Florida

Miami's Little Havana gains 'National treasure' label

A man walks by a mural in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida January 26, 2012. Florida Republicans will go to the polls on January 31 to choose among the party's candidates hoping to challenge President Barack Obama in the November general election.

 Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks each make up about 13 percent of Florida's registered voters, while non-Hispanic whites account for 68 percent.  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS SOCIETY) - RTR2WX03

A man walks by a mural in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida January 26, 2012. Florida Republicans will go to the polls on January 31 to choose among the party's candidates hoping to challenge President Barack Obama in the November general election. Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks each make up about 13 percent of Florida's registered voters, while non-Hispanic whites account for 68 percent. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS SOCIETY) - RTR2WX03

Historic preservation groups are launching a partnership with city officials to save Miami's Little Havana, the epicenter of the Cuban diaspora.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation added Little Havana to its list of "national treasures" Friday, saying it should be protected from developers who are transforming much of Miami's downtown and its surroundings.

The nonprofit says the designation will help organizations, city officials, residents and investors to preserve the area's historic buildings and keep it affordable to working-class dwellers.

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The neighborhood's signature street, Calle Ocho, features cigar shops, art galleries and mom-and-pop stores where Cubans and their descendants reminisce about the island.

Tourists also visit the area arriving in double decker buses to take sips of Cuban coffee and shoot selfies at the Versailles restaurant, the hub of the exile community. The neighborhood has changed some as new immigrants have arrived from Central America and Colombia, opening new restaurants and stores.

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"Little Havana is a symbol of the immigrant experience in America and a thriving, entirely unique place," said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Growth should not come at the expense of the vibrant historic neighborhoods like Little Havana that make cities unique and desirable places."

The historic trust's website says Little Havana faces multiple threats, including development pressure, demolition of historic buildings, displacement of existing residents and zoning changes.