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An ambitious plan from City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz . What answer will the commission deliver?

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Financing plan would bypass voters

Miami city and county leaders have forged a multibillion-dollar public-works bonanza that could alter the face of the downtown core — affecting everything from a baseball stadium to a port tunnel to museums.

The plan, coming together with rare speed in the world of governmental red tape, envisions a holiday bounty of projects aimed at garnering support from constituencies ranging from sports fans to arts patrons.

Announced late Wednesday by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, the deal would cover everything from a $914 million tunnel leading to the Port of Miami to finally transforming fallow Bicentennial Park into a waterfront jewel with new art and science museums.

By also shoring up the shaky finances at the fledgling Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, the plan’s framework would free up additional tax monies that could be used to build a $525 million retractable-roof ballpark for the Florida Marlins.

”This is a great opportunity for all of us — all of us — to create an incredible legacy for the urban core,” Diaz said following a long day of negotiating the multi-party pact — and then selling it to individual commissioners.

While Diaz and others in the city embraced the so-called ”global” agreement with the county, many questions remain.

One is whether a deal this complex can actually come to fruition. With so many parts forming the larger whole, it’s possible that criticism of one piece of the blueprint could derail others.

Secondly, the intricate financing has been crafted in a way to sidestep a potential voter referendum — which could embolden critics.

COMMISSIONS TO VOTE

Selling it is key, and the first test comes Thursday when Miami commissioners decide whether to move the multilayered plan forward.

County commissioners would then begin their review of key pieces of the ballpark financing and redevelopment plans Dec. 18.

The framework — hashed out over several weeks of behind-the-scenes talks with city and county managers — centers on expanding the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency to include Bicentennial Park and Watson Island.

CRAs are federally mandated special taxing districts that generate extra cash for areas targeted for revitalization. By aiming to expand the key Omni district, Miami leaders envision new infusions of money that would be doled out for multiple big-ticket projects.

The biggest beneficiaries of this new Omni CRA would be the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts and a proposed new ballpark for the Marlins at the soon-to-be-demolished Orange Bowl.

Diaz said the county would essentially receive up to $400 million in CRA revenue over the next 30 years to cover debt service on the arts center.

This will free up somewhere between $160 million and $200 million in tourist taxes from the PAC — that the county and city could then use for the ballpark in Little Havana.

PARKING GARAGE

Less certain: whether the will, and the money, exist to build a 6,000-space parking garage and one of Diaz’s personal projects — a 25,000-seat soccer stadium also proposed for the 40-acre Orange Bowl site.

By expanding the CRA boundaries over the MacArthur Causeway to Watson Island, the city believes it can also use $50 million in CRA money to pay its share of the $914 million Port of Miami Tunnel over the next 35 years.

Florida transportation officials had vowed to move their $457 million share of the tunnel deal to other parts of the state if the city didn’t put up its $50 million piece by Monday.

”I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, no pun intended,” said City Commissioner Joe Sanchez, who represents the Orange Bowl area.

Miami property owners would also benefit from the expanded Omni CRA, city leaders say.

Diaz said the city would pay off its outstanding debt on the troubled Jungle Island construction loans from the expanded CRA instead of general revenues.

By expanding the boundaries into Bicentennial Park, the city would also use $68 million in new CRA revenue for the development of Museum Park — including a planned underground parking garage. The CRA money would not be used to build the museums.

OVERTOWN IMPACT

Another question mark: whether city officials will be legally permitted to spin another $2 million a year out of the CRA to pay for ongoing capital improvements inside the park.

A second, more hard-pressed, special tax district would also benefit under the city-county pact.

The Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA, which generates considerably less revenue than the Omni, would be extended to year 2030 and its boundaries expanded to 20th Street on the north and Northwest Seventh Avenue on the west.

The city would spend up to $80 million for affordable housing, infrastructure, parks and job programs in the economically depressed Overtown neighborhood, and it would set aside $35 million for the city’s struggling streetcar plan.

Diaz said Miami planned to adopt a pay-as-you-go approach when spending the CRA money on these big-ticket items over the next 30 years, rather than floating bonds to bankroll the projects.

The unstated reason: The projects wouldn’t have to face voter approval.

In previous years, the city had contemplated issuing CRA bonds that could net perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars up front, to be used on large public-works projects.

But the Florida Supreme Court ruled in September that any bond issue local governments do with CRA money needs voter approval. Miami responded by abandoning its bond-issue plans.

This plan would sidestep those concerns.

DETAILS

As in every public project, the key is in the details, and literally hundreds of them still need to be hashed out.

