Currently viewing the tag: "Downtown Miami"

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I can’t resist publishing some of the more notable comments on the Herald’s site regarding the state of downtown Miami

The Good:

“All buildings downtown should be required to have awnings. The city needs to improve the condition and appearance of the streets and sidewalks, including landscaping where possible. Street lighting at night is horrendous. Businesses and people will not be attracted to downtown if it’s ugly and poorly lit at night. People don’t feel safe.”
-David

“It’s a MESS. Dingy, dirty, smelly and rat infested. Let’s take pride in our city and get it cleaned up now not wait for the usual red tape and politics.”
-Katherine

” I enjoyed the Macy’s CEO’s comments and I am glad the Herald gave her some ink. I like downtown. True, it is a bit of a dump, relatively speaking, but it is Miami, and Miami is a poor city. What never ceases to amaze me is that city fathers know exactly what it takes to refurbish the area but they haven’t the will to act. Condo towers, performing art centers, new waterfront museums, you can choke the area with expensive, exclusive and garish embellishments but without investment in infrastructure it will continue to be poor, underemployed and at times unsightly. I frequent downtown often and love workday and weekend mornings when it is abuzz with work-a-day or tourist/local activity. But when I jump on the metrorail to the metromover and ride from Government Center to Omnistation for the occasional Carnival Center event, my spirit sinks. So much soul, so much potential, and so much waste. Gentrifying and more cops will not address the matter. We need to work with the beauty already there.”
-305tillidie

The Bad:

“Last January I asked a police officer where the nearest public restroom was and he pointed to a Metro Bus and we both laughed for a minute or two and went on our different paths. After he turned a corner, I urinated on a New Times dispenser. I figured the officer was joking about the bus.”
-Daniel Rothstein

” We need mor cats downtawn to eet all the ratz.”
-Javier J

The Absent Minded:

“Thats what you get when you build up and not out. It creates a perminet shadowscape for pestilence and riff-raff. Let me put this way so Paris Hilton can understand it: “Like, no duh.””
-Anonymous

“Why are there homeless people still around Miami-Dade when we are paying a half penny of sales tax?It was just another socialist scam that produces nothing.”
-JAV

“Ever since Mayor Manny Diaz became mayor,we never hear negative criticism of his administration.He appears to be the darling of the Herald,etc.If Mayor Carollo were in office they would be wanting his head.This man has done nothing,but get richer.He is a dolittle that the media just loves.”
-JAV

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Although I have been generally pleased with Miami’s growth patterns of the last few years, I have always been concerned about the outcome. I am afraid Miami is building a completely novel urban environment, perhaps unlike anywhere else on Earth. What do I mean by this? Partially due to the lack of comprehensive transit and the region’s obsessive car culture, nearly all of the City’s new development is being designed for people to drive to, park in a garage, and walk in only the very immediate area to arrive at their destination.

This is exacerbated by the excessive minimum parking standards set by the City Code. Miami’s urban central business district has always had way too much parking for an urban core, but with the addition of all these new buildings as many as 100,000 more parking spaces are being added to the area. What a disgusting waste of valuable urban space. This is what I mean by Miami creating a novel urban environment – I can’t think of another major city in the history of the world that has simultaneously added so much core density and so much more parking. Or, put another way, I can’t think of another major city in the history of the world that has added so much more dense urban infrastructure without substantially curbing driving demand.

Perhaps even more worrisome is that people won’t even do the little bit of walking I mentioned above. They often may not need to. If you’re living in a high-rise in Brickell, you surely have a large parking garage pedestal. Say you want to go shopping at a downtown building with ground floor retail. It’s highly likely, especially if the building is new, that it will also have plenty of on-site parking. All you would have to do, in this case, is take the elevator to the parking garage (or valet), pull out and drive to the on-site garage at your destination. In many instances, there may even be direct access from the parking garage to the ground-floor retail. The same is true if you’re planning on visiting a friend in another building; just drive from one garage to another without ever setting food outdoors.

To see if this is happening, I went downtown and to Brickell to do some qualitative observation to gauge the ratio of pedestrian-to-automobile traffic coming and going from various buildings. I started at the One Miami building, where one of my friends resides. First of all, it doesn’t help that the building is almost entirely designed to interact with automobiles, not the pedestrian realm (seen here on the left), as Gabe pointed out in a recent post. Unfortunately, just as I suspected, one car after another came and went from the building’s massive parking garage. As for pedestrians? I was one of only a handful during about a 45 minute stretch between 1:45 pm and 2:30 pm.

