December 22, 2014

Redevelopmenrt

Civic Pride

A city/university partnership is working to make over Miami's civic center neighborhood.

David Villano | 1/1/2005
The area around the Miami Civic Center near downtown is a beehive of activity by day and a ghost town by night. The causes are many: Few restaurants and retail shops, a dearth of green space, not many reasons to linger and a fear of crime.

That may soon change. The Miami Partnership, a collaboration between the city and the University of Miami, is working to transform the area into a place where people live, work and play in a compact urban zone.

The civic center is located in a dense area just northwest of Miami's central business district. The area is home to Jackson Memorial Hospital, the University of Miami School of Medicine, the courthouse and a slew of other healthcare and municipal service providers. Each day, about 26,000 workers -- with an average salary of about $50,000 -- commute in from the suburbs.

"Great place to work, but why would anybody want to live there?" admits Sergio Rodriguez, vice president for real estate, campus planning and construction at the University of Miami. "We want to create a place where people feel comfortable, a place with restaurants, and night life, schools and parks."

The Miami Partnership grew from a 2002 study by the design and planning firm EDAW describing the area as a chaotic collection of buildings and roadways. Poorly designed traffic flow and inadequate public transportation, the study added, discouraged residential development. A number of recommendations -- from wider sidewalks to better lighting -- are being implemented.

Developers are taking notice. In October, the Miami Partnership sponsored a housing fair where prospective residents reviewed plans for high-rise towers and other high-density projects. More than 4,000 people attended. Officials also are working to attract restaurants, retailers and the kinds of services that make a community sustainable.

The university's ambition is not borne entirely of altruism. The School of Medicine is in the midst of a major expansion. A 350,000-sq.-ft. research building is under construction; ground will be broken on an even larger one later this year. Making the area more inviting will help the university attract and retain top researchers and physicians.

"We're making a major investment there, so we're thinking about a lot more than just putting up buildings," says University of Miami President Donna Shalala, placing the price tag on current and future university construction in the area at about $1 billion. "Creating a community is very, very important to us."

Tags: Miami-Dade

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