First: Does Diaz have the three commission votes to pass the plan when the body meets this morning?

”God willing, [Thursday] we will approve possibly the most exciting — largest, certainly — package of projects in city history,” Diaz said late Wednesday.

Commissioner Sanchez said of the ”global” agreement: “So far, it looks good. . . . It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Herald staff writers Charles Rabin, Andres Viglucci and Matthew I. Pinzur contributed to this report.

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  • The Developer Billionaire partnership Leviev Boymelgreen composed by Lev Leviev and Shaya Boymelgreen, known in Miami for Marquis and Vitri, have decided to split their partnership, citing a difference of opinions towards future development. Boymelgreen sees a formidable future in the Miami market, opted to stay with the Miami land holdings concentrated around the Carnival center, while Leviev maintained ownership of the NYC properties. Besides the developers’ optimistic stance on Miami’s market, it interesting to note that he is considering developing rental units or workforce housing in the CBD, a stance we have long advocated to help alleviate Miami’s recent housing shortages…
  • Miami is ranked 63 in the top 100 most liveable cities by Business Week, down a notch from last year. In browsing through the list I was compelled to notice that all but one of the top 15 cities have Streetcars, Trams, or LRT running through the city streets. Coincidence? I think not…(Via: Spacing Wire)
  • Open Road tolling is coming to a highway near you…
  • Jersey City is quickly becoming the model of the urban future according to this article in today’s USA Today. I should note, on top of existing transit, the city recently completed a light rail transit line to continue to facilitate transit use for the more than 40% of its residents who ride regularly…
  • Blog Update: I’ve somehow neglected to add a link to Cyburbia to the website. Cyburbia was founded in 1994, and is the Internet’s oldest continuously operating planning-related Web site; it functions today as a portal and busy social networking site for planners and others interested in the built environment. Check it out…

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Vienna is a grand city, far more grandiose than most European Capitals due to its’ rich history with the Babenburg and then the Hapsburg family dynasties. Just walking around, the city exudes wealth, through its opulent architecture, gold-leafed trimming, and excessive sculpture. The Hapsburgs were rather generous with the citizens they presided over, as far as royalty goes, anyhow. Toward the end of their reign, they opened several parks for public use, constructed two massive museums, and dotted the city with various other cultural institutions. Seeing that Miami has recently concluded the construction of our opera house and is set to begin construction on two bayside museums, I believe we can and should look for the guidance of cities such as Vienna when establishing our new cultural havens. Noting that Miami completely lacks the history and wealth of the Austrian Capital, I think there are some interesting aspects which will broaden our horizons before we plan and design…

There isn’t much I can say about the Carnival Center, seeing that it is already built. I’ve walked through the area a couple of times and although the plaza and structure are pleasant, the surroundings are rather inhospitable; hopefully with some time the area might mature a little. The Vienna Opera House is situated at the end of the premier pedestrian thoroughfare in Vienna, which links it and the ring, with the center of Vienna and the Hofburg Imperial Palace. When walking by the Vienna State Opera House for the final time on our last night, I noticed an interesting element which caught my eye:

See it? I hope you do. Someone had the sense to retrofit the structure (built in the 1860’s) with parking. Genius. This brought about a small bout of laughter, as you would imagine, when I conjured images of the Carnival Center debacle I would be returning to the very next day. The interesting thing I later noted is that this was perhaps the only parking garage I saw anywhere near the city center. We seem to have done the opposite…

When approaching the Museums Quarter (Museumsquartier) I couldn’t help but think of endless possibilities for Bicentennial Park. Now, I know I am not an architecture critic, nor do I try to be, but the idea of a classical structure dotting our shoreline as either of the two Museum Park buildings bodes very well for me. I said it once to an art student, whose look should have silenced my architecture thoughts for eternity, but I actually think a modern Art structure juxtapositioned with a classical Museum of Science would add a great deal of depth to Miami’s architecture.

