Q: When you came into your current position, downtown’s condos were ghost towers, and real estate soothsayers predicted it would take years for them to fill. Now the place is buzzing. What caused the change?
We owe our thanks to the private sector that had the foresight to build vertically and create the level of urban development we have today. More than $13 billion was invested in housing and commercial development during the real estate boom. Many criticized Miami for its overbuilding but the old adage of ‘if you build it, they will come’ certainly rang true.... Today, [condo occupancy] stands at more than 95 percent, with more new construction underway in the urban core than anywhere else in South Florida.
Q: Pretty much everyone complains about the traffic downtown (well, everywhere, but especially downtown.) New projects like the two museums, Brickell CitiCentre and the new Zaha Hadid-designed condo planned near the Arena are undoubtedly going to make the streets even more clogged. What’s the answer?
Since Miami developed as a city after the advent of the automobile, the vision for growth hinged on suburban sprawl as opposed to urban density. Today that’s changing....As a result, we’re seeing more sustainable practices such as the use of public transit and more pedestrian-friendly activities. While it isn’t a perfect system, downtown Miami has one of the most robust public transit systems in the entire state. Metrorail is now connected to the Miami International Airport and the new Biscayne/Brickell trolley is serving as an enhancement to other options such as the Metromover. And in a few short years, All Aboard Florida will connect downtown Miami to Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. These amenities won’t entirely solve our traffic problem, but it will certainly be a big improvement.
Q: What kind of effect, if any, has the Miami Heat’s success had on downtown?
The Heat, with “The Big Three,” are obviously a huge draw and have made a tremendous economic impact on downtown Miami. That said, the DDA has worked overtime over the past two years in sending the message that the Miami Heat actually play in downtown Miami, as opposed to South Beach. ...The national broadcast stations that cover the NBA refer to downtown Miami now as opposed to the Beach. And major corporations like BMW are using our skyline and city streets as backdrops for ad campaigns.
Q: Downtown is a long way from Sun Life Stadium. From the perspective of downtown development, does it matter whether the Super Bowl comes to Miami?
There are approximately 6,600 rooms in downtown Miami. If the Super Bowl is awarded in 2016, we need all hands on deck to welcome the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl. The international publicity alone is worth hosting the Super Bowl, so we need to make it happen. As far as competing events, I look to community leaders to come together and make this event happen for Miami and South Florida as a whole.
Q: What’s your vision of what downtown could and should be in five years?
I want to see downtown Miami fulfill its vision as a world class, global city on the water. To continue on this trajectory, we need to expand its global reach into new and emerging markets such as technology, finance, arts and culture. There is a lot of traction already underway in this regard, with programs such as Launch Pad Tech, an accelerator program created in partnership between the University of Miami, [Miami-Dade County] and the Miami DDA, fostering a startup and entrepreneurial culture that is helping drive innovation and diversify Miami’s economy. Additionally, major mixed-use and public works projects underway — from the Miami International Airport and Port of Miami expansions, to Brickell CitiCentre and Museum Park — are helping to elevate the stature of our city, putting it on the map as a major international destination.