Then the City of Miami teamed up with the Miami World Center Group, which began accumulating property in 2004. Immediately after the property was purchased by the group, the City upzoned the area nearly 250%, vastly increasing the value of the World Center holdings. In 2008, City resources were diverted to developing a “Special Miami World Center Zoning District”, with an unspecified cost to taxpayers. In 2009, the Overtown CRA contracted a $1.2 million regional impact study, normally paid for by the developers themselves. In the June 2009, the City of Miami issued a conflict of interest waiver to allow the CEO of the World Center to sit on the Board of the Downtown Development Authority while continuing to do business with the City.
So what now? Faced with financing and legal problems, lobbyists for the World Center Group are going after public money to bail them out. A “public / private partnership” for a billion dollar convention center in Park West is being pushed by the DDA, whose Board contains lobbyists and supporters of World Center. This is despite Mayor Regalado’s vow to put any new mega-projects to a public referendum, the Miami Beach Convention Center’s planned $55 M in renovations, and numerous studies showing lack of demand for such a project. If a convention center is built (albeit extremely unlikely), there would suddenly be demand for thousands of hotel rooms in the area, potentially resurrecting the Miami World Center project from the grave.
So if it sounds like history repeating itself, it is. Why do City officials continue to follow the same failed strategies as in the past? Why not think outside the box in this era of change? Instead of mega-projects, why not beautify the area “one block at time” as the new Mayor has suggested. Put a public park on the old arena site, focus on a commuter rail into Downtown, lobby for a supermarket to serve the 20,000 residents north of the river. A clean, pedestrian friendly neighborhood will encourage investment and vastly improve the quality of life for the 5,000 or so new residents of Park West. This is a proven model used around the country, including South Beach and we should use it. Our New Mayor ran on a platform of listening to concerns of constituents and NO MORE mega-projects. Unfortunately there are still those in the City who are not listening.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
- What a coincidence: seems like transit financing is a problem in NY where a combination of dropping real estate tax, sales tax, and state tax revenues are putting the MTA in the red. The conclusion reached in the article: we need more government subsidy to make up the difference.
- President Obama is moving to undo Bush era changes to weakening enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. I thought this was interesting, considering our own problems with ignorant state legislators trying to do away with growth laws in the name of commerce. “But in a statement, Bill Kovacs, the vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, condemned the action as an unreasonable interference with needed projects.”
- Marlins Stadium Update: A new bill is on the floor of the state legislature that would require a county referendum on the use of tourist dollars for the stadium, even as City and County leaders shuffle meetings and complain about each other. Mayor Alvarez is pissed about the way negotiations have been going….join the club dude. Then there is the reappearance our friend Glenn Straub who is offering the old Miami Arena site as an alternative. I like it. This would allow the city to reduce its investment in parking by relying on its existing downtown parking supply. And don’t forget there will already be a neighborhood growing up around the Park West thanks to the Miami WorldCenter project. And it has transit connections. And it frees up the Orange Bowl site for other purposes (can anyone say Manny Diaz Memorial Park?) BUT we still don’t know all the details, and you know what they say about details…
- Miami-Dade is getting serious about skate parks. Cool.
- Those state legislators - what schizophrenia. While trying to undo growth laws (a bad move) they go and push ahead with the recently named Sunrail (a really good move). “He pegs the price of SunRail at close to $1billion. But that is a bargain, SunRail enthusiasts say, when compared to the estimated $7billion it would cost to add one lane in either direction to Interstate 4 for the 61.5 miles covered by the train.” Sounds convincing to me. This is really cool, and will hopefully coincide with the Obama administration’s push for a national intercity railway network. Tamiami trail here we come.
- The FTA just released the Federal Register Notice describing the allocation of the $8.4 Billion transit stimulus. More on this later….
According to this recent press release, the Miami City Commission has approved the Miami World Center, an ambitious nine block, 25-acre redevelopment project slated for the Park West neighborhood, just north of Downtown. The glitzy pictures streaming on the project’s website promise a very sleek, but pedestrian-oriented district that, if nothing else, will transform this part of the city.
I am quite familiar with this area as I bicycle through it on my way to work, and again on the way home. At present, the underutilized surface parking lots and vacant buildings only seem to add to the area’s blighted image. And given that the project is being built using the principles of Miami 21, it seems that its mixture of uses, pedestrian orientation, and public spaces will become a living example of how large scale development should be undertaken. That being said, the architecture looks like more of the same, but I guess in that way it is in keeping with Miami’s current aesthetic.
Adjacent to the Metromover, and within walking distance of the Metrorail the project’s transit friendliness is evident and will give residents and visitors opportunities to move without driving.
I don’t know how liquid the development team is at this point, but given current market conditions, they will have to overcome much to get this mega-project built and occupied with residents, tenants and businesses.
Here are some interesting going on lately.
- The City of Miami PAB is set to vote on a allowing a special district for the “World City” development on 25 acres in Park West, Downtown Miami. This is a great project that has been in the pipeline for a while now that includes 9 blocks of mixed-use retail, office, residential buildings in an area that desperately needs urban infrastructure. Three transit stops are included within the project, which surrounds the Network Access Point (NAP) Building (the one with large globes on the roof). The project developers have been working with the city for two years in anticipation of Miami21 and have made sure that the project is consistent with its regulations, though it has not yet been approved. Kudos to the Mayor, Planning Department staff, and the Falcone group for taking this big step for our city.
- Beach leaders met to discuss traffic congestion and parking (without really addressing the greater transit problem of connecting the beach with the mainland).
In other matters, the commission unanimously approved sending bids for car and bicycle programs that would let residents share vehicles for a fee — hopefully decreasing the need for Beach residents to hold on to their own cars.
- Transit fares held steady as Commissioner Gimenez’s re-vote did not pass. Thanks to the people who called or emailed their Commissioners. Now, we can start to get our system back on track.
Seven commissioners voted against the reconsideration: Barbara Jordan, Dennis Moss, Dorrin Rolle, Audrey Edmonson, Natacha Seijas, Sally Heyman and Katy Sorenson.Five commissioners voted to reconsider the fare increase: Gimenez, Javier Souto, Rebeca Sosa, Bruno Barreiro and José ”Pepe” Diaz.
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