Back to my point. Standing between these hulking museums was impressive. I mean, here I was standing in awe of a couple of landlocked museums, just hoping that our new museums with the beautiful bay and beach backdrop could be just even one fifth as stimulating. Is it too much to ask for? We have the opportunity to showcase our architectural cultural talent to the world, quite literally, seeing that these museums will serve as the focal point of nearly every cruise passenger which departs from our harbor. And think, Miami, not Miami Beach, could perhaps for once be hailed for its beautiful waterfront architecture, luring boarding cruise passengers to extend their stay. We severely dropped the ball with the MCM, opting instead for a geometric display of retardation on Watson Island. Between the two museums stood a massive statue dedicated to Maria Theresia, it’s a rarity in Miami to find any recollection of our local history, let alone national history. Perhaps a statue of FDR would be fitting, considering he was nearly assassinated in nearby Bayfront Park…Just a thought…

Throughout all of my travels, I have always taken the time to compare the city I am visiting with my home town. I often think that Miami would be a much better city if we would just stop, think, and look around before coming up with decisions which will forever alter our urban landscape. We’ve had plenty of opportunities pass us by with failed or improperly managed projects: Metrorail, Miami Arena, Miami Marine Stadium, Miami Seaquarium, Orange Bowl, MIA, CCPA, etc. Plenty of chances to make our city just as marvelous to visit as say Paris, Chicago, or even ViennaWe’re number one right now in hotel occupancy and hotel rates nationally, but imagine how much more we can do to attract visitors to sites other than our shore…

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While the commissioners bicker like a group of school girls over an impending public vote to boost the power of the mayor, the ineptitude of their previous decisions is shining brighter than ever this holiday season.

After severely fumbling with cost over-runs and years of delays at the Carnival Center, the County is still rushing to put together a plan to create parking for the new center (you know, before the land becomes expensive…whoops…) Even I, the biggest advocate of public transit, believe that the center should have contained a small percentage of parking spaces, preferably underground, similar to the American Airlines Arena (or Lincoln Center, or the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A., or any other city with logical people in charge.) Now, it seems like we’re looking to add enough parking for every visitor in array of equally hideous parking garages surrounding the venue. I am befuddled that an unsightly parking garage is favored alongside the Carnival Center rather than some illuminated billboards, but that’s beside the point. So what’s one of the County’s solutions to get some parking? They plan on trading the downtown bus terminal for another “more suitable” piece of land. That’s right, sacrificing our already less than stellar public transit for more space to park your vehicle. Who is making these decisions? How is this remotely in our best interests? Read the article, I got lost somewhere in the 1,600, 700, or 1,000 parking space number garages any of which will have some spaces available for PAC use.

“If the northside deal goes through, Mr. Carlton said, the bus terminal would be moved to the MetroMover’s western station.”

Out of sight, out of mind…

Oh, and I forgot to mention, the county is so inept that one of the “solutions” for the cost over-runs over on the airport’s north terminal involves canceling the project. I can see the signs: “Welcome to MIA, please pardon our dust as we never complete anything we begin.” I hate to ask, but, then how much longer will we be paying for that train we’re “exercising” in Japan which was supposed to travel throughout the terminal?

Perhaps we would be able to afford some of these cost over-runs if we weren’t paying 50% of the tuition costs of an untold number of County employees annually ($2.6 Million Last Year.) Apparently, we’re funding the educations of Acupuncturists, Doctors, Lawyers, etc., even students abroad! Anyone majoring in Urban Planning or Economics? No, that would be too practical…

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A few months ago, while covering the opening of the Carnival Center, Alesh of Critical Miami led me to an interesting article on the concept of second generation traffic calming. The basic concept behind second generation traffic calming is that alternative traffic calming devices are implemented within a given street years after it was originally built. Such alternatives include the adaptation of a pedestrian zone along the street (as Alesh pointed out on Biscayne Boulevard), removing the strict order of the lanes which separate traffic, lax traffic laws, etc.

Reversing decades of conventional wisdom on traffic engineering, Hamilton-Baillie argues that the key to improving both safety and vehicular capacity is to remove traffic lights and other controls, such as stop signs and the white and yellow lines dividing streets into lanes. Without any clear right-of-way, he says, motorists are forced to slow down to safer speeds, make eye contact with pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers, and decide among themselves when it is safe to proceed.

The article cites several cities where the traffic rules are: “There are no rules.” Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians are essentially free to do as they please along some of the most congested cities of the world. It forces drivers to be more aware of their surroundings rather than on an autopilot mode, attempting to stay between the guidelines. It’s definitely an interesting concept and is apparently pretty effective in cities where such practice is considered the norm. In fact, many of these cities have lower pedestrian fatality rates than cities with extremely rigid streets and driving laws. Now, I’m not advocating switching Miami streets into this wild free-for-all (although at times I feel like we already have), but, I do believe we must begin to look at new concepts to minimize the almost daily pedestrian fatalities which appear in the news headlines nightly.

I came across the above video to demonstrate how traffic flows when there aren’t stringent traffic laws, signals, or markings along the street. It’s extremely chaotic, but, notice how seamlessly traffic flows through the intersection in India

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