Under dappled sunlight that breaks through the evergreen canopy of old oak trees breathes Miami’s oldest neighborhood, Coconut Grove.
Annexed by the City of Miami in 1925, the Grove strikes the daily commuter as a jewel that increases in brilliance – so one naturally wonders, “how is it that Coconut Grove thrives more each day?”
The answer is in the strides of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District (BID) helmed by Cynthia K. Seymour who serves as its executive director.
Coconut Grove has had many benefactors, from Flora MacFarlane as the Grove’s first schoolteacher and Ralph Middleton Munroe, one of its most loved and influential founders, to a long list of current-day entrepreneurs and activists, each of whom has contributed individually to the improving vitality and beauty of the Grove.
People like Hank Resnick-Sanchez, Joyce Nelson, Monty Trainer, Kenneth Treister, and the team of Huimin Zhu and Alex Flaco and so many other everyday heroes have shaped the joys, challenges, and wisdom of this historic Miami village. (Click here to see feature profiles on these individuals and dozens more in the BID’s “Heart of the Grove” series, a program introduced by Seymour in 2021.)
A Formula For Success
For the people of Coconut Grove to be at their best, the spirit of the Grove must be constantly worked and energized – and that task is performed by none other than the team at the Coconut Grove BID. Established after an overwhelming majority vote from the local commercial property owners in April 2009 under Florida State statute and in partnership with the City of Miami, the BID was renewed for another 10 years in 2019.
The BID plays a pivotal role in the success of the entire district, partly by managing the upkeep of the area’s charming streetscape and by supporting and sustaining the economic viability of the community.
Key to this effort is a robust program of unique and creative community events that serve to significantly boost public awareness of the district. In fact, events at the Grove are recognized throughout the world as some of the best of their kind. Recognized by TimeOut.com International as one of the “30 coolest cities in the world,” it is no guess that the events which are designed to be transformative for those that attend them, and culturally rich with the history of the Grove are primarily responsible for this well-deserved merit.
Not only do they uniquely represent the Grove, but are integral to the community’s various resident businesses, as well. The King Mango Strut, Cinco de Mama, and the Coconut Grove Arts Festival are large-scale community events with the proven power to significantly raise the profile and elevate public awareness of this business district.
“And it works,” says Seymour. “The foot traffic is significantly increasing, and we are gaining a rather impressive reputation for arts, music, and family fun – and as a great place to start and grow a business.”
Supported by a lean full-time staff of three, and under the guidance of the Board of Directors of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District, Seymour braced and fortified the Grove during its most difficult years, those marked by the global pandemic, and steered it with her team towards achieving record-breaking results across their various community initiatives.
Growth Of Impactful Initiatives
Among the vital aspects of the Grove are those that the BID directly contributes to maintaining and improving; they include landscaping, neighborhood beautification projects, community cleanliness, and safety. These major initiatives saw exponential growth after Seymour was recruited to serve as acting director in December 2020 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
“During the pandemic, it was imperative to first identify the needs of the community and then anticipate them to move the Grove forward with meaningful, long-lasting measurable results,” notes Seymour.
Businesses were suffering; therefore, the BID conducted a business needs survey in 2021 to determine the post-pandemic recovery needs. That endeavor resulted in providing over $250,000 in business relief to retail stores and restaurants which were affected by the pandemic.
Additionally, under the director’s leadership, a more efficient system of waste removal was adopted and upon deploying the Block-by-Block team, the district saw a 92 percent increase in sticker removal, a 76 percent increase in graffiti removal, and an 88 percent increase in garbage collection.
It’s All About The Trees
At the end of the day, what makes Coconut Grove iconic is the canopy of trees which hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors enjoy year after year. To ensure the future of the Grove is to protect its tree population consisting of more than 1,000 species of fruit trees, palms, and plants unique to the South Florida ecosystem.
The director comments, “as all trees have life spans, replenishing the canopy will ensure people decades from now will be able to enjoy the trees as we do today.”
She is well aware of the importance of the Grove’s verdant landscape to promote tourism, and having received her Master’s in Landscape Design from the University of Virginia, with supplemental education in the same field from Harvard University, Seymour and her team developed and put into effect a plan to enhance the canopy by installing new trees, while also restoring the existing bench seating and strategicallyinstalling new benches in the quaintest spots throughout the Grove.
A Magical Moment
A community needs courage and a thorough plan, which Seymour put into effect with great success for the betterment of a historic neighborhood with a prodigious past and glittering future.
When asked about how she feels about the future of Coconut Grove, Seymour answered that “the Grove is moving forward in a positive direction. This is a magical moment for this community. We are bringing joy to the world.”
Source: Miami\’s Community Newspaper