Brickellites want more attention from the DDA, look to increase representation on board
By Risa Polansky
Brickellites continue to clamor for attention from the Downtown Development Authority and have taken to organized strategizing.
The Brickell Area Association this month formed the BAA/DDA Study Committee with the aims of exploring the history and relationship between the two groups and developing a prioritized wish-list of projects and initiatives it expects the development authority to undertake or oversee.
Brickell association board members voted also for the group to provide at least four resumes to the development authority as it begins to fill vacancies on its board.
"We're going to put together a list of things that we're looking for as far as the DDA is concerned," said Carl Walters, Brickell Area Association president and study committee member. "Over the years, we've had a minimal representation on the DDA board even though we've contributed what we think is a substantial part of their operating budget… we just feel like we need a greater representation on the DDA, and that's what our objective is."
The shaky development authority/Brickell relationship has been a hot topic for more than a year.
Last March, Hal Martell, former president of the Brickell Area Association and owner of IT consulting firm Plexus M/2, raised the issue, lamenting what he called a lack of attention to Brickell.
"Few people realize that 54% of the DDA's annual operating budget is generated by tax revenue from the Brickell business district," he said. "As a Brickell Avenue business owner and area resident, I've always considered this tax to be an investment for continual enhancement of the Brickell corridor. But this apparently isn't happening."
Brickell association board members paid a visit to the development authority in April to re-emphasize the issue to the board and new Interim-Executive Director Alyce Robertson.
She says she's listening.
In less than three months on the job, Ms. Robertson has attended two Brickell Area Association meetings to hear concerns and show solidarity.
"They are upset, and there are some reasonable expectations that they have, and I'm going to try to work with them as best as possible," she said.
As Brickell residents and business owners await a $6.2 million Florida Department of Transportation roadway improvement project planned for 2010, the Downtown Development Authority aims to give the avenue more immediate attention, Ms. Robertson said.
"I didn't want the DDA money, the million dollars we're putting into the project, to be deferred that long, to wait for FDOT to get there," she said. "I'm looking forward, I'm not looking toward what the problems of the past are. Let's just move on and get some things done."
Her plan is to put aside $300,000 of the earmarked $1 million to improve crosswalks once the Department of Transportation work is done, but to use $700,000 to get a jump now on elements such as landscaping ahead of the roadway improvements.
Landscaping, traffic and drainage — especially during the rainy season — are some of Brickell's biggest needs, Mr. Walters said.
Ms. Robertson said she is sympathetic to the area's flooding issues, but improving roadway drainage is a Department of Transportation responsibility.
She is, however, willing to advocate for Brickell, she said, and has reported the drainage needs.
The transportation department plans to clean two deep wells along 15th Road in the coming months, noted Brickell project manager Judy Solaun-Gonzalez in an e-mail.
"This will alleviate the system," she said.
Aesthetics and advocacy are not the only roles the development authority plays in Brickell, Ms. Robertson added.
Staffers are available to help new businesses work through the city's permitting process — they did with Mary Brickell Village's Blue Martini, she said — and several Brickell businesses took advantage of the opportunity to share space in the development authority's booth at a major retail conference recently.
In the future, the authority plans to expand its ambassador program to both Brickell and the performing arts center area.
Staffers are also working to prepare a report quantifying what the authority has done and is doing for Brickell, Ms. Robertson said.
"The relationship obviously needs improvement."