By Jephie Bernard
After being shut down for a little more than a decade, the newly renovated Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti will bring life back into this tight-knit enclave.
The Marketplace opened in 1990 and closed just nine years later due to structural and financial problems. The Northeast Second Avenue Partnership was involved in the building’s renovation.
Executive director Joann Milord says one of the reasons the Marketplace shut down was the building’s lack of air conditioning. That factor contributed to its physical breakdown — mold grew and the building started to decay.
Besides issues with the infrastructure, the Marketplace was difficult to sustain financially, says Sandy Dorsinvil, managing director of the Little Haiti Cultural Center.
“It closed… because of a lack of funding and the merchants just didn’t have the resources to keep their businesses going,” says Dorsinvil.
The city of Miami took ownership of the facility and in 2005 made plans to demolish it, which upset some of Little Haiti’s residents.
Pepe Bayard and Charles Harrison Pawley, the building’s architect, were lead advocates of the Marketplace. Bayard, who passed away, will be honored at the grand opening Friday.
The Marketplace was originally built in the late ’80s and won the Florida Architect Award and National Architect Award in 1990.
Architect Charles Harrison Pawley designed the Marketplace after “mache fè” or the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The splashes of red, indigo-blue and vivid yellow all over the building are meant to represent the liveliness of the Caribbean.
Pawley’s design is reminiscent of the gingerbread-like houses in Haiti, which are painted in vibrant colors.
“It’s very Miami and it’s very bright and loud,” says Dorsinvil. “As soon as you see it, it leaves an impression.”
Reopening the Marketplace was a collaborative effort by the city of Miami, District 5 Commissioner Keon Hardemon, the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs and other local groups.
The Marketplace is located in Little Haiti but Dorsinvil encourages all Caribbean natives to be a part of this venture. She says the Marketplace is meant to be a home to “everything Caribbean.”
This means most of its vendors and goods will be representative of the islands. There are 26 vendor spots and about 16 have been filled so far.
“We’re anticipating having vendors that have crafts and food from Jamaica, Trinidad, from Barbados, Bahamas from Turks and Caicos [and] from the U.S Virgin Islands,” says Dorsinvil.
Dorsinvil also says it will be a place where Caribbean natives can find products that remind them of home. But she also wants people who visit to feel like they’ve stepped into an all-night café by the beach in the Caribbean.
“People in the neighborhood are anticipating that the market will jumpstart the neighborhood as a place to hang out,” Dorsinvil says.
Jean Mapou, owner of Libreri Mapou, thinks the Marketplace will be a source of revitalization for the community.
“I am excited because this will help Little Haiti grow.” says Mapou. “And we as Haitians are proud to live here, to establish our business in Little Haiti and to showcase our culture in Little Haiti.”
The Marketplace will be open Thursday through Sunday nights and feature live bands.
“This is a big boost for Little Haiti and hopefully the Marketplace will become a corridor for tourism,” says Mapou.
The reopening of the Marketplace is such a big development that a local fruit street vendor is leaving her spot of 20 years to be a part of the Marketplace.
Bernadette, the owner of a fruit stand on the corner of Northeast Second and 57th streets, has decided to move her business into the Marketplace. She sells sugarcane juice and fresh tropical fruits such as mangos.
Dorsinvil says the woman has been a fixture of the neighborhood for as long as she can remember.
“She’s been in that spot since I was in high school in the ’90s,” says Dorsinvil, “and I’m really excited about having her come here because we never thought we would be able to convince her to leave her spot.”