City Pocket Parks Great But Where And Who Will Pay
Written by Eric Kalis on July 19, 2007
By Eric Kalis
Miami officials say they are committed to creating pocket parks downtown as part of a parks master plan but funding and available land are difficult to find.
The city’s Department of Capital Improvements is trying to nail down a funding source to raze a building at 46 W. Flagler St., the former site of Paul Walker Park, and develop a 4,200-square-foot pocket park. City officials closed the park — once a popular gathering spot for Miami-Dade County Courthouse employees — in the 1990s and allowed a restaurant to open there. The restaurant is now closed, and city officials reached a deal last year with the property owner to reclaim the land.
Finding a partner in the project has been a struggle for city officials, said department director Ola Aluko. The project remains in the "infancy stages" after about six months of conversations with potential funding sources, Mr. Aluko said.
"The city is exploring various funding options including collaborating with" the Downtown Development Authority, he said. "Once funds are available, the department will engage firms to perform the asbestos/lead surveys and utility coordination. (Department officials are) reviewing the construction of the existing building to determine the overall impact to the adjacent buildings during demolition."
Department and authority officials are to meet by the end of the month with hopes of having a plan to begin construction with the former restaurant’s demolition by mid-2008, Mr. Aluko said. As part of Mayor Manny Diaz’ Green Initiative, Mr. Aluko said, the city plans to use energy-efficient materials such as recycled water for irrigation, native plants and recycled concrete.
Creating pocket parks is a major component of the city’s parks master plan approved by commissioners earlier this year, said parks director Ernest Burkeen. The plan’s stated goal is to provide park space within a quarter-mile of every resident.
Besides paying for the parks, the city’s main obstacle is finding vacant land downtown, Mr. Burkeen said.
"We are pretty much landlocked," he said. "There are not that many opportunities. We have asked our division of asset management to keep an eye on buildings to discover things for sale or other possibilities."
Having pocket parks downtown for residents and workers is critical for the area’s long-term growth, Mr. Burkeen said.
Parks "add to the health and wealth of any community and certainly downtown," he said. "To be vibrant, we need smaller places to have a brown-bag lunch or jazz musicians on a weekday. It is a priority all over the city."