Rocked by scandal and delayed for more than a decade, the construction of a long-sought Liberty City transit hub that will also offer shopping and affordable housing is finally under way.
Workers are steering bulldozers and wielding wrecking balls, tearing down what remains of 13 decayed businesses in a run-down neighborhood that for decades has fought crime, drugs and worn-out roads.
The goal: To combine transit, retail and housing into one liveable urban village where people can eat, shop, live and hop on public transportation. Planners hope to create enough pedestrian traffic to return at least one small section of Liberty City to the glory days of the 60s and 70s, when it was one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in all of Miami.
I was raised there. This used to be such a thriving intersection, and it just fell under, said Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who has fought to build the village since she took office in 2005.
Back in the day, the busy Seventh Avenue corridor near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, where the transit village will be built, boasted a Byrons department store, tailor shops, photography studios, a Fredericks of Hollywood and a Winn-Dixie supermarket.
Those stores are gone now and pedestrian traffic almost non-existent, thanks mostly to the construction of Interstate 95 in the 70s, and the 1980 McDuffie riots, when Miamis urban core was torn to shreds and burned down after a group of police officers who beat motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie to death were acquitted at trial.
Now, almost 15 years since former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek set her sights on revitalization, and six years since the plan was put on hold after the countys inspector general accused the former developer of questionable billing practices, one block is about to get a much-needed makeover.
The $54 million project is located between Northwest Sixth Court and Seventh Avenue, and 61st and 62nd streets. When complete, by the end of next year, its five bus bays will serve as a major transfer site with shuttles to downtown Miami and Metrorail stations. It will also have a large transit office for ticket buyers.
Aside from transportation, the complex will include a 22,000-square-foot playhouse theater for small productions, 8,000 square feet on the ground floor for retail, and more than 160 affordable apartments on the second floor that will rent for between $280 and $853 a month.
Its going to be the catalyst and economic driver in this corridor, Edmonson said.
Getting everyone on board with the project hasnt been easy.
Before development plans were set in stone, Miami-Dade and the Carlisle Development Group partners on the project had to get the 13 property owners on the block to sell, and work out agreements with some of their tenants.
One shop keeper who had been there for decades refused to move, demanding $5 million, then $2 million, said Kenneth Naylor, chief operating officer of Carlisle. When the city of Miami finally declared the shoe-repair shop, which was on county-owned property, an unsafe structure, the retailer left and Carlisle tore it down.
Then there are Rafael Koblence and Markera Galustyants, owners of three pieces of property facing Seventh Avenue, two of them empty, the other a barber shop known as a community fixture. So far theyve refused to sell. At one point, Koblence said, the sides had agreed on a deal for $2.1 million, but when Carlisle came back with an offer of $620,000 due to a lowered property assessment, it only angered the duo.