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Billionaire Moishe Mana’s long-dormant Mana Wynwood — a 23.5-acre project on the western edge of the neighborhood that would serve as a trade hub between China and Latin America as well as a massive center for arts and entertainment — is showing tiny sparks of life.
Sidewalk Labs, the New York-based urban innovation company that helps developers create future-proof communities through the use of technology, solar power, thermal energy and centralized waste-removal solutions, has been hired by Mana Common as a consultant to help design the infrastructure for the massive development.
Sidewalk Labs is owned by Alphabet Inc., the multinational conglomerate that also owns Google. The company is currently working on projects in San Francisco (retooling the former Power Station electrical plant into a residential community), Las Vegas (a 300-acre mixed-use development with reduced parking) and the Portland/Vancouver area (transforming a former 180-acre industrial site into a mixed-use community).
The company’s first task will be exploratory and advisory work for Mana Wynwood, using proprietary artificial intelligence tech to map out master planning, layer different types of buildings into the project, explore power options with the lowest greenhouse emissions, consider the most efficient waste management systems, create better real estate development designs and study traffic-flow patterns and parking possibilities.
Sidewalk Labs, which was founded in 2015, will serve as a development advisory team for Mana Wynwood through mid-fall.
“We’re really excited to be working on Mana Common,” said Alison Novak, head of Sidewalk Labs Urban Development. “Our emphasis is on environmental resilience and elevating quality of life for residents. We talk to our clients to align our goals. We know they want to make a mixed-use community on land that they already own but don’t know how to go about it.
“A lot of people come up with great ideas, but we take care of creating a step-by-step implementation plan that’s fiscally responsible too,” Novak said. “It can be anything from ‘What is the financial feasibility of building an all-timber neighborhood?’ to things such as parking, wealth creation and water run-off.”
Full speed ahead, finally
In an email to the Herald, Mana, who was an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump and blamed his “America First” rhetoric for turning off foreign involvement in the trade hub, said development can now proceed at a faster clip.
“Now that we have a new Presidential administration in office, we are moving full speed ahead with our plans to create an international trade hub,” Mana wrote. “We believe this is compatible with Wynwood’s status as an Arts & Entertainment District — with international commerce during the day and entertainment at night and on weekends.”
A long wait
The news marks the long-awaited first baby step in the development of a giant project initially announced in 2015 that promised to bring jobs, opportunities and much-needed parks and green space to Wynwood while it was still in the throes of transformation into a hip neighborhood and tourist attraction. Mana is the largest landowner in the neighborhood.
But aside from the Mana Wynwood Convention Center, a large venue space that has hosted a number of events (most recently Miami’s cryptocurrency conference) Mana’s Wynwood properties remain largely vacant, sites of parking lots or shuttered warehouses.
In 2016, Mana was granted a Special Area Plan (SAP) by the City of Miami that included the ability to build 24-story towers — double Wynwood’s maximum height restrictions — on the western edge of his property near Interstate 95. The plan also allows for 10 million square feet of development, exceeding Wynwood’s limit of 2.5 million.
But the plan came with some requirements, including a promise by Mana to bury the overhead electrical lines that run through his property within five years or face a fee of $7.2 million to help strengthen Wynwood’s infrastructure. The plan also required Mana to pay $10 million in impact fees to benefit Wynwood and Overtown.
Due to state-mandated orders of public emergency since then — including the Zika virus and the COVID pandemic — the deadlines for both payments have been pushed back. Mana has not paid the funds or buried the electrical lines on his property.
“The Sidewalk Labs news is exciting,” said Albert Garcia, chairman and co-founder of the Wynwood Business Improvement District. “We’ve long awaited not just words but real action and shovel-in-the-ground development at Mana Wynwood. We know that’s a massive site and we don’t expect it to be developed overnight. But I think everyone is hopeful this new partnership will accelerate the timeline. Everyone has heard about Mana’s vision and commitment. Now they want to see action.”
According to Garcia, more than a million and a half square feet of space has been developed or is under construction since Mana’s SAP, including major projects by The Related Group, Marriott and Kushner Companies. But the majority of those developments are located east of Northwest Second Avenue, essentially dividing the neighborhood into two sides while Mana’s properties remain idle.
Mana has often faced criticism that his local projects have been slow to materialize. A long-stalled renovation of Flagler Street in downtown Miami, where he owns $350 million worth of properties, finally got underway in May.
But Mana said that the size of his proposed Wynwood project needs to be done carefully in order to be done right — and that takes time.
“Miami needs a permanent Arts and Entertainment District, not more mindless development and high-rise construction,” he wrote. “We are building with Miami’s needs in mind, not the needs of real-estate developers. Our projects respect the heart and soul of the neighborhood, and it is not worth rushing that process.”