Pedestrian skywalk, retail shops, new garage could link arena with Bayside
By Paola Iuspa
Designs for a pedestrian bridge connecting Bayside Marketplace with American Airlines Arena are taking shape as the venue's manager seeks a developer to add a second garage and retail component.
The walkway would go from the second level of Bayside's north building to the arena plaza near Bongos Cuban Café, said Jim McMichael, Bayside director of marketing.
Plans to build the skywalk are moving forward, said Raul Tercilla, vice president of Rouse Co., which owns and operates Bayside. The bridge will be above busy Port Boulevard, he said, making it easier for arena patrons to visit Bayside.
Bill Johnson, assistant county manager, said recommendations for the walkway should go to Miami-Dade commissioners "in a couple of weeks." Pre-construction work is to begin in early 2002.
Although arena manager Basketball Properties would build the bridge, the county has to approve plans, said Doris Howe, spokeswoman. Ms. Howe said her firm is not yet releasing information on the project.
The idea to link Bayside Marketplace to American Airlines Arena was born in 1997 as the county assembled land needed to build a new home for the Miami Heat basketball team.
Bayside's owners made a parcel available for the arena that they had been leasing from the City of Miami, which sold the tract to the county. In return, Bayside officials said, "the Heat agreed to build the bridge to connect both sites."
Since the arena was constructed, Basketball Properties, its manager and Miami Heat affiliate have been working with Bayside officials to design a pedestrian skywalk that would benefit both destinations, said Mr. Tercilla, vice president of the Rouse Co. of Maryland, which owns and operates Bayside Marketplace. But proposals need to meet requirements from the Florida department of transportation and railroad interests, he said
Mr. Tercilla said the overpass would cross the Port Boulevard, a state highway, which links Biscayne Boulevard and the Port of Miami.
"The Heat has worked very diligently tackling some issues about the length of the bridge and its height," he said. "Everything has been resolved. Now we are looking at alternative locations for the bridge because the original site" proposed does not have the altitude required above the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks that head to the Port.
The Florida Department of Transportation, which needs to issue a permit for the project, received an application including design plans drafted in 1999 by Arquitetitonica, said David Rosemond, department spokesman. Arquitetitonica was the arena architect.
Mr. Rosemond said, at this stage, 30% of the process needed to start the project has been completed.
Mr. Johnson said a study to look at the impact the overhead walkway would have on vehicular traffic on Port Boulevard is under way. Pre-construction work on the bridge is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2002, he said Monday.
In the meantime, Basketball Properties is looking for a developer to build a 260-space parking garage and up to 70,000 square feet of retail on 4.5 acres of now vacant waterfront land that the county owns east of the arena. Discussions on that project have been on the table since completion of the arena in late 1999.
According to county documents, commissioners decided the conceptual project would be a tough sell to developers because of the lot's small size. They also decided it would be most cost-effective to allow Basketball Properties, as manager of the arena, to develop and operate the entire complex.
For those reasons, the planned garage and retail component was handed over to Basketball Properties, waiving the use of bids, according to county documents.
The arena's management group still holds rights to finance, design, build and run the project, according to a county document. The county must to approve final plans.
In all, the remaining project is to consist of a garage underneath 70,000 square feet of permanent retail; a temporary retail area for carts and kiosks like those in Bayside Marketplace; an open space with landscaping, benches, lighting and public restrooms available during retail operating hours, and a baywalk.
It also will have a marine component with transient docks for tour boats, water taxis, sport-fishing vessels and yachts no larger than 150-feet, the document said.
Mr. Tercilla said Basketball Properties has agreed not to have a food court in the proposed site to avoid competing with Bayside.
"This is going to be a smaller project with a strong emphasis in entertainment," he said. "It is going to complement Bayside rather than compete with it."
Mr. Tercilla said representatives for Basketball Properties approached Rouse officials earlier this year with the idea of creating a joint venture to develop the waterfront lot but his company rejected the idea because they are already investing heavily on other projects.
Rouse is developing the planned Kendall Town Center and Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables.
Most recently, Basketball Properties received a partial exemption from paying Miami-Dade at least $175,000 in fees because they had not started construction on the retail-garage component by June 1, 2000, as set by the 1999 agreement. Instead, the group is to pay $25,000 now and the rest by June 1 if the project moves forward, said County Manager Steve Shiver.
If the management group decides not to go ahead with the development, it can walk away without incurring any liabilities, a county document said.
"Considering the fact that the economic environment was such," Mr. Shiver said, "we thought it was prudent to grant the extension. It was questionable what was going to happen with the project if we did not extend it. They are paying us $25,000, so the county has secured some financial gain in case the deal does not go through."
The accord gives Basketball Properties the option to pay or terminate the agreement. The group opted to go ahead with the deal but asked for the six-month extension for the balance.
Mr. Shiver said the arena's manager needs the extension to continue negotiating with an undisclosed developer.
Mr. Johnson said the management group "has been acting in good faith" and its representatives have been talking to national developers in the past year but developing such a small parcel is not easy.