Currently viewing the tag: "Overtown"

The decisive role of the highways in determining the fate of Overtown a half century ago is not lost upon City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.

The southern part of Ms. Spence-Jones’ District #5 (marked in pink the map below) covers Overtown, and she’s clearly had a history lesson or two on the role of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in her historic, predominantly black, socio-economically disadvantaged, yet eager-to-reemerge district.

At last month’s May 23 Commission meeting, fellow City of Miami Commission Marc Sarnoff (District #2; marked in orange below) first brought Resolution #13-00581 to the floor.

2012CommissionDistricts_CityOfMiami

Map Source: City of Miami

As we’ve extensively noted over the past few days, Resolution #13-00581 (as originally written) would have transferred control of Brickell Avenue from FDOT to the City of Miami.

Referring to Brickell as the “Park Avenue of Miami”, Sarnoff made a compelling case for the resolution, further emphasizing the potential for better speed control and safety provisions on the financial business district’s most critical artery. He continued:

Now we have the opportunity to own Brickell. This is a very, very big piece for the City of Miami — to take ownership and control of its own Park Avenue. And I just don’t want this opportunity to slip.

On these points, TransitMiami couldn’t agree more with Sarnoff.

Critical to understand, though, is that (in its original form) Resolution #13-00581 would have required the City of Miami to give up control of a handful of important streets in the Historic Overtown / Downtown Miami District. In fact, FDOT was actually trying to take more roadway length than it was actually relinquishing.

Fortunately, FDOT’s desperate grab for Overtown’s historic streets met with a ferocious defense from Commissioner Spence-Jones, demonstrating her thorough understanding of the agency’s highway history in Overtown.

Read closely — this one’s a classic!

City of Miami Commissioner for District #5, Spence Jones.

City of Miami Commissioner for District #5, Spence Jones.

Unfortunately, FDOT gets an ‘F’ for our community in Overtown.

They have been responsible for not only destroying a very prevalent African-American community, but also displacing many of them, many of the people that live there. […]

I am very uncomfortable with giving up any anything in Overtown — in any way — until they handle what they promised they’d handle. There’s things that FDOT has said that they’re going to do […]. They say one thing, and then it’s a totally different thing.

They haven’t done anything that they committed to do. So, you know, for me to give up something or allow them to take one thing over the other and not have them live up to their responsibility to the residents of Overtown — I have an issue and a concern with it.

So all I asked was for [City of Miami Assistant Manager Alice Bravo] and [City of Miami Manager Johnny Martinez] to set-up a meeting with FDOT and let’s go through all these items that the residents of Overtown have asked for that they have not complied with. […]

It’s amazing that in the midst of getting [Resolution #13-00581] negotiated, my district [District #5] was considered in it without even having a discussion with me . . . because I would have told you then, that anything that FDOT is doing in Overtown — we got issues! […]

And then, not only that; beyond that: They promised that they would not take anybody’s property. The next thing I know, they’re taking people’s property!

Then I’m hearing again — without us even having a conversation — you know, the properties that we’re building in Overtown, or trying to create in Overtown . . . now they want to take that side of 14th Street and 3rd Avenue from the businesses that we just put money into . . . so — I got issues with FDOT!

It don’t have anything to do with Brickell […]. […]

So all I’m asking is that I would like to have a meeting with FDOT to make sure that our issues get resolved. […]

If you’re talking about giving them something in OT — Yes! The District 5 Commissioner has a big issue and big problem with it. I’m not saying you can’t get [the transfer of Brickell to the City of Miami done …]

But Overtown — when it comes to I-95, roadways, highways, anything that sounds like that — it’s a problem for us in Overtown.

It destroyed a community. […]

TransitMiami has one word for Comissioner Spence-Jones: Righteous!

Resolution #13-00581 was ultimately passed (3 commissioners in favor; 0 opposed) at the most recent Commission meeting on June 13. Fortunately, though, the Resolution was amended to exclude at least parts of the streets in the Overtown / Historic Downtown Miami District. TransitMiami will follow-up with more details soon.

