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The Disappearing Act Of Wynwood-Midtown Satellite Fairs

Wilson Sayre

Art Basel satellite fairs are having a harder time setting up shop in Wynwood and Midtown as the area becomes an established, year-round neighborhood.

Owners of vacant lots and empty buildings tend to prefer long-term leases to short-term ones, which is what many of the Basel fairs rely on. When Lock and Load Machine Gun Experience and Gun Range moved into one of those formerly vacant buildings, it forced Fountain Art Fair to look for alternative spaces.

“The landlord tended to hold out for longer term rentals,” says John Leo, one of Fountain's co-founders. “So for us, every time we would contact them immediately after the exhibition saying, ‘Hey we had a great time, we would love to sign off and be able to be here next year’ and they would put us off.”

Leo understood the landlord’s hope to find a more consistent rent check. However, when the fair was unable to secure another space in time to go obtain permits from the city, Leo and the other founders decided to sit this year out.

“Fountain is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with art, with people," says artist Chelsea Bruno, an ardent fan of the fair. "People talking about their art, people interacting with art, and some of the best art I’ve ever seen, hands down.”

Bruno says the fair's absence this year was crushing.
The changing landscape in Wynwood and Midtown is not only affecting Fountain: Seven Miami could not secure permits in time because it couldn’t secure get a lease until the last minute, and organizers of  SCOPE, one among the largest satellite fairs in town, felt Midtown is so saturated with satellites that having their fair at Miami Beach would make them more unique.

One of the more pressing concerns for satellite fairs is what will happen when the proposed Midtown Walmart is built. Several fairs are located on that plot of land straddling Northeast 29th and 31st streets, between North Miami Avenue and Midtown Boulevard.
Spectrum Miami is expected to be displaced by the proposed store. Eric Smith, the fair's president and owner, has not announced what his plans for relocation are­ just yet, but he sees this as a sign of more fair displacement to come.

“Midtown and Wynwood are kind of back on the tracks again and building is going to continue," he says. "As the building continues there will be [fewer] lots, and as the lots go away and buildings are constructed, the fairs will have to move elsewhere.”
He predicts there will be no large Midtown satellite fairs in 10 years.
But Marlo Courtney of Goldman Properties, a firm with a large presence in Wynwood, thinks the timeline might be a bit longer.
“I like to look at this like this is a more of a gentle gentrification of a neighborhood," he says. "It is not sudden. It's not that you see big buildings coming out of the ground all over the place in this neighborhood."

Slower change is something Fountain's Leo is counting on for a least a year.
“Fountain will be back in 2014, bigger stronger faster better," he says. "We are excited at the growth of the neighborhood and we’ll continue to give or support to all of Miami as much as we can."
In the meantime, fan Chelsea Bruno and others will be checking out Fountain’s March fair in New York.