Focus on developing downtown Miami intensifies: ULI event

Downtown Miami. Inset: Neal Schafers and Mika Mattingly
Downtown Miami. Inset: Neal Schafers and Mika Mattingly

UPDATED Dec. 12, 3:30 p.m.: Downtown Miami, traffic-clogged by day and deserted at night, could soon be transformed into a pedestrian-friendly urban dining and entertainment hub, say planners, brokers and local business owners.

Sandwiched between Northeast Sixth Street to the north, Biscayne Bay to the east, and the Miami River to the south and west, downtown Miami has lagged as development has boomed in nearby Brickell, Wynwood and Edgewater.

But participants at a seminar last week, sponsored by the Urban Land Institute and Akerman LLP said a mix of public and private development is about to bring about big changes to downtown Miami.

Mika Mattingly, executive vice president of Colliers International said, “downtown is finally going to move.” Over the past two years there have been $1.8 billion in transactions in the downtown area with prices per square foot increasing from $82 to $500, she said.

Mattingly’s main client has been Moishe Mana, who has assembled more than 40 buildings downtown and has a master plan for the area that would connect many of the restored properties he has bought with rooftop decks, like the popular Pawn Broker at the revitalized Langford Hotel on Southeast First Street.

And early next year, the Downtown Development Authority will start two pilot projects downtown aimed at making the area more pedestrian friendly. Starting in January, three traffic islands between Southeast Second Avenue and Northeast First Street along Biscayne Boulevard will be turned into multi-purpose mini-parks planted with greenery, where people can gather at pop-up doggy parks and children’s play areas to see movies, listen to music and eat from food trucks.

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The project, dubbed Biscayne Green, and a smaller similar pilot project on First Street, are designed to get people to look at Biscayne Boulevard in a new way. “So with Biscayne Green, it’s not just a highway through the center of town, it’s a public promenade where you can take your family, you can go and have lunch, breakfast and hear live music and participate in community activities,” Neal Schafers of the Downtown Development Authority told The Real Deal.

And construction is already underway on the city’s $13 million renovation of Flagler Street, the first phase of which will be completed next year. The project, designed by Miami-based Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, includes widening sidewalks, new street lighting, enhanced crosswalks and planting 120 live oaks and 30 Dade palms for shade. Schafers says with Tri-Rail and All Aboard Florida rail service coming to downtown the aim is to make the area an attractive place to live and work. “We’re looking at transportation alternatives so it’s not just a motor vehicle driven city — to shift the paradigm, so it’s not just drive through the city, but actually stop, use the restaurants, the hotels, the public parks.”

That can’t come soon enough for Jonathan Eyal, owner of the high-end Supply & Advise men’s clothing store. Eyal’s store is in a long-neglected 1926 building that he owns. While downtown “has the best bones in the city,” Eyal told the ULI panel downtown architecture had been neglected by the city. “There needs to be a focus on historical preservation on what makes the city beautiful.”

Eyal also said the city needs to focus on the transportation needs of people who live downtown, noting that the downtown Metromover system should have a fare structure so that it can be properly maintained. The city, he said, needs to do more to keep streets clean, noting that while “Flagler gets cleaned,” other streets “are filthy.”

Eyal added that issues surrounding the homeless population are getting worse. “They are sleeping right next to my business,” he said. “A lot of the problems are caused by well-intentioned people who give out 500 platters of food that get left on the ground.”

Additional panelists included Horacio Stuart Aguirre, president of HS Aguirre & Associates and moderator Jason Katz, vice president of Aztec Group.