A Road By Any Other Name Still Smells The Same In Miami
Written by Michael Lewis on April 6, 2006
By Michael Lewis
The folks who brought you the fire-fee scandal, the Three Amigos real estate cartel and the Parrot Jungle Island loan-repayment fiasco now have tried Brickellgate.
It almost makes you yearn for the 1990s, when we only worried about whether Miami would slip into bankruptcy, what our unpredictable mayor would do next and who would be indicted tomorrow.
I said almost.
With all their other troubles, city officials met a firestorm when those who live, work or live off the brand on Brickell Avenue got word that the city was trying to rename dowdy Southeast Second Avenue as gold-plated Brickell.
Seems several developers north of the Miami River realized they’d do better if they could say their towers were on thriving Brickell Avenue, the gateway to downtown, than if they had to admit they actually were in downtown. Can’t blame ‘em for trying to take commissioners along for the ride.
But a note in Miami Today brought out the Brickell Area Association’s big guns to battle the big guns of developers in the commission chambers, prompting Johnny Winton, who represents both sides of the river, to call time out until he could see who had the most ammunition. "No matter what I do, I lose," he moaned.
Tuesday afternoon, he caught a break. The city attorney decided the city had no authority in the matter at all – it’s up to the state to decide.
So let’s give state officials a hand.
First, there’s history. The pioneering Brickells were southsiders. They built the avenue in the south, and they refused to journey north of the river. Round 1 goes to keeping the name south.
(A publicist for a downtown project that’s seeking a Brickell address called to offer testimony that someone in 1939 tried to carry the Brickell name north of the river and that one map did put the name there.)
Next, there’s the valuable brand. Those who really are in Brickell want to protect it. Those outside want a piece of the action. Who can blame them?
A Coral Way mall once tried to use a Coral Gables address. Coral Gables is another famous brand, so that city made sure that everyone knew Miracle Center was actually in – horrors! – Miami. Close, officials said, counts only in horseshoes, not in malls.
Maybe the mall’s failure thereafter had nothing to do with the city in which it stood. But Coral Gables took no chances of letting a great brand slip away.
As for protecting brands, Coral Gables now houses the premier US academic expert, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University – or, at least, 42 students in the first Kellogg-Miami Executive MBA Program class (note that Kellogg in Coral Gables calls itself Miami). Maybe that class should do a case study of the Brickell brand.
Meanwhile, Round 2 goes to the brand’s owner, Brickell, over interlopers.
Now, geography. The Miami River is not the Berlin Wall or the Iron Curtain (except when bridges go up, as they do all day long), but it has divided Miami since day one in 1896. Downtown folks seldom lunch in Brickell, and vice versa. Foot traffic over the Brickell Bridge is minimal. Getting Brickell and downtown interests on the same page long has been a trick.
Would a name change create a single smoothly oiled machine of commerce? We’re not hopeful. On points, Round 3 goes to keeping the Brickell name in Brickell.
So, should Brickell Avenue only run from the Miami River to the Rickenbacker Causeway? Absolutely not. It already extends farther.
The combination of Wall Street and Park Avenue that we call Brickell, once a street of mansions, still has a hidden stretch like a residential Fifth Avenue – six blocks of stately homes.
From the causeway south to Villa Vizcaya runs the camouflaged strip where Sylvester Stallone and Madonna once hid away from all but the tour buses. That area, known as Brickell Avenue extended, is the only extension Brickell needs.
Round 4 goes to keeping the name where it is, and only where it is.
So, caught between downtown interests with clout and taxpayers in Brickell with right on their side, what should happen? (See how this issue sorts itself out? We can’t call the two camps "Brickell" or we’d never be able to explain who was on which side.)
Why doesn’t the state hand the downtown developers a topflight street name without filching the great name of Brickell?
How about Las Olas Boulevard? That’s not taken – unless you count Fort Lauderdale, and those folks don’t vote in Miami.
Or Miracle Mile? Coral Gables gets no votes, either.
Something more generic? Main Street. Every city has one. It’s always the main street.
Want big-time flavor? Wall Street and Park Avenue are available.
Starstruck? Rodeo Drive or Sunset Boulevard.
An international flair? How about La Rambla, Fleet Street or Pall Mall? Maybe Via Veneto or Champs Elysées.
To make the most of its location, how about River Gate or Bridge Walk?
Or to capitalize on being a gateway to the Americas instead of just a gateway to Brickell, try Avenue of the Americas – New York wouldn’t mind, but a deal might be needed with the county, which has already swiped the name for part of 107th Avenue.
And if the developers balk at such great names, fall back on a Miami tradition: Pick a living local celebrity.
Manny Diaz Drive, Joe Arriola Boulevard (appropriately abbreviated as Jab) and Johnny Winton Avenue have nice rings to them. None is indicted, either, so it works out well.
But since the three are partners in both government and real estate, maybe they should be forever joined on a downtown (not Brickell) street sign, too. Diaz-Arriola-Winton Prado may be too long, but chunks of the three names could evolve into Darwin.
Now that’s a name: not revolutionary but evolutionary.
With so many excellent choices, the state can make everyone happy without turning both history and the Brickell brands on their heads.