October 19, 2015
Metro 1 Properties invests in South Florida neighborhoods with an innovative focus on readapting old buildings for new uses. We met with the Metro 1 founder and CEO, Tony Cho, at his office in a converted 1962 Woolworth’s warehouse in Miami’s Wynwood district. According to an Ocean Drive magazine feature, “Tony Cho spends so much time surrounded by artists that, in his own way, he’s become one. Turning the once blank canvases of neighborhoods like Wynwood, Little River, and Lemon City into burgeoning pockets of Miami, Cho has played a major role in painting a bright future for once-forgotten areas of the city.” I sat down to discuss his perspective on arts, business and partnerships surrounded by a creative and artsy vibe in his hip HQ.
ABC: What makes a vibrant community and what role do the arts play?
TC: A vibrant community includes diverse people, diverse interests, creativity and unique ideas. Miami’s amazing cultural community has been a key component to making Miami great. Over the past decade we have become more culturally engaged and more focused on things besides tourism and commerce. This collision of arts and commerce and architecture and design is making Miami relevant around the world and bringing the creatives to live and work here.
ABC: Tell us about some of your great partnerships with the arts?
TC: We look at ways of giving back that add value and focus on the big picture. M1 Community Director, Stacey Glassman Mizener, started the Friends of the New World Symphony. I met her at an extraordinary Friends event at the Raleigh hotel seven years ago. What makes the Friends program stand out is their combination of exceptional art, great people and fun. I was so inspired by the event that I joined the Friends board and got Metro1 involved. We sponsored the Friends 10 year anniversary event that featured a concert at New World Center followed by an incredible after party at the Vagabond featuring a performance by the symphony fellows that blended rock and symphony. Metro1 is supportive of Perez Art Museum Miami as a corporate member and donor. Two years ago we hosted our corporate holiday party at PAMM and it was a great success. We were the first company to host an event at the newly opened museum. Our guests loved the unique atmosphere that only the arts can create.
We know the arts are an important component of building neighborhoods so we support artists and galleries at a grass roots level. We have donated free space in some of our buildings, and hosted events for artists or arts groups where we bring in collectors and donors. We have hosted arts events to activate new buildings. We have collaborations with the Moksha Family Arts Collective, Art Center South Florida, Locust Projects, Surfrider Foundation, Lotus House and many more. Our vision for partnerships in the future include the Frost Museum of Science and Young Arts.
We brought Stacey Mizener Glassman in from the nonprofit sector to spearhead Metro 1 Community, which is our philanthropic division that supports arts, nonprofits and community programs that enhance the neighborhoods we have invested in. Metro 1 Community is developing the Wynwood Greenhouse, a monumental endeavor we are doing with partners including the Miami Foundation. Metro 1 is designing and developing this significant initiative to create a public space in the heart of Wynwood. The project will be a botanical garden, a butterfly and bird sanctuary, a space to contemplate and engage, an arts space and an architectural masterpiece. We held an international competition with a renowned jury to find the right project designers. More than 200 architects and artists from 22 countries competed. It was a blind competition so jury members did not know anything about the competitors except for the design ideas they submitted. They narrowed the field down to 11 finalists. The winning group was the only local Miami team. The winning dream team includes Architect Nick Gelpi, Roberto Rivera who chairs the FIU landscape and architecture department, artist Jim Drain who is known for his unique sculptures at the Port of Miami. They designed a masterpiece that is slated to open in 2016. The space will provide free cultural programs featuring groups like Nu Deco Ensemble and creative outreach.
ABC: What inspires you and your company?
TC: I have always connected with the arts. I grew up in a spiritual community in Central Florida. I was a pianist and always had a creative spark. I had a garage band in high school called Electric Tofu but was also was very influenced by world music and international arts. One of the pillars of Metro1’s corporate ecosystem are independent brands like Zak the Baker and Panther coffee. Small and local businesses that make up the fabric of Miami-Dade. We are not everywhere America we are Wynwood, Little Havana, Little Haiti and downtown and Lemon City. Each neighborhood has distinctive characteristics and unique vibes. That’s what we value and try to capture. Going into an area and learning about its history, its cultural heritage. We preserve that but also evolve it at the same time.
ABC:Why do you think it’s important for corporations to support the arts?
TC: The arts add value to companies on an internal level but also externally. All corporate leaders should want to live and work in a strong and vibrant community. The arts are an essential part of our quality of life, the education of our children and our celebrated diversity.
I started my career running clubs in South Beach and promoting events. I started branching out to luxury real estate. I got my start as a developer by connecting with artists and getting involved with a cutting edge group of underground artists and collectors. I immediately saw the connection between arts and real estate which helped spark the renewal of neighborhoods throughout South Florida. I started buying property around the Arsht Center before it was built. From past experience I know the arts create transformational change and inspire revitalization. Real estate professionals quickly embraced the sales value of the urban lifestyle the arts bring to a downtown or urban core. The US is changing from a nation of suburbs to a nation of urban dwellers that want performances and galleries and restaurants and events that are in their neighborhoods. I had a vision and belief that the fringe areas of twenty years ago were the future and started investing in Wynwood and Buena Vista and MIMO. I was a promoter with a database of 50,000 and wherever we went we could create a lot of noise and get attention. We found areas that were ripe for growth and were being created and enhanced by artists and the arts.
ABC: What do you value in partnerships?
TC: We are a progressive organization and feel it is our responsibility to give back to the community. When Metro1 gets involved with an organization we start by looking at the connection with what we do. We are selective and strategic in our philanthropy. We support groups that are in our neighborhoods or that are strengthening the communities where we live and work. We evaluate how sincere the group is with their mission and what they have accomplished. We value loyalty and reciprocity. What we do is beyond giving a financial contribution. We can introduce our partners to valuable connections, we can provide advice from our great corporate team. We can roll up our sleeves and get involved. We offer promotional opportunities with our vast social media platforms and email database. We look for partners that value what we bring to the table. I know that what you give as an individual or a company you get back 100%.
ABC: As a visionary what do you see for the future of Miami?
TC: Metro1 is not a developer of buildings but a developer of neighborhoods. Our trademark is that we shape neighborhoods. Having been in Miami for more than 18 years I have seen our community grow and evolve. We are in the forefront of many of the movements that will shape the US and the world for the next generation. Miami is attracting creative minds and innovative entrepreneurs from around the world. Their inventive outlook and imaginative resources are reshaping Miami. The intersection of arts and architecture, business and community development is powerful and transformative.