Next, I took the Metromover down to Brickell so I could survey another building where a friend resides – the Club at Brickell Bay. It should be noted that this building felt rather hostile to pedestrians as well, due to the half-circle valet area and columns out front at the building’s only pedestrian entrance. At first, however, it seemed like there was more pedestrian interaction in this area. However, upon closer observation, almost all of the pedestrian activity was from people coming from and going to their cars which were parallel parked within about a two block radius of the Club. Meanwhile, car after car rode down Brickell Bay Drive looking for on-street parking, or entering and exiting the garage from the side of the building. Same went for the building next door. An occasional pedestrian or two could be seen coming from a distance every now and then, but they were far outnumbered by those driving.

Some of my friends have told me to relax, that things will improve a lot once the area matures and more retail is added nearby. This may be true to some degree, especially downtown, where pretty much everything is closed by 8:00 pm. However, I don’t think we can rely upon the major proposed retail projects to help a whole lot. For example, City Square is planning on providing a whopping 4,052 parking spaces! Same goes for Bayview Market (2,360). Same goes for Midtown Miami (2,900), regardless of the proposed Streetcar that would serve it.

Furthermore, we can’t blame a lack of transit for people deciding to drive everywhere in downtown and Brickell. These two locales are served by multiple modes of transit including taxi cabs, pitting them among the best transit-served areas in the southeastern United States. Everything, from groceries, retail, medical care, schools, jobs, banks, parks, restaurants, cafes, and nightlife are all accessible from short Metrorail, Metromover, or taxi rides (I’m not even going to include Metrobus in this piece).

In fairness, I know there are many people who have moved downtown or to Brickell so they could leave the car at home (or behind). We’ve even had commenters on TransitMiami mention their delight for being able to walk or take transit to most destinations. However, I believe these people are still very much in the minority.

Miami 21 aims to solve these problems. Due to fervent public outcry, parking will still be over mandated, but not quite as much as under current ordinances. Moreover, Miami 21 will force new buildings to have habitable space on nearly all building facades, aiming to significantly improve interaction with the pedestrian realm. The Streetcar proposal aims to improve north-south transit between downtown and midtown. A Bicycle Master Plan is still desperately needed. I sincerely hope that these actions improve the current situation in our urban core.

I don’t want Miami to become infamous for its dubious distinction as a park n’ walk city.

top photo courtesy of James Good’s flickr account

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All I have to say is wow! This a step in the right direction…It may be a slight knock off the CCTV building in Asia but this building would add an incredible dynamic to Miami’s Skyline…Its also a Chad Oppenheim Design…
Edit: The Pictures originated from the Chad Oppenheim Design and Architecture website, they were removed and found by TransitMiami on a local forum, originally posted by DGM…


This billboard was recently erected at the corner of SW 27th Avenue and US-1 by the northern boundary of the Grove. What a bunch of garbage - it appears this sign is implying that true urban living (e.g. Brickell, Downtown) is inherently stressful, while the less urban nature of the Grove is some desirable suburban oasis that is stress-free. What is even dumber is that the Grove and Brickell/Downtown are all neighborhoods within the City of Miami; therefore, this billboard illustrates that Miami actually has it’s own neighborhoods competing against each other as if they were separate cities.

Perhaps this is emblematic of the hyper-fragmentation within Miami-Dade County, or perhaps it is a latent message via the Grove’s NIMBY force that longs for a neighborhood that more closely resembles a “sleepy little village” then a unique urban environment characterized by lush, tropical foliage, a rich history, and strategic location. Regardless, it’s definitely not the kind of message the City should embrace, especially given the current efforts to make Miami physically and operationally a denser, more traditional urban environment. Nor should it embrace it because one of it’s most popular neighborhoods is taking a shot at the City’s urban core, including its CBD and Financial District. Ironically, it is actually the denser environment that leads to less stress. This makes walking and taking transit much more feasible and friendly, which almost always means a less stressful environment than auto-dependent ones which happen to characterize much of the Grove.

