Downtown, Miami officials working to address Macy's concerns
By Catherine Lackner
One month after members of Miami's Downtown Development Authority board expressed concern that Macy's might be leaving downtown, authority members say they have pulled together a "collaborative effort" with city officials to address problems in the retail district including broken sidewalks, poor street maintenance and crime.
Authority Chairman Joe Sanchez, Executive Director Dana Nottingham and other authority members along with representatives of City Manager Pedro Hernandez and the city's public-works, code-enforcement and police departments, have formed a workgroup with a list of objectives.
"This is the start of a formal process between the DDA and the city," Mr. Nottingham said. "We got a commitment from the city that lighting, security and code enforcement will be a priority" in the retail district, especially along Flagler Street. "This is a precursor to a meeting with Macy's. We're making progress."
"We had a detailed discussion with the city about litter cleanup, inoperable street lights and the lack of trash receptacles, and they're going to work with us," said Jerome Hollo, authority board member and chairman of the Board Services Oversight Committee. "We've got the support of the city manager, and it's a new day."
The work group's priorities will be cleanliness of the sidewalks and roadways, lighting, garbage removal and security. A visible difference: New trash cans will be in place soon along Flagler Street.
"Public works is here and committed to help," said Mark Spanioli, senior manager for development and capital improvements. He introduced David Hernandez, a lighting engineer for the city.
"We have a commitment from the manager to make sure you get your tax dollars' worth," Mr. Hernandez told the authority board. He said 70% of light fixtures on Flagler and First streets that had been inoperable now have working bulbs and bulbs will arrive soon for the rest of the lights.
Authority board members Neisen Kasdin and Scott Robins said in December that Macy's was dissatisfied with street conditions around its 840,000-square-foot store and headquarters at 22 E. Flagler St.
"I'm shocked," Commissioner Sanchez said, "that the city has not sat down with Macy's, knowing their discontent."
A move by Macy's would be "devastating for downtown," resulting in the loss of 500 jobs, Mr. Kasdin said.
"While the recent economic development is encouraging, our store and company's divisional headquarters need to be in an environment that is conducive to success," Melissa Goff, director of public relations for Macy's Florida, said last month.
"Our organization has been at our current location for a very long time, and would prefer to remain downtown. Our intention is to explore what the City of Miami can do to help us achieve this goal," she continued.
"There has been no change in our position," Ms. Goff said Monday. "Our intent is to stay downtown, but we are investigating our options." In fact, she said, Macy's just opened a new restaurant, La Dolce Vita, inside the store.
Discussion of downtown's retail problems has been ongoing, authority members said, but it has been difficult to coordinate the efforts of city agencies responsible for maintaining streets, enforcing building codes and providing police services to fix the problems.
"People have a hard time understanding what our role is," said Mr. Hernandez. "We get misinformation."
Ownership of roads and sidewalks is complicated, he said, because some fall under the stewardship of the Florida Department of Transportation, some Miami-Dade County, and some the city. In some cases, sidewalks belong to property owners. Complaints often are directed to the wrong entity, Mr. Hernandez said.
But when issues go unresolved, "it looks like the city doesn't care," said Josie Correa, president of the Downtown Miami Partnership. The collaboration between agencies should help address that, she said.
"We are very aware of how important Macy's and Macy's of Florida headquarters are to the health and success of downtown Miami," she said. "Our staff and board of directors are committed to working with Macy's, the Downtown Development Authority and the City of Miami to identify opportunities for improvement and enhanced services for Macy's and the entire central business district."
The new group wasn't set up specifically to benefit Macy's, Mr. Nottingham said. "This joint city-DDA work team will report to this body at least once a quarter," he told the authority's board of directors.