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Bright Lights, Big Brickell PDF Print E-mail
Written by Eleazar David Meléndez, BT Contributor   
January 2017

Development projects galore will open this year

TPix_EleazarMelendez_1-17aking in the dramatic sunset from a small ballroom near the top of the new East hotel, the members of activist neighborhood group Brickell Homeowners Association, who had assembled on an early November evening, could look out on three sides and see their neighborhood literally being built from the ground up.

Nibbling on charcuterie provided for their meeting by Swire Properties, the developer and owner of the hotel, the HOA members could look north and admire the site that will soon enough become a riverwalk connecting their condos along an unobstructed path for leisurely riverfront strolls and jogs.

From another view, they could see across the way to the high-rise residences being built that will likely bring hundreds of new neighbors into their midst. Scanning a sky turned pink-purple by the late autumn setting sun, they could raise a glass of wine (and there always seems to be wine at these kinds of meetings) to a view of Miami going past the end of the city’s western edge and into the suburbs: a landscape to admire from a central perch.

Soon after the sunset, and after an exhausted-looking Swire representative pitched the group on checking out the Swire Properties massive mall at Brickell City Centre, which would be hosting its grand opening later that very week, the neighbors would get down to the business they’d come for: 1) raising public-safety issues and advocating for better landscaping on avenue medians; 2) discussing the current options for sending children to school in Miami’s urban core; and 3) talking about how to deal with the area’s homeless population.

Immediately after the meeting, though, it did appear that the developer’s act of inviting the HOA to host its meeting at the swanky hotel had done the trick. Talk quickly turned to who would be visiting the mall first. Knowing looks went around as neighbors who had softly bragged that they’d been invited to the VIP grand opening party realized some of their friends had been invited to even more exclusive “super VIP” unveilings, or even an earlier “ultra VIP” benefit.

Regardless of how they would get to enjoy it, the opening of Brickell City Centre in early November was for downtown residents a huge step in the development of a new look and style for Miami’s urban center. After years of dealing with ungodly traffic detours and hoping for the best, they were finally able to enjoy a truly remarkable amenity in their backyard, one that would hopefully become a true locus for their neighborhood.

Two months later, and with a new year upon us, it’s tempting to look back and see the opening of that mall as an exclamation point in a year -- a whole half decade, actually -- that has dramatically changed how Miami’s urban core feels and acts.

Let’s hope that this is only a prelude for 2017, during which big projects and big ideas can come to fruition that further change what it means to be at the center of it all in Miami.

The most obvious protagonist in that regard will likely be the place across the river, where the centenary oaks were moved to make way for Brickell City Centre: Museum Park.

The imminent opening of the Frost Science Museum on the park grounds, an exciting development that’s likely to tilt the cultural true north in the city, has reignited the conversation about what that park will look like and how it will be used when it’s finally finished.

From increasing the tree canopy to allow for more shaded resting areas in parts currently dominated by large fields, to pushing for the multimillion-dollar park furniture and amenities that were included as a vision for the park prior to the Great Recession, to completely switching gears and turning a portion of the park into a significant sculpture garden, ideas for the future of Museum Park have poured out in recent months.

That will certainly continue, especially if the rush to the novel science museum brings in a lot of residents who might not necessarily be thinking of Museum Park as Miami’s version of Central Park -- but should.

Just to the south of that, 2017 will likely see renewed attention to transforming the urban center’s historic main drag, Flagler Street, into a destination worthy of its location. With a major project to widen the sidewalks and improve the right-of-way there already under way, the idea of that street as a bustling and fashionable gathering space comes closer from jumping out of a dusty master plan and into real life.

With ownership of the buildings fronting that street solidifying into the hands of just a few major players, redevelopment plans for properties are sure to be forthcoming this year, giving everyone a better sense of what Flagler will be like in the future. Plans for civic engagement and mutual cooperation by the business owners and residents there will only help drive the process.

Back in Brickell, both S. Miami Avenue and Brickell Bay Drive are primed for change. The timing of the real estate cycle means cranes on S. Miami Ave. will be giving way to one ribbon-cutting after another, bringing excitement and people to the already jam-packed thoroughfare. Expect a crush of folks to bring the restaurants and bars there to capacity and, subsequently, a likely strengthening of a nightlife scene that is already notable.

Brickell Bay Drive residents, for their part, will probably have to deal with yet another year of cranes and diverted traffic. Yet instead of mainly being affected by the backend of construction activity focused on neighboring Brickell Avenue, plans are in the works for big projects that could fundamentally affect the feel of that street.

Bringing it all together, 2017 will likely be the year in which huge strides are made in connecting and energizing the waterfront open spaces that connect downtown and Brickell and allow for enjoyment by all.

Through creative maneuvering, it’s also likely that various spots where the baywalk and riverwalk are currently obstructed will be blocked no more. Once those blockages are taken care of, it’ll be an almost effortless task to really make that priceless public space shine.

It certainly is heady stuff that’s been years in the making, yet all this development nevertheless puts 2017 on track to be a banner year for Miami’s urban core.

Downtowners and Brickellites should be excited and happy, and, hopefully, getting in on the ground floor of these ideas. Here’s to an upcoming year of “super VIP” unveilings.

 

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