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Magic City, a tech innovation district, coming to Little Haiti

December 16, 2016

The Magic City will get a namesake innovation district with art, entertainment, technology and sustainability at its core, if the vision of a group of real estate developers, investors and entrepreneurs comes to fruition. In Brickell? Downtown? Wynwood? Nope. Little Haiti.

Bob Zangrillo, a Silicon Valley investor and CEO of Dragon Global, and Tony Cho, a Miami real estate developer and CEO of Metro 1, will announce plans Wednesday for Magic City, a 15-acre mixed-use development focused on creating an innovation district in the historic Miami neighborhood once known as Lemon City.

“Four years ago, Tony and I teamed up because we had a shared vision for an innovation district in Miami,” Zangrillo said. “We want to embrace the history. We want to create jobs in the community and foster companies that want to give back to [community] education programs and support the kids. That’s our goal, and we’re out there, and we think this is going to be transformative for Miami.”

The first phase of Magic City will bring art and entertainment to the emerging district and will include a sculpture garden, the 30,000-square foot-Magic City Studios and the 15,000-square-foot Factory, both of which will initially be used for events, an innovation center and an amphitheater, with the aim of creating a walkable campus-like neighborhood.

WE WANT TO EMBRACE THE HISTORY. WE WANT TO CREATE JOBS IN THE COMMUNITY AND FOSTER COMPANIES THAT WANT TO GIVE BACK TO [COMMUNITY] EDUCATION PROGRAMS AND SUPPORT THE KIDS. THAT’S OUR GOAL, AND WE’RE OUT THERE, AND WE THINK THIS IS GOING TO BE TRANSFORMATIVE FOR MIAMI. -Bob Zangrillo of Cho Dragon

Initial tenants include Salty Donut, Aqua Elements, Photopia, Baby Cotton, ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art), Wynwood Shipping and etnia Barcelona. The project so far has been self-financed. Cho and Zangrillo, co-founders of Cho Dragon Management, say that are seeking strategic capital from private investors and will likely seek public financing.

Their team plans to renovate a 15,000-square-foot building as an innovation center for incubating startups, co-working and entrepreneur collaborations, aiming to open it by early 2018. But the building will also be an incubator for a much larger built-from-ground-up innovation center they plan further along in the project. More office and retail space, affordable workforce housing, including micro-units, and possibly a boutique hotel are in the longer-range plans, they said.

At an event at 5 p.m. Wednesday at 401 NE 62nd St., Cho and Zangrillo plan to accompany the announcement of their Magic City vision with the unveiling of five large art pieces including artist Laura Kimpton’s “Magic.” Zangrillo commissioned the piece for Magic City (also Miami’s nickname) and it was first shown at the Burning Man festival this summer. They will also kick off a partnership with the III Points Art Basel Concert Series.

III Points will be producing a series of nightly concerts at Magic City Studios and the Factory through Sunday. “Tony provides the right energy we need to work with,” said III Points CEO David Sinopoli. “When he revealed to us the whole scope of [the district], we felt very confident that our visions are aligned with what were trying to do in a city that is evolving and growing in areas that are not very discovered.”

Drive around the properties today, roughly between Northeast 60th and 64th Streets and Northeast Second Avenue and the railroad tracks, and you’ll see a gritty area with a number of industrial buildings slated for adaptive repurposing under Cho and Zangrillo’s plan. The property Cho Dragon owns also includes the century-old Magic City Trailer Park, which today is a demolition zone but soon will be a “beautiful green space and a sculpture garden,” Zangrillo said. They hope to renovate the adjacent historic but dilapidated Dupuis building, he said..

You may need to put on your visionary glasses to see what they see, but the area today is not unlike Wynwood a decade ago, said Cho, who has been heavily involved in the development of Wynwood into the artsy hipster neighborhood it is now.

“We are investing money, cleaning things up, bringing more street lights and security in the neighborhood; we’re bringing in art, creating jobs,” Cho said. “I see Miami melding as an urban node. These are all becoming very interesting neighborhoods.”

Zangrillo, who lives in Miami, is a veteran investor and executive in the social networking, entertainment media, e-commerce, mobility and software industries and has diversified in Miami commercial real estate development. As the founder of Metro 1, Cho has been a pioneering force in the redevelopment of Miami’s urban core neighborhoods.

“One of the things I am super-passionate about is creating unique, interesting neighborhoods that have a positive impact on the environment. Bob brings a unique perspective to the real estate game … and that is supporting innovative companies and bringing in the technology component,” Cho said. “We are combining our talents in an area that is up and coming and really trying to offer something that is new and exciting.”

Zangrillo and Cho began looking for property that met certain requirements. Mass transit access and an exit off I-95 were key. Cho wanted high ground and vegetation. It needed to be walking distance to great neighborhoods, but at the same time, have its own identity. It had to be affordable for young entrepreneurs to set up shop.

Rising real estate prices and rents in nearby neighborhoods — such as Wynwood and the Design District to the south and MiMo to the east — opened the door for this emerging neighborhood. In 2014, artists began leaving Wynwood and moving to the Little Haiti/Little River areas, some of them buying their gallery spaces so they wouldn’t be priced out. Developer interest began to intensify, too. In recent months, that has been followed by restaurants, mixed-use retail buildings and startup offices.

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