Long-awaited Flagler Street revamp days from starting
After many starts and stops and years of inaction and delay, the City of Miami is days away from mobilizing its latest plan for improving Flagler Street downtown.
“We are mobilizing the first week of May. The first section is expected to take nine months and the entire project is about 30 months long,” Hector L. Badia, with the City of Miami’s Office of Capital Improvements (OCI), told a virtual community meeting April 21 held in partnership with the Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Flagler District (Business Improvement District) BID and Miami-Dade County.
City staff, consultants and contractors shared design plans, construction schedule, maintenance of traffic plans, dates, and stakeholder concerns for the beautification and improvement project, an endeavor years in the making.
And while some officials and business owners said they are pleased to see the project move forward, some businesses expressed concerns about the timing of the work while the city, and the world, are still dealing with a deadly pandemic that has been a serious financial hit.
One business owner submitted a comment saying: “I don’t see this as a good time to do this. It was a disaster last time. Covid has drained our resources.”
Another business owner complained of increased costs in the face of the coronavirus, saying “With covid our sales have already suffered. How do you expect small tenants to recover and pay ever-increasing taxes?”
Mr. Badia said city staff are sensitive to the concerns of business owners and tenants and stressed that it will be a priority to maintain access to businesses while construction goes on.
“We’ll do little by little … and we will quickly react to any issues you may have. And I know there are some initiatives of the Downtown Development Authority trying to help businesses during this time,” he said.
DDA Executive Director Christina Crespi said the authority is working to bring restaurants out onto the sidewalks for added service, and marketing efforts planned include music, to help bring more people into that area.
The DDA is also considering a grant program to assist some Flagler Street businesses, she said.
City Commissioner Manolo Reyes, chair of the DDA board, said the new contractor is making assurances to keep accessibility to all businesses during work on the street.
City officials said detours will be utilized and closure of some areas of the sidewalk and street will occur, with an emphasis on public safety and continued accessibility.
“It is a little pain we have to go through in order to have a beautiful project, one that’s going to help Flagler Street a lot – tremendously,” Mr. Reyes said.
City leaders say they are working to transform Flagler into an iconic, festival-style boulevard with patterned pavers, curb-less drains, wider sidewalks featuring railroad-themed streetscapes and enhanced landscaping.
The Downtown Flagler Street project will begin at Biscayne Boulevard, proceeding westward to Northwest First Avenue.
Main objectives are:
■Create a festival street from Biscayne Boulevard to Northwest First Avenue by raising the road to the same grade as the sidewalks, changing it to a curb-less street, and adding pavers in vehicular travel lanes.
■Enrich pedestrian experience with expanded sidewalks, large shade trees, outdoor café dining, improved LED lighting, signage, public art, and seating.
■With new railroad crossing gates, allow for opportunities to close individual blocks to vehicles for community gatherings, festivals, special events, outdoor concerts, and family evenings.
■Minimize on-street parking to maximize pedestrian space, with valet parking available anywhere along the corridor and have a car returned at another location.
■Upgrade existing drainage to prevent flooding.
■Install new utilities – power, gas, fiber optics – to prepare for new vertical development.
■Create a safer and more attractive shared space providing opportunities to increase patronage to existing businesses, attract new businesses, spur economic growth, and make Flagler Street a Downtown Miami cultural and commercial destination once again.