Miami has been pushing to drive tourism to its off-the-beach cultural destinations, and a "national treasure" designation could help raise the profile of Little Havana. But will a title from a nonprofit organization lead to smart, preservation-minded development in the area?
Historic preservation groups are launching a partnership with city officials to save Miami’s Little Havana, the epicenter of the Cuban diaspora.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation added Little Havana to its list of “national treasures” Friday, saying it should be protected from developers who are transforming much of Miami’s downtown and its surroundings.
The nonprofit says the designation will help organizations, city officials, residents and investors to preserve the area’s historic buildings and keep it affordable to working-class dwellers.
The neighborhood’s signature street, Calle Ocho, features cigar shops, art galleries and mom-and-pop stores where Cubans and their descendants reminisce about the island.
Tourists also visit the area arriving in double decker buses to take sips of Cuban coffee and shoot selfies at the Versailles restaurant, the hub of the exile community. The neighborhood has changed some as new immigrants have arrived from Central America and Colombia, opening new restaurants and stores.
“Little Havana is a symbol of the immigrant experience in America and a thriving, entirely unique place,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Growth should not come at the expense of the vibrant historic neighborhoods like Little Havana that make cities unique and desirable places.”
The historic trust’s website says Little Havana faces multiple threats, including development pressure, demolition of historic buildings, displacement of existing residents and zoning changes.
Photo credit: The National Trust for Historic Preservation added Little Havana to its list of 'national treasures' Friday. Pictured is Tower Theater, a cultural landmark in the Miami neighborhood. Hannah Sampson / Skift