The historic and economic epicenter of our region is the Downtown core.  Encompassing an area that includes Brickell, from Coral Way to the Miami River, the Central Business District, Park West and the Art & Entertainment District, Downtown represents the greatest intensity of housing, transit infrastructure, and economic investment in South Florida. The Downtown Development Authority is one of the main agencies responsible for guiding growth and public investment in Downtown.

    “The Miami Downtown Development Authority is a quasi-independent public agency of the City of Miami charged with making Downtown Miami the most livable urban center in the nation and strengthening its position as the Epicenter of the Americas…an international center for commerce, culture and tourism. “

The DDA is one of the most progressive agencies in Miami-Dade County, understanding the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and businesses alike. The DDA recently approved its 2025 Masterplan, a visionary yet practical document that brings together a wealth of planning and urban design studies that relate to downtown, and synthesizes them into “specific action-oriented implementation” projects. Transit Miami sat down with DDA Urban Planning and Transportation Manager Javier Betancourt to discuss the DDA, transit in downtown, and the future of our region.

Transit Miami: The 2025 Masterplan sets targets for specific projects, especially in the area of transit. Promoting Bay link, premium transit along Flagler, the Streetcar, metromover expansions, the SFEC Corridor, and trolley service are all included as goals.  What role will if any will the DDA have in advancing these projects?

Javier:  The Masterplan sets the vision and goals for the way we want Downtown to develop, and where we think investments should be made. It is a blueprint for what we want and how to get there. We can implement the changes sought by the plan in part by championing projects that match our goals and vision in addition to seeking partners to help accomplish these goals.  Obviously, the cost of this type of infrastructure goes beyond what we are able to fund, but as a regional stakeholder our voice represents the interests of several hundred thousand people.

Transit Miami: One proposal made by the Masterplan is revising the DDA’s subdistrict designations by dividing Park West, combining half with the area to the north of I395 making an Arts and Entertainment district, and the other half united with the CBD.  How does this take into account the plans for I395 and what do you think about the ‘preffered alternative’ for I395?

Javier: Part of what we hope to accomplish with the redistricting is the removal of I-395 as a barrier when considering these two neighborhoods. The World Center Development will naturally extend the borders of the CBD. The area around the PAC and the current Arts and Entertainment District share common cultural connections, making them a natural fit in defining districts. I395 is a physical barrier. We would have preferred the cut and fill boulevard option for the removal of I395.  We have expressed some concerns with the preferred option (for example, it’s potential impact to the Arsht Center), but haven’t taken an official stand as an agency beyond that at this point.

Transit Miami: You have spoken out vocally against moving the UDB. What role do you see the UDB playing in the development of our region and how does that affect Downtown?

Javier:  I like to think of the UDB as the ‘lid’ on a pressure cooker. It constrains growth, thereby pressuring that growth to occur where we want it to at a much faster pace than it would without that ‘lid’. The UDB is extraordinarily important, if not essential, to promoting smart growth and investment in our urban centers.

The DDA is not without its critics, however. Some around the Park West area feel neglected by the DDA, joking that their reach seems to stop at 5th street.  Others contend that the document approved by the Board of the DDA (headed by the Chair of the City of Miami Commission) lacks teeth and authority. Still, the spirit of the document and the goals that it aspires to are in keeping with best planning practices. Promoting walkability and smart growth are some of its basic principles, and for that they are to be commended. I for one look forward to seeing the implementation of the Masterplan in the coming years, and hope that County and regional leaders will look to the DDA as a model for how smart growth and walkability can become ingrained in our civic institutions.

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4 Responses to Understanding The Wheels of Government: A Conversation with Javier Betancourt

  1. Andre Devoto says:

    The Downtown Development Authority should be doing more. With a massive $9.4 mil budget, downtown and Park West look worse than many third world countries.

    Further, the DDA should not let itself be lead by lobbyists on its board. The numerous conflicts of interest should attract attention.

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  2. TransitDave says:

    As a real estate guy who has worked downtown since 1995,I can recall back then thinking how under-utilized, and undervalued the older core of downtown was (and is). Not to step on DDA’s toes, but I’m not real fired up by their DWNTWN label; to me, this part of town always was, and always will be simply “Old Miami” Even the boom years didn’t change the Old Miami much, but it’s showing definate signs of progress, and as the empty condos town town fill up,hopefully the one element that has always been needed will arrive in critical mass: Residents. Add them, and everything else will follow. But they need to be real downtowners, not people who want to live in verticle subdivisions, as are so many Brickell residents. (present company excluded) Even so, the core has something the Brickell are doesn’t have: Great parks on the bay. And, Brickell has something most of the other areas don’t; A publix close by. Both are, in my book, essential for urban living in Miami.

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  3. Tony says:

    Good points on both accounts. I think that the DDa can do more, but that doesn’t take into account what it already does.

    TD: ‘vertical subdivisions’ – awesome! That is less likely to happen around downtown because of the places to go within walking distance. As a *former* resident of the Skyline, I believe the insulated nature of life on Brickell has to do with the previous ‘resort style’ zoning, that populates the neighborhood with single use, uber-setback buildings, and with minimal transit access. Design plays s huge role in the way our streets are used. South Brickell is a good example of density without design. (Either way, downtown needs a grocery store stat!!)

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  4. Brad K. says:

    The DDA, with the appointment of Ms. Robertson, has made good progress over the past several years. Witness the improvements in the urban core and Brickell in terms of streetscapes and quality of life – big change.

    However, we need to be vigilant about the the allocation and spending of public money and make sure that stakeholder’s interests are served, not just those of lobbyists and big developers. The area north of 5th street has received little to no funding over the years, despite property owneers being assessed by the agency up to 22nd street There is also the tendancy to spend millions on studies and consultants, heavily criticized under the fomer Director Mr. Nottingham. While the master plan represents a great vision for Downtown Miami, it is heavily skewed towards mega projects and cost the taxpayers $1.6 million. The DDA’s spending role for the implementation of this plan should end there. Nothing wrong with lobbying and promoting the projects, but downtown stakeholders want more money spend “making Miami the most liveable Urban Center in the nation”. Big development projects which may of may not happen in the future are not the way to go. We need liveable streets, more and more businesses and LOTS more people living downtown. The recent $180,000 study to EVALUATE signage downtown is already being snickered about around town. Then there is the planned convention center study, another story of public funds spent with little short term benefit to the community.

    The people of Miami have spooken in the recent election – focus on services and making our neighborhoods more liveable, not more big development. We need to take a breather and absorb what as happened the past 8 years, not sharge full steam ahead. Miami DDA – keep doing what you do well- focusing on “facts on the ground” and improvements for those that live and work downtown. But be careful about falling into the same patterns as in the past – every study, markting campaign, or outside consultant should be discussed publicly and vetted for its true benefits to the downtown community.

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