As for now, though, just try to bask in a bit of the glory of Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones’ passionate words in defense of her district and the people of Overtown, and our community at-large. Kudos to you, Commissioner Spence-Jones!

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Our local public radio station, WLRN, published a fantastic, must-hear/must-see piece this morning on  “How I-95 Shattered the World of Miami’s Early Overtown Residents”.

In it, reporter Nadege Green of WLRN / The Miami Herald makes some excellent inquiries into the glorious past that was once thriving Colored Town.

As narrated in the radio piece:

Overtown was known as the Harlem of the South. [Jazz legends] Cab CallowayNat King Cole, and Billie Holiday performed in Miami Beach. But because of segregation, they weren’t allowed to stay there. They’d stay in Overtown . . . at hotels like the Sir John and the Mary Elizabeth. And they jammed late into the night with locals.

Source: The Miami Herald. "Demolition of the Mary Elizabeth Hotel in Overtown. COURTESY OF THE BLACK ARCHIVES" http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

Source: The Miami Herald. “Demolition of the Mary Elizabeth Hotel in Overtown. COURTESY OF THE BLACK ARCHIVES” http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

As decried by 70 year-old, long-time Overtown resident, General White:

Well there’s nothing but a big overpass now!

He’s referring to Interstates 95 and 395, which Nadege Green explains were built in the 1960s. After that:

Overtown was never the same. [Mr. General White] and thousands of other people here were forced out to make room for the highway.

MiamiHerald_I95_Overtown_Construction

Source: The Miami Herald. “Overview of I-395 looking east in Miami, August 23, 1967. The Miami Herald building can be seen in far background left and the Freedom Tower in far background right. JOHN PINEDA / MIAMI HERALD FILE” http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

3-D view of I-95 looking east, afforded by Google Earth, June 17, 2013.

3-D view of I-395 looking east, afforded by Google Earth, June 17, 2013.

Source: The Miami Herald. "Overview to I-95 looking south in Miami, August 23, 1967. Mt. Zion Church in foreground left, at NW 3rd Avenue and 9th Street. Old Courthouse is background left. JOHN PINEDA / MIAMI HERALD FILE" http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

Source: The Miami Herald. “Overview to I-95 looking south in Miami, August 23, 1967. Mt. Zion Church in foreground left, at NW 3rd Avenue and 9th Street. Old Courthouse is background left. JOHN PINEDA / MIAMI HERALD FILE” http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

3-D view of I-95 looking south, afforded by Google Earth, June 17, 2013.

3-D view of I-95 looking south, afforded by Google Earth, June 17, 2013.

Be sure to listen and read that eye-opening WLRN piece on the tragic history of the once glorious heart of Miami called Overtown, and the role of the highway in tearing it out.

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Welcome to Miami – a city where civic advocacy and forward thinking can land you in jail if you’re not careful. Friday’s TransitMiami Park(ing) Day 2011 was a huge success; hundreds of visitors came out throughout the day to enjoy downtown Miami’s newest temporary pop-up park. Working in collaboration with the Miami Parking Authority, we transformed 10 on-street parking spaces into a tree-lined, shaded park, complete with moveable chairs, and a solar-powered mobile wifi hot- spot where folks were hard at work.

Railroad ties refashioned as bollards, and native trees in moveable planters formed the street edge, causing a noticeable shift in driving patterns along the 3 lane, southbound street. “North Miami Avenue usually feels like a highway,” said local resident Rosa Gutierrez, “people routinely go 60 mph here - you never see traffic this calm.” Local food truck vendors, artists and musicians were also there to celebrate the grassroots effort to reimagine the streetscape with something other than on-street parking, and numerous neighborhood and political figures stopped by throughout the day.

Local Artists

Park(ing) Day Miami 2011 a success

Transit Miami was the main co-sponsor of the event along with Brad Knoefler, local activist and entrepreneur. In anticipation of Park(ing) Day, Brad developed a new strategy – called weed bombing - to add to the Tactical Urbansim toolbox. Confronted by deadbeat landlords around his neighborhood who don’t maintain their properties, Knoefler decided to address the problem head on by spray painting the overgrown vegetation with bright colors. The result is a charming transformation of blight inducing weeds into something more. We had an excellent time on Park(ing) Day, and look forward to doing it again next year. Unfortunately, the City of Miami might have something to say about it.

