Lincoln Road master plan for ‘transformative’ improvements in the face of peril of delays and budget cuts
Six years and multiple cost reductions later, plans to modernize Lincoln Road have come to naught and now renowned landscape designer and urban planner James Corner says his company “will have to pull out of the project” if a resolution fails. can be found to go ahead. In a heavily worded letter to Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, city commissioners and city manager Alina Hudak, Corner highlighted “some significant challenges” in moving the project forward following a $ 77 million budget cut. dollars to $ 50 million.
The Corner company, known for the High Line in New York and the new Underline in Miami, has created what is known as the James Corner Master Plan for Lincoln Road. The master plan included larger sidewalks, new landscaping, and proposed transforming lanes into pedestrian walkways to expand retail and dining opportunities and better integrate cafe terraces with pedestrian and shopping areas.
The scope and vision expanded over time to include the 200 to 300 blocks and connectors on Drexel and Meridian avenues, from Lincoln Road to the Convention Center and the New World Symphony and Soundscape Park. Blocks 200 to 300 were then cut and the portion of Drexel Avenue was reduced as part of the cost reductions approved in 2019.
Meanwhile, COVID put the project on hold when then city manager Jimmy Morales said he didn’t want to further disrupt reopening businesses that needed time to recover.
Since then, the Lincoln Road Business Improvement District (BID), which represents landowners, James Corner and the city have discussed how best to get the project on track. Frustration with the lack of progress, however, motivated Corner’s letter this week.
“We have been working in good faith for over a year with the City and have proposed various constructive ways forward, and yet we continue to face obstacles and do not believe that the current direction makes sense nor recommended, ”he wrote.
“Scope, budget and details are neither achievable nor aligned.” Although Corner said his team “had tried to work with the city to identify problems and develop solutions,” their suggestions were “rejected by the city, and we were instructed to move forward according to the statement. previous direction. This makes no sense and is riddled with issues that will arise during implementation. “
Corner shared the concerns expressed to the City in two notes from May 2019 and March 2021, concerns “which are frankly still relevant,” he noted.
“Please keep in mind that this project started over 6 years ago, in April 2015. The process included extensive community outreach, engagement with residents, business owners and tenants, as well as permits and approvals with many municipal agencies, ”Corner wrote. “We have completed a set of fully developed design and construction documents for the entire project since February 2020. The new direction is primarily an aesthetic renovation and still requires significant redesign, construction documentation and approvals.”
“I am writing this letter to you because this project is important. We have worked hard and in good collaboration with the City and the community. Lincoln Road has a great heritage and deserves a carefully considered transformation for the future, ”he said. “I hope you can revisit this letter and the two attached previous notes that describe in more detail the issues at stake, and that together we can try to forge a positive plan. If we cannot come to a resolution, I am afraid we will have to withdraw from the project. “
In the memo at the start of the year, Isabel Castilla, Director of Field Operations at James Corner, wrote: “During our work on this project since 2015, we said it was important to ensure that the The scope of the Lincoln Road renovation, however small, is transformative. impact for the City, businesses, residents and visitors. “
“We understand the City’s goal of minimizing disruption caused by construction; however, we are concerned that the limited range is primarily a matter of repairs and cosmetic upgrades rather than actual upgrades that will make a significant difference in terms of how Lincoln Road looks, feels and functions, ”she writes. “The proposed work will still be in fact disruptive and expensive, yet the ad hoc approach will have very little impact beyond the new coats of paint and hidden utilities. This is not the transformative vision that everyone initially envisioned when we were interviewed and selected for the design. “
The cost estimates, she noted, were developed in 2018 and are “likely out of date” and do not include some items added to the scope, including a playground.
To meet the City’s goals of minimizing construction disruption and keeping costs within the approved budget of $ 50M, the firm proposed a phased approach starting with pedestrianization of Drexel Avenue which would have limited impact. on contractors while conducting a feasibility and cost study to assess the new scope of work, additional work that may be required due to the changes and confirm a construction budget that is within the approved expenses of the City.
In the May 2019 memo, Corner describes the reduced scope, including a smaller focus area, reducing material quality, eliminating sidewalk replacement and improvements along storefronts, eliminating 200 to 300 blocks. and the reduction on Drexel Avenue.
