue, and the fight was on to preserve Coconut Grove for the people who lived there. One day David Alexander, Executive Director of the Coconut Grove Local Development Corporation, called local resident and activist Thelma Gibson with an invitation to purchase a strategic corner — including four lots — for $99,000. She immediately called Coconut Grove landlord Walter Green, suggesting that he find three other investors to chip in $25,000 apiece. According to Gibson, Green laughed. “Do you have $25,000? Because I don’t.” But Green called back the next day, with the idea of finding 20 people to invest $5,000 each — led by Gibson as the first investor. The plan worked; others “…came along. They were willing to help because everyone knew the building,” recalls Gibson. They named their group GUTS (Grovites United to Survive), and soon they had bought a four-lot parcel adjacent to the opposite corner, too.
I have told people the importance of keeping land here, but some have moved back to Georgia, where they had other land. Others can’t afford to live in the Grove anymore and have moved elsewhere in Miami-Dade. My role now is to tell developers to be sure that some parts of the Grove stay affordable.”*
* First published in Heart of the Grove
Unfortunately, the next step was harder. GUTS borrowed money from the City of Miami for an environmental study and architectural drawings. “But we couldn’t get anyone interested in investing,” recalls Gibson. “We couldn’t even pay the taxes.” Through the years, GUTS was forced to sell most of the lots to developers.
With one parcel left, Gross says, “GUTS came to us for help. We wanted to be really intentional about any development, ensuring that the property would be owned and controlled by people from the neighborhood. We were able to create a vehicle that allowed them to receive most of the economic value the property had gained without giving up their long-term interest.”
BlueHub was key to the process. “These are the sorts of deals that traditional capital providers walk around gingerly,” says Gross. “BlueHub jumped in with both feet. They asked the right questions in the right context. Their focus is not just on closing but on how to make the deal work for everyone. That really resonates with me.”
The next challenge is determining what to build on the property. The plan includes 100 units of mixed-income housing, 40 of which will be affordable to households earning less than 60% of the area median income, as well as commercial real estate and community facilities.
“We prefer to have a larger residential component,” Gross states. “Keeping folks from the community in the community helps preserve the neighborhood character and culture.”
Whatever the outcome, it will certainly be decided with the long-standing neighborhood residents in mind and involved.