As you might have read, the Police Department has faced a number of challenges this year, including a fiasco with the Chief of Police that has made Miami a laughingstock of the country, and a string of high-profile shooting deaths, perpetuating the notion that Miami is a backwater, banana republic. As if they didn’t already have enough on their plate, enter Officer Rodriguez who decided that the Park(ing) Day cleanup (the following day) was not going fast enough and decided to arrest co-sponsor Brad Knoefler for failing to obey a lawful command (read: police harassment). “Officer Rodriguez called me several times on my cell demanding that I come down and finish cleaning immediately,” said Knoefler, “I told him that not cleaning up 100% after an event is not an arrestable offense, at worst it’s a code violation or solid waste ticket.” The City of Miami police, and all citizens of Miami, should be embarrassed that this happened. How can we expect to attract and keep the creative middle-class that contributes to a healthy economy, if the police harass and intimidate citizens as they trying to enrich their communities? Shame on you Officer Rodriguez for embarrassing your police force and your city; of the 850 Park(ing) Day events around the world, Miami was the only one to see someone arrested as a result of laying sod on a parking space for a day. Only in Miami.

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By: Sam Van Leer (sam@urban-paradise.org)
Executive Director and Founder, Urban Paradise Guild (Miami, Florida)


OVERTOWN VILLAGE GREEN

The Village Green has a special place in America: an agricultural space within the Village that belongs to everyone. In times of external strife, it is used by the Villagers to feed themselves. It was often the center of Village life. Overtown Village Green is all this and more.

A Park that grows plants also grows people. The nursery that provides fruit trees and native habitat plants to nurture people and wildlife is also an experience that can change kids and adults. These are among the missions of Overtown Village Green (OVG), which opens windows to new activities and careers.

Brad Knoefler is a local resident and businessman with a great idea: Use the Old Miami Arena Site as a temporary park, provide kids with safe recreational space and fight the Urban blight of demolition and vacant lots around Overtown. He approached Urban Paradise Guild (UPG) for a concept that could achieve this. We’ve been developing this plan for nearly a year. (Brad also spearheaded the creation of a greenway along the FEC tracks last year).
OVG’s purpose is to create a temporary park that enables permanent community transformation. It is a mixture of:
* community nursery: grow FREE native plants & fruit trees for Overtown
* personal garden plots for local families and groups
* food forest (permaculture growing methods)
* education for kids
* economic development for the community
* playing field for kids (football or soccer) which becomes a
* performing arts venue in the evening
* most infrastructure is intended for re-use at the next site of OVG
* public/private partnerships fund operations and control costs
* UPG Programs for the Overtown community
* UPG manages the space

Trees can be part of the transformation of a neighborhood. They have been proven to raise property values. Their shade makes sidewalks endurable under the blazing summer sun, and lower the electric bills of residents and businesses. The UPG Community Nursery at OVG will be operated by Volunteers, especially neighborhood kids. The trees will be planted by these same Volunteers, who will ensure that they are not forgotten. They will be free to Overtown residents.

Personal garden plots are not currently offered in Overtown. They create a way that people can be directly involved in improving their own lives. Fresh organic vegetables provide high quality nutrition. Growing them offers new opportunities for exercise and engagement in the community.

Public / Private Partnership
The mission of Parks in America is to serve the public. That is why Parks have always been funded from our tax dollars. The phrase “run it like a business” makes a nice sound-bite, but expecting Parks to do so ensures that they will fail in their primary mission of public service.

At the same time, we recognize that in an era of ever-tightening budgets we must find new ways to stretch every dollar. A public/private partnership does this.

OVG is a public/private partnership. Revenue for operations is generated by sub-leasing space to for-profits to provide parking, a café, solar power demonstration, and other compatible uses. Revenue generated through rental of the venue and sales of organic produce will be used to enhance public programming.
The address is 700 Miami Ave, 5+ acres along the FEC railroad. It is across the street from the Overtown Metro Station and M-D DERM offices, just 2 blocks north of MDC Wolfson Campus and 2 blocks West of Biscayne Blvd. MDC and DERM are both important UPG Partners, and MDC Service-Learning Interns and Students will be important parts of OVG.