“Considerable time and expense went into creating a cohesive master plan that was negotiated and supported by the City, residents, business owners and tenants,” Corner wrote. “We are very concerned that the revised plan that the Capital Improvement Team gave us to implement deals only with cosmetic renovations and does not address any of the practical, technical and operational aspects of Lincoln Road. The proposed $ 50 million renovation is primarily aesthetic and not at all transformative. “
Specifically, he noted, the outdoor cafe spaces would remain the same “with no newly designated areas, reorganization or additional space,” as “the shade trees are drastically reduced in number, with none on the sidewalks. of the promenade ”and“ lighting is installed in only in existing locations and will fail to provide adequate lighting. “
The sidewalks of the storefronts would remain because they are “worn out, patched up and broken in many places,” he said.
He lamented the loss of “[a] iconic new walkway and shading feature – the 400 block Trellis ”(rendered above) which he says is important to“ the overall rebranding and branding of the Lincoln Road “walkway” . “
Corner expressed concern that “a clear path for emergency vehicles is not provided”, that “pedestrian crossings at street intersections remain as they are today and are not reconfigured for improved safety ”and that“ the paving of cross slopes does not meet ADA requirements ”.
In addition, he noted, “the drainage capacity / function is neither increased nor improved.”
As a compromise to give the street a boost while minimizing costs, Corner proposed to add the signature trellis feature while reducing costs in other areas.
Two years later, frustration grew with little progress being made, prompting Corner to indicate that he would withdraw from the project if a “positive plan for the future” could not be agreed.
Lincoln Road BID President Lyle Stern responded to Corner’s latest communication in an email to RE: MiamiBeach.
“I’m not sure the city has contacted the Lincoln Road BID on this matter. However, the memo speaks for itself, ”he wrote. “That said, we are a city that prides itself on spectacular public spaces and that’s what Lincoln Road is. A public rhythm. Our city will have to decide what community impact it wants to invest in, as that will likely be the only investment over the next 25 to 30 years.
“As more beautiful places and public spaces are being built in the bay, I hope we choose to make what amounts to approximately 7 acres of lush pedestrian space, a beautiful place for our residents and guests. “, did he declare.
“Lincoln Road is a public space,” Stern said. “It does not belong to the adjacent owners.” He compared it to South Pointe Park as a public amenity with its “significant cultural institutions” including the New World Symphony, Miami New Drama, and South Florida Arts Center “and surrounded by spectacular and significant historic buildings.” With 11 million visitors a year and landscaping “curated by Fairchild Tropical Gardens,” Stern wrote, “in many ways our ‘Central Park’ is visited more frequently than any other park in our community. Along with our beaches, this is often what visitors think of when they think of Miami Beach. “
Stern echoed Corner’s point that the master plan was “the product of hundreds of hours of workshops and community meetings in which the citizens of our community, especially the surrounding neighborhoods, provided solid advice to people. leaders of our city. The guide to driving was that everyone wanted a spectacular and energized public space.
“Much of the corner plan includes the improvements required by the City: stormwater drainage, irrigation, lighting, roadway improvements,” said Stern. “Others deal with connectivity, as in the case of a boulevard that connects our Convention Center to Lincoln Road and Espanola Way, Washington Avenue, Ocean Drive and beyond. A wider Meridian Avenue promenade that creates wider cycle lanes, shaded sidewalks and reduces the impact of traffic. It’s not a Lincoln Road issue – it’s a quality of life issue for the leaders of our city. The citizens of our community have invested a lot of time in this plan. The difference in cost, taking into account in particular the sources of funding available, the property tax contribution of the Lincoln Road buildings, the necessary improvements to public space and the recognition that these improvements will frame this district for the next 30 years (such as the last improvement) is negligible. “
“As the flow of wealth migration continues, likely new residents as well as office, retail and restaurant tenants (as we see with Starwood World Headquarters) will be making decisions about where to live. according to the public spaces of a community. It really is a question of leadership, vision and listening. Our community has spoken before, ”Stern concluded.
City spokesperson Melissa Berthier responded by email to a survey asking for comment on Corner’s memo: “The city will assess the consultant’s position and deal with it in the coming weeks.
Renderings: James Corner Field Operations