Despite thousands of new residential units, downtown Miami's revitalization is slow to come

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                                                                                                   Brad knoefler <>

          Despite thousands of new residential units, downtown
          Miami's revitalization is slow to come
          Brad Knoefler <>                                                                Tue, Jun 14, 2011 at 10:48 AM
          To: Bradley Knoefler <>

            Despite thousands of new residential units, downtown Miami's revitalization is slow
            to come
            Paola Iuspa-Abbott

            2011-06-14 12:00:00 AM

            Almost every Sunday morning, R. James Brownlow leaves his apartment a block south of Flagler Street in downtown Miami and
            walks about a mile to an open-air retail center in the city's Brickell neighborhood.

            He visits Starbucks, reads a newspaper and works on his laptop. He could easily go to the Starbucks on the ground floor of his
            own building, the Atrium Apartments. But, "the Starbucks here doesn't have the same feel as the one in Mary Brickell Village,"
            said Brownlow, vice president of sales and marketing of ColoHouse, a data center in Miami. "Here, you get a different kind of
            foot traffic through and [the store] is not as clean."

            Brownlow, who on weeknights also drops by restaurants and bars at Mary Brickell Village, said he wishes the central business
            district north of the Miami River had similar dining and entertainment destinations.

            After most office workers get in their cars and drive home, downtown Miami offers dark and empty streets. The area's limited
            entertainment options, poor lighting, inadequate parking and aggressive vagrants discourage residents from hanging out in their

            Despite the construction of thousands of residential units in the last six years, the revitalization of downtown Miami is slow to

            "While many commercial centers are emerging, this one is not drawing anybody yet," commercial real estate broker Jeff Morr
            said. He pointed to Miami's Design District and Midtown neighborhood as areas that have experienced an influx of restaurants
            and retailers in the last three years despite a severe recession.

            "In downtown Miami, there is one restaurant here, one restaurant there but they are isolated," said Morr, who recently sold a unit
            he owned in a residential condo near Flagler Street that had been converted from an office building during the housing boom.

            "We need critical mass. I would like to see 30 restaurants there, and I am not talking about the local Cuban restaurant or
            sandwich place that only opens during the day. We need places open at night."


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            Brownlow lives in one of the nearly 5,500 residential units that have popped up in Miami's business district since 2004.

            More than 70,000 people now live in downtown and surrounding areas, a jump of nearly 80 percent from a decade ago,
            according to a 2010 demographic study conducted by the Miami Downtown Development Authority. Specific numbers for
            downtown Miami or more detailed demographics are not available.

            Although downtown's infrastructure has lagged the area's population growth, there has been some improvement. The DDA helped
            build or upgrade three small pocket parks in the area in the last two years, including the Paul S. Walker Urbanscape, a space
            near Macy's where office workers can have lunch. The agency also helped upgrade the Robert F. Clark Plaza north of the
            Miami-Dade Courthouse.

            Those spaces supplement Bayfront Park, which includes a playground and amphitheater, and Bicentennial Park, which is to be
            the site of the Miami Art Museum and the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium.

            The DDA also helped establish the Downtown Miami Charter School, which opened in 2002 and has 650 students.

            Brickell Preparatory Academy, a publicly funded charter school, is planned to serve up to 1,700 students drawn from downtown
            Miami, the Brickell area and The Roads neighborhood. The plan has been opposed by Brickell residents who say the school
            would be too big.


            During the construction boom, developers and city officials touted their vision of downtown as a place were people would work
            and play 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

            Downtown resident Jaime Acosta, who lives at the 50 Biscayne condominium, believed in that vision. He ponied up $716,600 in
            2007 for a three-bedroom corner unit with unobstructed views of Biscayne Bay.

            Acosta, a psychotherapist, is still waiting for the promises of a revitalized downtown to come true, he said. Despite the few
            isolated restaurants that opened around his condo, not much has changed.

            Acosta drives across Biscayne Bay to South Beach's Lincoln Road for entertainment.

            Homeless people roam the streets at night and often find refuge in open areas on the ground floor of Acosta's building, he said.
            Until recently, they used restrooms in the ground level retail area of his building. The building manager has cured that problem
            with new entry locks.