Support from the City of Miami and CRA
UPG has already created successful Parks Partnerships with Florida State Parks at Oleta River and Miami-Dade Parks at Matheson Hammock. These government entities understand that as their budgets shrink, their needs for high-impact Volunteers expands. UPG has been asked to take responsibility for all invasive exotic plant eradication at Oleta, an 1,100 acre park, and is coordinating UPG, Park and third-party resources for maximum strategic impact. A similar arrangement exists at Matheson. UPG has become the go-to group for mobilizing the public in such innovative programs, and we hope to form a Partnership with the City of Miami.

Mayor Regalado demonstrated his commitment to the environment for years as a City Commissioner. The Miami Parks Department’s highly successful Habitat Restoration projects at Simpson, Virginia Key Hammocks, and Wainwright Parks might never have happened without his support. He understands the critical value to the community of native trees, habitat plants and fruit trees. He shares UPG’s vision of growing trees for City residents and providing them at no cost.

Last Tuesday, Brad and I had a very productive meeting about OVG with City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and members of his staff. UPG, Brad and the OVG Partners are deeply appreciative of Mayor Regalado’s support and efforts on behalf of OVG and the environment. We hope that it will be enough.

The Overtown/Park West CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) exists for the sole purpose of fighting the causes of Urban Blight. They are funded by taxes on local properties. Anyone reading this should drive through Overtown today, and ask themselves if the CRA is succeeding.

A fresh approach is needed. We believe that OVG offers a new vision and direction for Overtown, and we hope that the CRA will embrace Overtown Village Green.

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The City of Miami’s plan to finance their portion of the global agreement hit a roadblock last week when the County Commission deferred the approval of a findings of necessity study which declares Watson Island and Bicentennial park to be “irreversible slum and blight”.  It is rumored that the Commission did not have enough votes to pass the controversial and potentially, illegal plan.

The plan, approved by the Miami City Commission, constitutes three steps:

  1. A Findings of Necessity study declaring Bicentennial Park and Watson Island to be slum and blight. The report, completed in May 2009 by Guillermo Olmedillo, concluded that “the existing conditions of slum and blight, if left unattended, will continue to flourish within the Study Area and beyond into the existing Omni Redevelopment Area and adjacent neighborhoods. These serious and growing conditions of slum and blight constitute an economic and social liability to the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, and will impose onerous burdens including increased consumption of the municipal and County revenues for public services, such as to public safety, transportation, and infrastructure within the Study Area”
  2. Modify the ONMI Redevelopment plan to expand the boundaries of the Community Redevelopment Area to include Watson Island and Bicentennial Park (CRA monies cannot be legally spent outside the CRA boundaries), specifically mention the Port Tunnel, Streetcar, and Museum Park as desirable projects for “redevelopment”
  3. Issue $100-150 million in bonds against future Tax increment revenues and use the funds to finance the City of Miami’s obligation to contribute $50 million to the Port Tunnel, $20 million for the Miami Streetcar and up to $75 million to the Museum Park project.
The plan has been contested vigorously by stakeholders in the neighborhood, who have filed a 120 page complaint with Miami-Dade County about the City of Miami CRA’s . The complaint alleges that the City and County have manufactured slum and blight in order to redirect funds from their intended purpose of jobs, housing and quality of life improvement.  This may be a violation of State and Federal law, which has clear criteria for the use of HUD and redevelopment funds.  If the City does not maintain their own properties, despite millions of income from rent and special events, they allege, this does not constitute “irreversible slum and blight”. There are also the alleged procedural violations that occurred during the prior adminstation’s rush to get the plan through.  F.S Statute 163 pt III requires public hearings and proper notice about major modifications to a Redevelopment Plan - the last public hearings occurred in 2004 and 2005 and the plan underwent major modifications in May 2009.
The plan was passed by the CRA Board at an emergency meeting on September 29th with less than 24 hour notice given to the community.  A non-noticed meeting of the Miami City Commission to approve the plan was then held at midnight, less than 6 hours after the last modifications to the Redevelopment plan.