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I continued my walking tour around the Citi Center and Wachovia towers and along the Intercontinental Hotel as I headed into Bayfront Park. I must begin by saying that Bayfront Park has incredible potential. It’s a beautiful public place which for the past decades has sadly been neglected. Efforts to promote the park as something other than a park, has led it to become cramped and paved over with too much cement. The attraction should be its’ natural beauty and the seaside serenity offered by Biscayne Bay. The park is direly underused, but as you’ll see, it also has incredible design flaws which detract from the experience of visiting an urban park. The picture below depicts what I’m talking about, just look at the width of the sidewalk. The walkways in the park are better suited handle a couple of 18 wheelers side-by-side than a few people strolling around. It was just after noon when I walked through here and there was a nice breeze coming in from the bay, however, the heat radiating upwards from the cement was nearly unbearable.

In an apparent attempt to provide yet another use for the park, the city is constructing a children’s play area to accommodate some of the families moving into the downtown condos. I like the idea, most parks have places for kids to play but I am worried that the park has already become too cluttered.

Looking back south along a slightly less wide path, we see from a different angle the proposed downtown station for commuter ferry service.

I noticed something unusual. There were people in the park, mainly concentrated along the shore, but most of them were sitting in the grass or leaning up against the coconut palms. I was wondering why there wasn’t any suitable seating in the park when I came across the vast concrete bench apparently designed to fry anyone in the park who wanted sit. Nearly all the available seating in the park was in direct sunlight. The few shade trees in the park all had someone sitting below them on the grass…

Looking back into downtown along Flagler St., we see 50 Biscayne topping off to the right. Once again notice the broad sidewalks.

There is a big green fence swallowing up half the park and blue one obstructing another quarter of it. The green fence is part of what I assume is Miami’s newest tourist attraction in Bayfront Park: Miami Skylift. This contraption will lift visitors 500 ft into the air, providing the first observation-like platform in Miami. I first encountered this object when I visited Berlin. Rising outside my Hotel window in Potsdammer Platz was one of the first of these floating observation decks.

The second major obstruction, surrounded by a large blue fence is that of the Sunset Cinemas, also known as Movies by the Bay. Movies by the Bay is an intriguing idea concocted by the Hertig Family of New Jersey which shows movies in an open air theater every night. Unfortunately, as the Riptide recently reported, the cinema is struggling to attract enough visitors. If it wasn’t for the huge blue fence, I’d be a little more receptive to the idea, but it leaves me wondering why the cinema couldn’t open up shop in the unused open air amphitheater just across the park.

The other recent attraction to Bayfront Park is the Miami Trapeze course.

Heading into the CBD along Flagler, I decided to check out the streetscape project and vibrancy of the emerging retail district. A café owner is attempting to create a sidewalk café type atmosphere:

They just don’t build them like this anymore. This is the Alfred I. DuPont Building (Marsh & Saxelby, 1938) at 169 Flagler St. It is an example of Depression Moderne architecture, using a restrained Art Deco style. The lobby is allegedly one of the most spectacular in Miami, featuring bronze bas-relief elevator doors.

The Olympia Theater (Gusman Center for the Performing Arts) built in 1925, was designed by John Eberson and was the first air-conditioned building in Miami. The beautiful theater inside features 246 twinkling stars in the ceiling, 12 foot long chandeliers, and a beautiful wood paneled lobby. The Theater is also home to the downtown tourism office, where I stopped by and obtained a self-guided walking tour and much of the background information on these buildings.

The Historic Walgreens, now home to La Epoca Department store, was built in 1936 by Zimmerman, Saxe & MacBride, Ehmann. Designed in a streamline modern style, this building was home to Walgreens for over 50 years; it featured a popular cafeteria and was only the third Walgreen open outside of Chicago at the time. In a typical American fashion, Walgreens abandoned the location for the cookie cutter like store a couple blocks along Flagler. Lame. La Epoca is a jewel in Miami’s urban core. The original department store was founded in 1885 in Havana, Cuba. It was seized by the Castro administration in 1960, leaving then owner Diego Alonso no choice but to start over in Miami. The Miami store opened in 1965 and was located next to the aforementioned Alfred I Dupont Building until 2005, when the store relocated to the former Walgreens store.

The First National Bank of Miami building still standing today was built in 1922 and was designed by Mowbray & Uffinger. When the market crashed in the 1920’s after the Florida land boom, Fist National Bank was the only bank in Miami that did not fail. The building is currently being restored and converted into the Flagler First Condominium project.

The Downtown Burdines store (sorry Macy’s, I don’t care for the name games) was originally built in 1912; however it was remodeled in 1936 in the streamline art deco style. This store is the anchor of the downtown retail industry. The city is working closely with the store to clean up the surrounding area after Macy’s threatened to leave.

