Little Havana

Miami’s Little Havana is a neighborhood once again in transition. As such it is a land of opportunity for builders, real estate investors, and business entrepreneurs.

In the 1930’s this area of Miami was known as Riverside/Shenandoah. It was a thriving Jewish neighborhood populated primarily by those in the lower-middle-class. After Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled to Miami in pursuit of the American dream. They brought their customs, their food, and their music, and before long, this section of the city became known as “Little Havana.” This influx has continued over the years, most noticeably during and after the Mariel boat lift of the 1980s.

Today Little Havana is accepted as the cultural and political capital of Cuban Americans. Although the population is changing once again, it is still the best known neighborhood for Cuban exiles in the world.

In 1979, 84% of the population was Cuban. By 1989 the percentage had dropped to 58% as many residents migrated to Hialeah and Coral Gables. New immigrants from Nicaragua, Honduras, and other Central American countries took their place, and as of 2015, 89.5% of the population was Hispanic.

This may not be the case much longer: a fact which some residents embrace while others resist.

Some fear that changes and proposed changes in zoning, along with plans to rebuild Calle Ocho (Little Havana’s Main Street) could drastically alter the atmosphere in Little Havana.

Both residents and developers believe that the current state of Little Havana’s Calle Ocho is limiting growth and development. At present, it is a one-way highway through the neighborhood.

Calle Ocho is a place where fruit stands, art galleries, Cuban restaurants, and cigar shops line the avenue. It’s a community characterized by mom and pop businesses, music, political passion, and great warmth shared by its residents.

However, sidewalks are narrow and getting across the highway can be hazardous.

Those who love the neighborhood wish to turn it back into a two way street, with wide sidewalks that invite residents and tourists alike to linger, browsing the shops and enjoying the sights.

All agree that increased “walkability” is an important objective, but the final plan has not been nailed down. The Florida Department of Transportation has one idea, while local urbanists, developers, investors, and city officials are proposing an alternative. (Link to article:

While change is inevitable, developers do appreciate and wish to preserve the unique atmosphere of Little Havana. In 2015, a portion of the neighborhood was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of 11 Most Endangered Places.

On the eastern end of the neighborhood, the South River Drive district has been designated as a U.S. Historic district since 1989. This district is also home to 9 historic buildings.

And, while new construction is underway, so is renovation. In fact, an energetic revitalization of Little Havana has already begun. Some of the cherished landmarks such as the Tower Hotel, Domino Park, Marti Park, and the Ball and Chain Club have already been renovated.

The big changes that residents might expect are an increase in housing units, more businesses in which to shop, and an expansion of multi-culturalism. Little Havana occupies an enviable location just south of the Health district, just west of Brickell/Downtown, and just east of Coral Gables. Thus it is situated in the center of Miami’s primary employment hubs.

Because the young generation of employees prefers living near their work place, the demand for housing in Little Havana continues to grow, and developers are trying to fill that need.

Real Estate and financial demographics in Little Havana

In recent years, growth in housing has been slow, but that is changing. With zoning regulations now allowing construction of multi-story buildings on small lots with no parking spaces, more builders are stepping up. This suits the new generation of residents who prefer to walk or ride a bike to work, and who prefer to walk to markets, restaurants, and night clubs.

As the population increases, the demand for goods and services in Little Havana also increases, creating opportunity for those who wish to open new restaurants, supermarkets, and mom and pop businesses.

More than 70% of the housing in little Havana was built prior to 1990, and 44% was built prior to 1950. Only 17% of the housing is single family homes, and only 11.4% of the residences are owner occupied – a figure that is 82% lower than the national average.

As might be expected with so few single family homes, not many are offered for sale. Those that are sold are most often in the $200,000 to $300,000 range.

There is, however, abundant opportunity for investors, especially those interested in retail/strip centers and multi-family dwellings. There is a high demand for both more retail outlets and housing, and while new construction should be profitable, it can be very lucrative for those who purchase and renovate older buildings.

Even after renovations, rents in Little Havana are approximately 20% less than rents in Miami. Given its proximity to employment opportunities, these lower rents should assure rock-bottom vacancy rates. Meanwhile, the influx of new residents should assure sufficient clientele to create profits for new retail and service businesses.

The time to buy is now. Prices are rising as more and more developers recognize the opportunity.

In 2015, the average cap rate was 6.17% and the average price per housing unit was $126,575.

Little Havana’s appeal…

There are those who say it isn’t necessary to visit Cuba to experience Cuba, because the exiled Cuban immigrants brought it with them to Little Havana.

While they might see Little Havana as a “bit of home,” the activities, the food, and the uniquely Cuban business establishments serve to attract visitors of all nationalities. Their monthly and annual festivals not only attract visitors, but have been televised to millions of people on a variety of continents.

Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) takes place on the last Friday of each month and is a powerful venue for artists and entertainers. Residents, visitors, and tourists enjoy outdoor musical performances, cuisine tasting at several restaurants, art exhibits, films, and educational programs at the historic Tower Theatre. Miami historian Dr. Paul George also leads free walking tours for those who need a guide.

The annual Calle Ocho street festival, which is part of the Carnaval Miami celebration, attracts more than 1 million visitors each year. This free street festival is sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana.

Here you’ll see a variety of celebrants showing pride in their ethnic heritage by wearing the colors of flags ranging from Columbia to Puerto Rico and even to Ireland. You’ll also taste cuisine from a variety of countries, and enjoy music such as reggaeton, salsa, bachata, and merengue.

Founded in 1977 as a way to ease to tensions among Miami’s different ethnic groups, it began as a block party and turned into an event with more than 30 stages and hundreds of street vendors. Calle Ocho earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records when, in 1988, 119,986 people formed the world’s longest conga line. In 2010, the Calle Ocho-Open House 8 festival was designated by the Florida state legislature as the official state festival.

The Three Kings Parade is held each year in honor of the Feast of the Epiphany, which in Latin American countries is celebrated as joyfully as Christmas. This is the feast that marks the visit of the Three Wise Men to the newborn Jesus.

The parade in Little Havana, sponsored by the Spanish-language radio station WQBA, began in 1971 as a response to Fidel Castro’s outlawing of the celebration of Three King Day in Cuba. It now attracts more than a half-million spectators and has become a south Florida tradition, featuring dozens of floats, marching bands, convertibles, giant balloons, and clowns.

Little Havana’s landmarks:

Calle Ocho is not just the name of the week-long annual festival. It is the main street in Little Havana and home to landmarks such as the Walk of Fame, Domino Park, the Tower Theatre, and the Eternal Torch of Brigade 2506 monument – a memorial to those who died during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

Here visitors enjoy the aroma of rich tobacco wafting from shops selling hand rolled cigars made with tobacco grown from Cuban seed, Cuban music emanating from the open doors of record stores,  and cafecito sold from small window stalls.

The Calle Ocho Walk of Fame, marked with pink marble stars, was built in 1987 to recognize Cuban celebrities such as Celia Cruz, who was Cuba’s most famous salsa singer. Today soap stars and singers from all over Latin America are honored.

Máximo Gómez Park, more commonly known as Domino Park, is restricted to those 55 years old and up. It is the site of dozens of tables filled with Cuban men playing dominos, smoking cigars, telling stories of their boyhood days in Cuba, and reinforcing their shared hatred of Fidel Castro.

The recently renovated Tower Theatre is Miami’s only theater dedicated exclusively to showing foreign language films.

Versailles is Little Havana’s most famous culinary landmark – a huge restaurant decorated in French Baroque and billing itself as the most famous Cuban Restaurant in the World. When it opened in 1971 it became the gathering place for Cuban exiles. Today it is often the backdrop for filming and reporting on political events.

Flagler Dog Track offers greyhound racing and much more. In addition to simulcasts of pari-mutuel races and year-round poker, the track hosts comedy shows and other special events.

The Bay of Pigs Museum offers a small collection of memorabilia from the Bay of Pigs invasion, when 100 Cuban exiles were killed and 1,200 were taken prisoner.

The Ball and Chain Club was a favorite night spot during the 50’s, featuring headliners such as Count Basie and Billie Holliday. It closed in 1957 but was renovated and reopened in 2014. Modern, yet classically Cuban, the club celebrates a connection to tradition with authentic Cuban music provided by both local musicians and artists from Cuba. Black and white portraits of Cuban musical icons line the walls while millennials burn up the dance floors.

The Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center is one of the largest privately owned Cuban art collections in the world. It is a work of love and daring by Mr. Ramos, who had escaped from Cuba in 1992 in a small boat, carrying Carlos Sobrino’s painting “El Saxofonista.” After establishing himself in Miami, Mr. Ramos traveled back to Cuba and around the world, collecting paintings depicting Cuba between 1800 and 1958. These works are the core of his collection.

Cubaocho, however, is not merely a museum. On any given day, visitors will find Cuban artists working on their art in the courtyard, famous musicians jamming, and Cuban intellectuals sipping rum and enjoying fine cigars.

Little Havana is a community of hope and togetherness. Neighbors know each other and have a sense of family. Residents hope that will never change, even as new opportunities for prosperity emerge.

Opportunities abound in Little Havana. If you’d like to make them YOUR opportunities, get in touch. I’ll be happy to show you the commercial properties currently available.