The item is scheduled on the County Commission agenda for November 17 as a public hearing.  Hopefully they will take their responsibility to regulate the Redevelopment Agencies seriously. This would involve ensuring that the proper procedures and citizen participation occurs this time around as well as investigating the legal and moral issues surrounding the issues of redirecting money from the poor to fund mega projects for the rich.

Kudos to Zyscovich and team for producing a forward thinking document in the Omni Redevelopment Plan. Commissioners will vote today in the CRA meeting to send the document to City Commission for approval. The Plan has many good elements, some of which are under discussion by Commissioner Sarnoff for removal (such as the reduced parking requirement and the streetcar). Commissioner, these are important parts of supporting a vibrant and pedestrian friendly downtown. If the streetcar is not being funded, it is up to you to find a way to make it happen - not defeat it by taking it out. In addition, raising parking requirements is a bad idea in our most dense and transit served areas. You said at the Miami 21 meetings that you don’t believe that reducing parking is a good tactic without adequate transit, but this area is served by transit, and would be even better served with the streetcar. As future head of the DDA, and the representative of the most urban part of our tri-county region, I urge you to reconsider your position on these items. You have to plan for the city you want, not settle for the city you have.

From the report:

As part of this redevelopment plan, the following transportation improvements are being proposed:
1) Miami Streetcar (Project 19)
2) 17th Street / FEC Crossing (Project 20)
3) 2nd Avenue Reconstruction (Project 21)
4) 2-way Conversion of One-way Streets (Project 22)

In addition to these improvements and consistent with the approved Miami Downtown Transportation Master Plan the following improvements should also be considered:
1) Free-fare Transit Zone – the zero out-of-pocket cost is certainly an incentive for users to ride transit.
There are also intangible benefits such as user’s convenience and elimination of delays by not having fare box.
2) Improve Transit Amenities – amenities for transit users are a key element of an effective transit system. Elements contributing to a high quality environment include; comfortable shelters, protection from the elements, adequate lighting, as well as clean and safe vehicles.
3) Develop Pedestrian Corridors - a systematic effort should be arranged to not only “accommodate” but actively enhance pedestrian safety and promote a pleasant walking environment. [awesome]
4) Develop a Baywalk – Margaret Pace Park presents an opportunity to create a baywalk that connects
the park with Bicentennial Park to the south. The baywalk will provide recreational opportunities,
increase connectivity between other areas of Downtown and provide an alternative for walking trips.
5) Reconstruct NE 2nd Avenue, NE/NW 14th Street, NE 17th Street and NE 17th Terrace.

My biggest criticism of the report is its relative lack of bike infrastructure. While it was made before the City’s Bicycle Master Plan effort, it should included as an addendum that takes into account the recommendations of the Bike Master Plan, and the currently funded bike improvements to NE 2nd Avenue and elsewhere in the CRA. These need to be reflected in the future plans of the CRA and will help create a truly multi-modal downtown.

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looking east i-395 boulevard lo res

Proposed Boulevard concept, by Andrew Georgiadis

For several years now, the FDOT has been proposing changes to I-395, ranging from an elevated super highway to burying the highway underground, in an effort to add highway capacity, while not exacerbating the blight of the surrounding neighborhoods. According to the project director for the FDOT, the maximum clearance under the new “light and airy” proposal is only 33 feet, hardly enough to chase the darkness that it will cast upon the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, their preliminary ‘studies’ showed that the elevated super-highway was their preferred alternative, playing down the benefits of demolishing the highway, as many US cities have done over the past two decades. Demolishing the highway, and burying it underground will pay off much more than the super elevated version, both in reconnecting the city and in promoting economic development. Check out this great 2007 analysis from Boom or Bust examining all the alternatives.

