North Miami, Fla.—Louis Wolfson III turned a skeptical planning commissioner into a powerful ally with the help of a 40-foot-tall mural.
Wolfson is a partner with Pinnacle Housing Group, an affordable housing developer based in Miami. At Pinnacle Lakes, a 240-unit, $15 million redevelopment in North Miami, Wolfson commissioned "The Playground," a huge image of children playing on a jungle gym.
The mural was created by C.J. Latimore, a world-renowned pop artist and president of the C.J. Latimore Design Studio, located in Hallandale, Fla.
The commissioner with authority over Pinnacle Lakes had already declared herself highly skeptical of affordable housing developers, Wolfson said. But when this local official saw the art that Wolfson had commissioned for the project, she became one of the development's strongest supporters. Pinnacle Lakes held its grand re-opening in November 2003.
Pinnacle has made it a habit to include large, public art pieces in its affordable housing projects. The art gives residents a sense of pride about their home and encourages them to take better care of it. "They don't trash the place," Wolfson said.
But Wolfson's large public art pieces also send a strong message to the community. "Politicians see that you are trying to do more than the bare minimum," Wolfson said. "We want to improve property values, not hurt them."
Sending this message is especially important in Florida, where communities biased against affordable housing are working hard to shut out developers. Builders call this mindset NIMBY, or the Not In My Back Yard syndrome.
"If you don't have political support, NIMBY's going to win," Wolfson said. "If you don't have grassroots support, NIMBY's going to win."
The positive message sent by public art has another benefit: It helps the bottom line. "It gets you more work," Wolfson said.
Pinnacle's record of adding public art to low-income housing also includes Rayos del Sol, a 199-unit project in East Little Havana completed March 2003, where Wolfson commissioned brilliantly colored, fiberglass butterflies for the sides of his buildings and a large sculpture of the sun made of a fiber-optic material that changes color.
Because the art serves a public purpose, the artists are often willing to work for much less than their regular rate. Wolfson typically pays his artists "tens of thousands of dollars when it should have cost us hundreds of thousands," he said. "All of them have been thrilled to bring art to the masses."
Pinnacle Housing Group, founded in 1997, is currently working on 10 affordable apartment communities throughout Florida's Miami and Dade counties that will be completed over the next three years.