The last couple of pictures below depict some of the urban decay and grit which still covers much of this area. I am glad to note that some new stores have started to move into the area including an upscale optical store as well as some chain shoe stores. The downtown American Apparel, located North of Flagler however recently closed. Revitalizing this area and creating a vibrant shopping district in the urban core needs to become a top priority for our city. With thousands of condos coming into the area, we need to have an area with easily accessible pedestrian oriented shops and cafes…

Stick around for part three, where I was apprehended by a US Marshall for being normal…

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I’m in town and I decided to take a trip downtown (as usual) using transit and my own two feet. Unlike our elected officials, I see the need to periodically take the trip around leisurely to experience things first hand and see where things are going wrong (or right.) Today’s trip was filled with urban issues, many random people, and an encounter with a US Marshall for photographing the Federal courthouse complex, so it should be a good read…I’ll be back soon with the story and pictures…


And the unprecedented growth continues…

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Leave it to the County Commission to screw things up but then again, why should this surprise me, they’ve always had the knack for such dreadful decision making skills. Major League Baseball has been working closely with all parties to create a new home for the Marlins in downtown, in the heart of the city- where it belongs. Like I’ve stated before, Baseball is an urban sport. With the grueling 82 home game schedule, baseball stadiums have to be placed within the densest populations of any city in order for them to succeed. Downtown is the obvious choice for MLB to seek for a new home for the Marlins because it follows the model used in nearly every other circumstance across the country. Marlins games are so poorly attended now because of the stadium location (on the way home for Broward residents who work in Miami-Dade and too far out of everyone else’s way to make the daily trip, regardless of how good or bad the team is playing and once the novelty of the idea wore off after 1993.) Baseball would thirve in the CBD, not out in Pompano, Hialeah, or out by the Orange Bowl. The public transportation already exists; coupled with the downtown daytime population, makes the Government Center site ideal for the needs of Marlins, MLB, and all of us Miami residents.

Just as we thought the pieces were starting to come together, our urban planning geniuses over at the county commission step in to screw things up. Their three reasons to oppose the downtown location include: loss of parking, new site for the children’s courthouse, and the closing of a couple of minor streets. I think they are against losing their cushy surface parking lot spaces just outside the 500 ft Stephen P. Clark Center. Instead they propose reverting to last year’s failed plan of placing a stadium next to the Miami Orange Bowl. No current or future plans to link this area with public transit exist. The immediate area lacks parking and necessary entertainment infrastructure. No easy highway link. What exactly is it that the commission sees in this alternative location for the stadium? Is it that Mayor Alvarez spoke in favor of the downtown location and they are still pouting about his recent power surge and are just choosing to go against his every thought?

Seriously, this is why we have issues in this County. This is why projects are never completed on time. Everything is a disaster when the fab 13 on the county commission step in to make a decision. Placing the public funding issue aside, why not place the stadium in a location which has been proven to work for Major League Baseball since the early 1900’s- in downtown, urban parks. Any venue outside the CBD and without convenient access to highways and existing public transportation will be destined to be a failure and will serve as the next “white elephant” to further remind us of the injustices caused by the members of the County Commission

Update: Benji and BOB share their thoughts…

A forum member posted this picture recently depicting the new livery of the Miami Metromover Cars. I’ll try to get some better quality shots as soon as possible…

Update: Lil Pony on public transit, a new blog I discovered today, has the lowdown on the interior

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As if renaming the legendary downtown department store to “Macy’s” wasn’t bad enough, now Federated Department Stores is also considering closing the downtown store which opened originally in 1912.

The move, from an economic standpoint, is the nuttiest idea I’ve heard come out Miami’s frenzied development boom. As people finally move into the downtown core, after decades of neglect and decay, the chain is looking to move elsewhere, away from the people. The Macy’s store, the recently opened La Epoca and American Apparel stores, are the basic backbone of worthy retailers in the downtown core (yes, I’m aware there is a Marshalls and Ross as well.) Rather than fiddling with plans to build big box retail with enough parking to house every car in the hood, our city should be rigorously acting to revitalize the Flagler corridor with something other than half-planned streetscapes and two-way streets! Flagler Street could and should be the most prominent pedestrian corridor within the downtown core, home to a variety of street-level retail and sidewalk cafes with offices and residences above. The street should be bustling with life and activity at all hours and should be an inviting district for all sorts of business seeing that it is the geographical spine and largest east-west boulevard in the city. The headline reads Macy’s is leaving, I see much deeper problems nestled within…

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