Developers and city leaders team up to convert Hialeah into a vibrant city
Gradually, the rumble of aging warehouses, railroad tracks and rutted streets that make up the old industrial neighborhoods of east Hialeah sees something new: new buildings blending housing and retail, plans for new public spaces and a bike path under the elevated subway lines, and even an unusual music and entertainment district in a sprawling former mattress factory called Factory Town that’s generating considerable buzz.
The new development, already underway or in the planning stages, centers around the two Industrial Corridors Tri-Rail stations, one of which, known as the Hialeah Transfer Station, connects to the Metrorail. In between is the booming neighborhood of Leah Arts and Miami developer Avra Jain’s ambitious plan for Factory Town. There’s even a Freebee shuttle that connects the transfer station, Hialeah City Hall, and the Leah neighborhood.
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It’s all part of a long-standing strategy by the city to one day create dense, mixed neighborhoods with apartments, restaurants, stores and transit-linked offices to retain the city’s youth, who must now leave Hialeah to experience city life. The approach was embraced by Hialeah Mayor Esteban “Steve” Bovo, elected in 2020 in part on a promise to generate new developments and keep young Hialeahns at home.
“I’ve been in the city for 19 years and we’ve planted seeds that are now starting to grow,” said Debora Storch, Hialeah’s planning director.
The East Hialeah revaluation taps into the city’s history and its typically funky mix of utilitarian and everyday architecture. The four-block Leah Arts District includes many once-legendary buildings factorials where teams of exiled Cuban seamstresses made clothes in the 1960s and 1970s for Jewish landlords, who had established textile businesses in the city after World War II.
It also comes as the city of 223,000, like the rest of the county, has seen growing demand for housing and soaring home prices and rents. It has forced first-time home buyers to look beyond the city’s Hialeahs borders Brownsville and also historically Black Liberty City, where developers rehabilitated aging ranch homes into starter homes.
This demand has stimulated developments mixing apartments and commercial uses west of the former industrial corridor, in the historic heart of the city.
These include a 29-unit garden-style apartment building on West 69th Street from Boschetti Realty Group. Near downtown, off Okeechobee Road, developer Shoma is building a 304-apartment complex and its own food court on the site of a former strip mall. Near the famous but inactive Hialeah Race Track and the Hialeah subway station, Station 21 Lofts will provide 90 workforce housing units in three low-rise buildings.
Until recently, East Hialeah was considered a sketchy prospect at best. Not much happened after the city approved the two transit districts in 2016.
Perceptions began to change with the creation of the Leah Arts District compact around this time. The warehouses were painted with colorful murals, in the style of the early days of Wynwood. Although the neighborhood remains largely an industrial section, several artists work in studios in former warehouses, and the neighborhood’s first art gallery will soon open.
Today the neighborhood is anchored by the hip Unbranded brewinga sprawling microbrewery that opened a tasting room and restaurant in February 2020. The Kush Hospitality Group, known for Lokal in Coconut Grove and its Kush by Lokal in Wynwood, took over by Stephen, an old-fashioned 1954 Jewish deli, one of the last remaining in Miami-Dade, and added some Hialeah-centric touches and a craft cocktail bar in the back. The neighborhood thrift stores are an added attraction.
With a state transportation grant, the city has set up a Freebee shuttle service connecting the Arts District to Hialeah City Hall and the Metrorail/Tri Rail station, where several redevelopment projects are under construction or in the planning phase.
Redevelopment projects and plans around the transfer station include:
* Metropark, a 10-story complex with 433 apartments and ground-floor retail by Coral Gables-based MG Developer, best known for its luxurious townhouses in the City Beautiful. Amenities are more like a new building in Wynwood, including a coworking space and an outdoor communal kitchen. Delivery is scheduled for spring 2024.
* Two new four-storey buildings, each with 12 apartments, at 859 and 853 East 24th Street which are almost ready to be occupied.
Near Tri-Rail Market Stationa set of very different projects are starting.
* City Factory, on the site of the former Dixie Bedding factory, is a raw industrial site that already serves as a venue for music events featuring DJs and electronic dance music, light shows, art installations and booths short-lived food and drink. Developer Avra Jain, who has made a name for herself reimagining historic locations and buildings across Miami, has an ever-evolving plan that includes botanical gardens, a spirits distillery, artist studios and a exhibition space, food start-ups and a boutique hotel.
READ MORE: Find out why Chris Burch, ex-husband of Tory Burch, is investing in Factory Town
* At the Market station, a few blocks south of Factory Town, the city is working with a developer on a project proposal that combines residential and retail. For now, it’s the only one to see the light of day in the district, but the city has big ambitions for it. The station property, controlled by the state and the Tri-Rail authority, includes the original Seaboard Air Line Rail Depot from 1926, closed for years with a failed adjacent market which could become a commercial attraction if renovated.
The city also hopes to create a public space like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas on a narrow strip of state-owned land behind an adjoining Home Depot. The space could accommodate festivals and food trucks, said Storch, Hialeah’s chief planning officer.
As the transit districts grow, planners hope to bring them together into a cohesive new urban neighborhood, in part with Hialeah’s own version of The Underline, the 10-mile linear park currently under construction beneath the tracks of the Metrorail through Miami, Coral Gables and South Miami. along US 1. Hialeah planners described their version as “a safe linear path for bikes and scooters.”
“We’ll find a way to connect it all together,” Storch said.