After several University of Miami students have been killed or seriously injured trying to cross busy U. S. 1 to get to popular retail spots on the other side, Miami-Dade County has finally approved building a Mediterranean-styled pedestrian bridge across the highway.
But the project has come to a standstill after the owner of the mall, University Centre, has refused to cooperate.
The county has offered the owner $1.85 million to compensate for the loss of five parking spaces needed to anchor the bridge across the street from the Metrorail station and the nearby UM. In addition, the county has offered the strip center owner 10 parking spaces at the Metrorail station across South Dixie Highway.
The mall owner has not budged.
Toby Brigham, an attorney representing the owner, said the placement of the overpass at that corner would block the mall’s visibility and its signage, hurting business.
“That’s a critical point where the driveways curve,” Brigham said. “Things like that in today’s economy, in competition with other shopping centers who are not similarly blighted, can make a huge difference.”
The mall’s stance has angered UM President Donna Shalala, who has taken her fight to the Coral Gables city commission and to the public.
“The county has made a fair offer in our judgment, the owner has basically rejected it and, as you can imagine, has hired a lawyer,’’ she said. “We have had students killed, seriously injured. Ponce de Leon [Middle School] uses that Metro stop and needs that bridge. . .. I’m now at the point this is unconscionable. We’ve got to get this done.”
Since 1989, eight UM students have been struck by vehicles while attempting to cross U.S. 1 around Mariposa Court, the intersection of the shopping center.
Three of the students died. They were: Eric Adams in 1990, Aaron Baber in 1998 and Ashley Kelly in April 2005. Kelly was hit by an SUV while walking to T.G.I. Friday’s with a friend to meet potential roommates.
The most recent incident involving a UM student was in April 2012 when Eliza Gresh was struck by a hit-and-run driver in South Miami and injured while attempting to cross U.S. 1 at Southwest 57th Avenue.
After nearly eight years, the county has approved the project. About $6 million in funding at the state and federal level has been allocated, and a Mediterranean-style overpass has been designed.
“This has been a long-term project and it’s absolutely imperative, not because it adds an aesthetic value, but because it adds a component of safety to the residents of Coral Gables, a large number of whom are UM students,” said Nawara Alawa, student government president. “This is not just a project benefiting the university.”
But Miami-Dade County can’t begin construction because it hasn’t acquired the five parking spaces in the northeast corner of the University Centre parking lot needed to place the eastern pedestal of the bridge. The center is on the eastern side of the highway.
Shalala expressed her frustration over the hold-up to the Coral Gables commission at the December State of the City/University of Miami meeting.
“We, of course, believe that the University Centre would not be there without our students and staff using all of those shops heavily,’’ Shalala said.