Wynwood realty pioneer lets green grow
Having amassed a large portfolio of Wynwood property since discovering the area’s potential 15 years ago, David Lombardi said now is a good time to “do nothing.”
Within the next four years or so, the broker and founder of Lombardi Properties plans to develop a mixed-use project on 29th Street with 150 residential apartments and 30,000 to 40,000 square feet of retail space.
By then, Mr. Lombardi says, he believes prices will be more manageable. “There are too many things on the horizon to be built, driving construction costs up dramatically,” he told Miami Today.
A veteran of economic cycles, Mr. Lombardi said he learned to be patient from his experience living through 2005-2007. “There was no building, it was difficult to get materials and prices were way up,” he said. “It was painful. Then, in 2008, I was able to build Museo Vault and it was a pleasure.”
Mr. Lombardi teamed with Miami businessman Todd Ruderman and other partners to build the 85,000-square-foot facility at 346 NW 29th St. – the first purpose-built fine art storage in the US. In addition to storage in a climate-controlled environment for fine art that can’t be on display at times, Museo Vault offers a 550-foot exhibition room for showing art, use in restoration/ photography projects and appraisal work.
The facility is just one of Mr. Lombardi’s properties assembled over 6.5 acres in Wynwood including the independent film theater O Cinema at 90 NW 29th St., an indoor soccer stadium, and commercial space he rents to a cross-fit gym, marketing firms, tech companies, restaurants and bars.
He also built Wynwood Lofts in 2005, a 36-unit live, work and play project.
Currently, Mr. Lombardi is putting some refining touches on what he calls his “magic garden” across from the Rubell Collection at 95 NW 29th St. It’s a property – available for rental — where he grows herbs, lettuce and has a gourmet food truck in collaboration with chef Buddy Devingo.
Mr. Lombardi grew up in Miami Beach and had never been to Wynwood until a friend asked him to come along and look at a warehouse one rainy Saturday afternoon in 2000.
“It was greasy and dark but had nice, high ceilings,” Mr. Lombardi recalled. “I had never looked at a warehouse before, but my friend said it was so cheap, he’d buy it.”
The warehouse was 5,000 square feet and Mr. Lombardi’s friend purchased it for $125,000.
When he thought about the experience a day or two later, Mr. Lombardi recalled they traveled from South Beach to Wynwood in seven minutes and knew it was one minute from the Design District, three minutes from downtown and seven or eight minutes from the airport.
“I realized it would be advantageous to have warehouses close to Miami Beach and the Design District,” Mr. Lombardi said. “At the time, the places were selling for $35 to $45 a square foot, so I began buying on a leap of faith that I could rent space for $6 a square foot.”
Some of the buildings had big windows but owners had boarded them up and placed barbed wire around the properties during periods of riots in the 1990s, he said. “The area was not inviting, and I’ve spent the last 15 years helping to open it up.”
After he bought his first five buildings in Wynwood, Mr. Lombardi heard about an opening for an art gallery and decided to attend.
“The guy had no signage but, when we walked in, we saw a beautiful, pristine building with art on the walls,” he said. “I saw what could be done with the spaces and started getting involved with artists.”
Mr. Lombardi started an evening called Roving Fridays that, for a few years, provided an opportunity for artists to show their work. “We had a fashion show, a party and live art being created,” he said. “My goal was to get people outside the area to come here at night and think of opening a bar or restaurant in Wynwood.”
In addition, Mr. Lombardi created the Wynwood Art District Association in 2008 with the late Tony Goldman.
Today, Mr. Lombardi said, the neighborhood is exploding. He helped create the Business Improvement District and said members tax themselves more than the city does to keep Wynwood safe and clean. “We’re working on zoning overlay to increase the amount of units allowed per acre,” he said.
Currently, Mr. Lombardi said, an 11-unit boutique condo unit is under construction at 250 NW 24th St. and a 300-unit rental project was recently approved for the 2100 block of North Miami Avenue.
“It’s a thriving community,” Mr. Lombardi said, “with 60 galleries, 20 new retail stores about to open on Wynwood Block (an entire city block on Northwest Second Avenue) and eight more food and beverage places in the works.”