The blight that surrounds I-395 (and countless other interstates across the country) is well know to have been the result of “progressive” urban renewal in the 1960’s that cut through vibrant communities of color, such as Overtown, and doomed them to decades of disinvestment. Now, under the guise of a second round of urban renewal, FDOT is pushing hard for the construction of the super highway that they argue would reconnect downtown, while still allowing for the free flow of cars from the beach to the City. Bull. This is simply another fake urban renewal program that will not help neighboring communities, and will only add to the blight that surrounds the highway. FDOT maintains that the area under the highway would become a green belt, with parks and active recreational uses. More bullshit. Have they looked under I-95 lately? Directly adjacent to the City of Miami offices on the river, I-95 towers hundreds of feet in the air, with nothing but parking and abandoned lots underneath. Why haven’t they used this area for park space yet? Or take the M-Path, our only answer to a greenbelt under urban infrastructure. Ask our friends at the Green Mobility Network how hard they fight to preserve and improve this important greenway.

Our best bet is to depress the highway and replace it with a true boulevard/greenway that would allow for local circulation above ground, and the highway underneath. Check out the image above of what this greenway could look like. This option has been consistently downplayed by the DOT as too expensive, yet they fail to take into account the developable land that will be free once the highway is removed. True economic redevlopment for the Omni/Park West/Overtown communities.

Downtown with no highways, by Andrew Georgiadis

Downtown with no highways, by Andrew Georgiadis

To make things even more sleazy, there are reports that the FDOT has been trying to convince Overtown that the elevated option will somehow solve problems of blight and isolation in the marooned sections of the community, playing on decades of fear of disenfranchisment and racial politics.   If they actually cared, they would be pushing for the boulevard as that will actually revitalize the area.

Image Courtesy of Skyscraper City

Image Courtesy of Skyscraper City

The FDOT is planning a public meeting August 25 from 5 -7 pm at the Lyric Theatre in Overtown to discuss the proposed superhighway. Please come out and give your opinion.  More on this to come…

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The Miami Herald finally caught up with Brad Knoefler’s Park West/Overtown greenway plan. The article explains the red tape facing Knoefler and his newly anointed Guerilla Urban Planner group. While the general plans are nothing but excellent for the area, figuring out funding, ownership, and maintenance has proven to be a tricky endeavor.

And while some critics  agree that the tracks need to be cleaned up, some have expressed concern that it should be done for a Tri-Rail system that actually connects South Florida’s urban centers. To that I say, there is no reason the supposed Rail-to-Trail project couldn’t become a Rail and Trail project where the rails remain, but the path remains alongside the 100 foot right-of-way. Indeed, I believe that is the way it has been designed, as the FEC tracks are still to be used once a year for the circus.

Please do your part and voice support for this important project. Brad and co. have a lot of energy, but they need as much support as they can get in order to make this a reality!

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Developer Brad Knoefler of Miami-based NMA Investments, is keen on changing his Park West neighborhood. Already the proud developer and resident of 697 N. Miami — a real gem of an urban redevelopment project-Knoepfler  now has his sites on creating an urban greenway with a 10ft multi-use path along downtown Miami’s highly underutilized FEC rail corridor, from Biscayne Boulevard  to NW 19th Street in Overtown. The projects, say Knoefler, will truly help reconnect and improve two neighborhoods that need this type of small scale investment more than the sweeping changes proposed by the Miami World Center-a type of investment urbanist Jane Jacobs referred to as cataclysmic money.

Full of energy and excitement for this  neighborhood, the urban pioneer developer sees a bright future where others see parking lots, homeless people, and dilapidated buildings. So enthusiastic is Knoefler that he has alread  jumpstarted the project by re-landscaping  a half-block pilot phase behind the 697 N. Miami building, which abuts the FEC rail line.

fec-cra_email1 fec-cra_email

Tomorrow night, Monday March 30th at 5:00pm in the ground floor of 697 N. Miami, Knoefpler will present the project to the Park West/Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency in hopes of enticing the City of Miami to pay for the million dollar project. With clear benefits of cleaning of the tracks, utilizing the corridor, improving access between Overtown, Park West, and the Biscayne corridor, the project seems like a wise, and practical investment, which Knoepfler say will pay for itself in 5 years because of reduced fighting costs and the potential for more redevelopment.  To prove his point, Knoefler even went to the trouble of phasing the project for the CRA, in three distinct and manageable stages.