            "When my friends come visit me they have to park on the street," he said. "We often have homeless people trying to get tips. They
            point at parking spaces and if you don't give them something, you fear they are going to scratch your car. That kind of feeling —
            when you are coming to what is supposed to be a high-end building — is not good."

            Resident Katrina Guzman said the business district has improved since she and her husband, Carlos, three years ago moved into
            Loft Downtown II, a condo at 133 NE Second Ave. — but she's still reluctant to walk her 20-pound beagle alone at night.

            Guzman, a 28-year-old nutritionist, also doesn't like having to park across the street from her condo building, which doesn't have
            onsite parking.

            She said she moved to downtown because it is close to her job at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Aside from that, "everything is
            inconvenient here," she said, adding she would move once she starts a family.

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            Voting Power?

            For decades, the aging downtown had few permanent residents. That meant few votes and little political power in City Hall. The
            condo boom changed that, and politicians could be more inclined in the future to cater to the needs of the new residents.

            The number of registered voters from downtown Miami to the Brickell area and nearby communities grew from 6,610 in 2003 to
            18,265 in 2010, a 176 percent increase, according to Miami's Downtown Development Authority.

            The authority, which is funded by taxing properties within its jurisdiction, was created to advocate for property owners and help
            bring development to the area, which includes the central business district, the Brickell financial district, and the Omni and Park
            West areas.

            Howard Frank, director of Florida International University's Metropolitan Center, isn't sure more voters will bring changes. He
            said in recent city elections, between 15 percent and 20 percent of registered voters went to the polls.

            "The city might be more responsive to the merchants and how they feel about the area and what they feel is an appropriate level
            of service ... to attract their clientele."

            Acosta, president of 50 Biscayne's condominium board, said voters and downtown condo associations need to form a united
            front to lobby city officials to improve services to the area, including providing better lighting, policing, parking and traffic
            control during events at the nearby American Airlines Arena and Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

            Acosta said Biscayne Boulevard suffers from traffic gridlock on game or performance evenings and residents have to take
            detours to access their condos.

            Acosta said he often feels there is no one to turn to for help. Many of the new condo owners and tenants — including Acosta —
            say they aren't familiar with the Downtown Development Authority. Few — even veteran political players — realize they
            subsidize the agency by paying additional property taxes.

            "You would think I would know that," said Rick Rodriguez, a government lobbyist who owns a unit in One Miami, a
            condominium tower at the mouth of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay.

            The DDA is not named in annual tax bills. Instead, the tax is listed under "Miami Miscellaneous." The lack of transparency
            doesn't sit well with some taxpayers who say the money isn't doing much to keep the streets safe and clean or to bring in business
            to serve the residents.

            "I think it is very misleading and needs better specification and much more accountability for where the money is going," said
            Hazel Goldman, who owns a condo at Ten Musuem Park, a nearby high-rise. "So far, they have been grossly unsuccessful at
            bringing businesses down there."

            Goldman bought the two-bedroom condo for $770,000 in 2007. She most recently paid $203.62 in DDA taxes. She said she
            wouldn't mind paying the additional tax if she felt she was benefiting from it.

            "If the 200 bucks that I pay the DDA went to them to buy a lot and make the parking $5 bucks, we would see twice the traffic
            downtown," she said. "It is very difficult to get people to use downtown as long as they don't have affordable parking. When you
            go to Manhattan, you know you have to pay to be there, but look at what Manhattan has to offer."

            DDA executive director Alyce Robertson agrees her agency has to do a better job connecting with the area's residents.

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            "We need to know better what residents want," she said. "One of our initiatives this year is to reach out to them."

            The nonprofit Downtown Miami Partnership, which helps oversee the DDA's incentive programs, hosts a networking meeting
            every quarter at a different restaurant so residents and businesses get to know each other, said the group' executive director Josie
            Correa. The authority helps pay for that event, she added.

            Though the events may be modest, Brownlow tries not to miss any.

            "I think they should expand that event and start talking about issues relevant to downtown Miami," said Brownlow, who also said
            he was not familiar with the Downtown Development Authority. "The event could be a springboard into some type of community
            activism to help improve downtown or get input from citizens in term of what we would like to see different."

            Brad Knoefler
            697 N Miami Ave. Loft # 2
            Miami, FL 33136
            (T) +1 (305) 527-7332
            (F) +1 (305) 402-0311

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