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Front Page » Top Stories » Rail Depot Condos To Propel West Side

Rail Depot Condos To Propel West Side

Written by on June 6, 2013

Call the coming of a railroad once again downtown Miami’s own West Side Story. At least, that’s how some members of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce see it.

The opening of Florida East Coast Railway’s All Aboard Florida station on almost 10 acres just north of the county’s Stephen P. Clark Government Center has the potential to revitalize downtown’s west side, chamber members were told at their annual Goals Conference last week.

Now, they want to take advantage of the opportunity.

The railway’s return to downtown with a large station complex "can be transformative for that part of downtown," said Charles Scurr, executive director of the county’s Citizens’ Transportation Trust, which oversees spending of the county’s revenues of a sales tax for transportation.

It could be the catalyst for that area’s rebirth, agreed Spencer Crowley, land use and environmental attorney with Akerman Senterfitt. With almost 10 acres stretching from the Clark center at 111 NW First St. north to the bare site of the now-razed Miami Arena, he said, the long narrow strip could tie downtown to Overtown.

Another element in the transformation, said Ramiro Ortiz, a former chamber chairman and bank executive who is the new president and CEO of HistoryMiami, is the growth plan for the museum, which could reinvigorate West Flagler Street without a massive effort.

Art Noriega, CEO of the Miami Parking Authority, said he sees the All Aboard Florida station bookending downtown, creating what he said would be massive changes to everything east of I-95 within three to four years of the rail operation’s opening.

That, he said, would spread out the city’s core from the east end of Flagler and create infill to the west, taking advantage of downtown’s repopulation and growth in retail, commercial, office and residential projects.

That would be spurred on the west side, he said, by the rail station, HistoryMiami’s expansion and ancillary development.

All Aboard Florida is to provide a privately funded rail service connecting Miami to Central Florida along a 230-mile route combining the old Florida East Coast tracks with a new line going west into Orlando.

Florida East Coast has said it plans 13 to 16 daily departures from each terminus when it opens in 2015. Fares are not determined.

The downtown station, the only location for the line in Miami, is still being designed, Michael Reininger, All Aboard Florida’s chief development officer, told Miami Today last month.

Mr. Reininger at the time pointed to the potential impact on downtown.

"Ten acres is a pretty significant area of downtown," he said. "The station that we are building goes across several blocks… and really becomes the completion of that neighborhood redevelopment."

The station is expected to be complemented by retail and hotel development on the company’s acreage. Plans have not been announced.

HistoryMiami’s growth will come as the Miami Art Museum vacates its current home on the cultural plaza that it shares at 101 W Flagler St. with HistoryMiami and the main Miami-Dade Public Library. The art museum is to become the Pérez Art Museum Miami when it opens at its new home in the bayfront’s Museum Park in December.

That will leave its former building and the plaza area in front to use by the history museum, which plans to more than double in size with the extra space.

Its challenge in that, other than funding, may be to convert the fortress-like complex into a welcoming area. Many residents for years have been unaware that museums and a library stood in the complex.

Another catalyst for the western part of downtown could well be a new passenger rail service, Tri-Rail Coastal, being developed by Tri-Rail along the Florida East Coast tracks to link all of the downtowns from Jupiter to Miami by rail.

The hub for that commuter rail, said Ric Katz of Communikatz, is also to be the All Aboard Florida station — which he warned could create parking challenges in the now-desolate area. Tri-Rail has forecast 24,000 passengers daily.

The All Aboard Florida terminal is to rise on "the original site of the old Miami Grand Central Station from the days of Flagler," Mr. Reininger said.

That would bring the west side of downtown full circle. Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway arrived in Miami in 1896 — the transportation link becoming the catalyst for the city’s incorporation that year, growth and development. To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.