We’ll be tracking this one closely,  for it is not often you get a developer driven to such a worthwhile, and needed civic project. If you have the time, please show up to voice your support for this project, or let the Park West/Overtown CRA know you want to see this move forward.

fec-cra_greenwayjpg

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Vacancies, originally uploaded by ImageMD.

The urban metrorail station in Miami’s Overtown district has been renamed the Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre station. The recent sale of the Miami arena and the revival of the Overtown historic district prompted the name change. The station name change will be officially dedicated today (1/31) along with the inaugural bus service of the Overtown (211) circulator…

Via CM

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An ambitious plan from City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz . What answer will the commission deliver?

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Financing plan would bypass voters

Miami city and county leaders have forged a multibillion-dollar public-works bonanza that could alter the face of the downtown core — affecting everything from a baseball stadium to a port tunnel to museums.

The plan, coming together with rare speed in the world of governmental red tape, envisions a holiday bounty of projects aimed at garnering support from constituencies ranging from sports fans to arts patrons.

Announced late Wednesday by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, the deal would cover everything from a $914 million tunnel leading to the Port of Miami to finally transforming fallow Bicentennial Park into a waterfront jewel with new art and science museums.

By also shoring up the shaky finances at the fledgling Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, the plan’s framework would free up additional tax monies that could be used to build a $525 million retractable-roof ballpark for the Florida Marlins.

”This is a great opportunity for all of us — all of us — to create an incredible legacy for the urban core,” Diaz said following a long day of negotiating the multi-party pact — and then selling it to individual commissioners.

While Diaz and others in the city embraced the so-called ”global” agreement with the county, many questions remain.

One is whether a deal this complex can actually come to fruition. With so many parts forming the larger whole, it’s possible that criticism of one piece of the blueprint could derail others.

Secondly, the intricate financing has been crafted in a way to sidestep a potential voter referendum — which could embolden critics.

COMMISSIONS TO VOTE

Selling it is key, and the first test comes Thursday when Miami commissioners decide whether to move the multilayered plan forward.

County commissioners would then begin their review of key pieces of the ballpark financing and redevelopment plans Dec. 18.

The framework — hashed out over several weeks of behind-the-scenes talks with city and county managers — centers on expanding the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency to include Bicentennial Park and Watson Island.

CRAs are federally mandated special taxing districts that generate extra cash for areas targeted for revitalization. By aiming to expand the key Omni district, Miami leaders envision new infusions of money that would be doled out for multiple big-ticket projects.

The biggest beneficiaries of this new Omni CRA would be the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts and a proposed new ballpark for the Marlins at the soon-to-be-demolished Orange Bowl.

Diaz said the county would essentially receive up to $400 million in CRA revenue over the next 30 years to cover debt service on the arts center.

This will free up somewhere between $160 million and $200 million in tourist taxes from the PAC — that the county and city could then use for the ballpark in Little Havana.

PARKING GARAGE

Less certain: whether the will, and the money, exist to build a 6,000-space parking garage and one of Diaz’s personal projects — a 25,000-seat soccer stadium also proposed for the 40-acre Orange Bowl site.

By expanding the CRA boundaries over the MacArthur Causeway to Watson Island, the city believes it can also use $50 million in CRA money to pay its share of the $914 million Port of Miami Tunnel over the next 35 years.

Florida transportation officials had vowed to move their $457 million share of the tunnel deal to other parts of the state if the city didn’t put up its $50 million piece by Monday.

”I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, no pun intended,” said City Commissioner Joe Sanchez, who represents the Orange Bowl area.

Miami property owners would also benefit from the expanded Omni CRA, city leaders say.

Diaz said the city would pay off its outstanding debt on the troubled Jungle Island construction loans from the expanded CRA instead of general revenues.

By expanding the boundaries into Bicentennial Park, the city would also use $68 million in new CRA revenue for the development of Museum Park — including a planned underground parking garage. The CRA money would not be used to build the museums.

OVERTOWN IMPACT

Another question mark: whether city officials will be legally permitted to spin another $2 million a year out of the CRA to pay for ongoing capital improvements inside the park.

A second, more hard-pressed, special tax district would also benefit under the city-county pact.

The Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA, which generates considerably less revenue than the Omni, would be extended to year 2030 and its boundaries expanded to 20th Street on the north and Northwest Seventh Avenue on the west.

The city would spend up to $80 million for affordable housing, infrastructure, parks and job programs in the economically depressed Overtown neighborhood, and it would set aside $35 million for the city’s struggling streetcar plan.

Diaz said Miami planned to adopt a pay-as-you-go approach when spending the CRA money on these big-ticket items over the next 30 years, rather than floating bonds to bankroll the projects.

The unstated reason: The projects wouldn’t have to face voter approval.

In previous years, the city had contemplated issuing CRA bonds that could net perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars up front, to be used on large public-works projects.

But the Florida Supreme Court ruled in September that any bond issue local governments do with CRA money needs voter approval. Miami responded by abandoning its bond-issue plans.

This plan would sidestep those concerns.

DETAILS

As in every public project, the key is in the details, and literally hundreds of them still need to be hashed out.

First: Does Diaz have the three commission votes to pass the plan when the body meets this morning?

”God willing, [Thursday] we will approve possibly the most exciting — largest, certainly — package of projects in city history,” Diaz said late Wednesday.

Commissioner Sanchez said of the ”global” agreement: “So far, it looks good. . . . It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Herald staff writers Charles Rabin, Andres Viglucci and Matthew I. Pinzur contributed to this report.

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Miami…it’s time to admit that you have a problem, and you need to get some help.

In my opinion, a recent Zoning Board meeting exemplified a) just how obsessed the City is with parking requirements; and b) how the City just flat out does not understand the connection between parking requirements, urban land use, induced vehicular demand, or how these elements factor into building a sustainable city.

This last Monday, the Miami Zoning Board oversaw a resolution on its agenda calling for a reduction in parking requirements for a proposed affordable housing building in the Lummus Park/South Overtown area. The resolution sought a special exemption from an already excessive parking requirement to allow 58 spaces instead of 103 for a building to be located on NW 4th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues. So, what’s the big deal, other than the fact that this building is located a block outside of downtown and is a 6-7 minute walk from Government Center Station? It’s a “very” affordable housing project courtesy of Camillus House designed to house the ex-homeless.

So in review, this proposed building will be 1) located one block from downtown; 2) short walk to City’s transit hub; 3) very affordable housing for the recently-homeless. Despite these characteristics, there was still substantial deliberation over whether or not to exempt this project from already excessive parking requirements. Never mind the fact that recently homeless folks likely will not (and shouldn’t feel obliged to) own a car, given their financial situations.

In particular, one Board member Ron Cordon, questioned the likelihood of recent homeless folks getting executive office jobs downtown, saying “Jobs in downtown are not typically offered to these people…instead, they will seek out small shops to gain employment…and for that, they will need a car because the transportation is inadequate”. In fairness, one Board member, Brett Berlin, did state that this location is “perfect for someone without a car”.

With the first statement above, I’m guessing Mr. Cordon drives from his house to a parking garage, rarely setting foot on the downtown streets. If he did, he would notice that downtown actually has a high concentration of “small shops”. Also, there are countless job opportunities all along the Metrorail line, which residents of this building would have easy access to without a car. Moreover, this location is just blocks from Little Havana, which may have the highest concentration of “small shops” in the whole metropolitan area. This is easily accessible by multiple Metrobus lines. Also, what about all of the low-skilled service jobs offered by hotels and restaurants, which are highly concentrated nearby in downtown, Brickell, and South Beach? This sounds to me like another example of City Board/Commission members using gut instinct and intuition rather than supporting facts and research. Sadly, these are the same people who make critical decisions that will affect our quality of life now and for the distant future.

Bottom line: Even with multiple reasons to justify a reduction in required parking spaces, the resolution only passed by a 5-4 vote.

Perhaps it’s time to bring in parking guru Donald Shoup to lead an intervention.

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