The strategy reflects the fact that most of the land along both sides of the 5-mile length of the river is privately owned, with only relatively small sections in public hands.
On private land, city law requires developers to install public walkways when they build. The real estate boom led to a string of successes, including the city-subsidized, art-filled walkway, built by developer the Related Group, that wraps around the north bank of the river’s mouth and connects to a portion of existing bay walk that extends to Bayside Marketplace.
After years of delay, the state also finally built and inaugurated a new park at the Miami Circle, the prehistoric site of a Tequesta Indian ceremonial structure whose circular foundation gave the places its name. The site, at the south side of the river’s mouth, has a river walk that connects at the east with the Icon Brickell bay walk and terminates at the west at the Brickell Bridge.
As developers filled in their river walk pieces, they typically also added restaurant space open to the public promenade. That has lured numerous restaurants to the river, beginning to fulfill another principal goal of the plan: to establish new businesses and attract tourists and locals alike to the city’s waterfront. The river commission now counts 18 operating restaurants on or just off the river, including familiar veterans like Garcia’s Seafood and one of the city’s hottest celebrity magnets, Zuma, at Epic.
One of the newest, Capriccio on the River, just four months old, opens to a terrace and promenade on the water behind the Brickell on the River condo tower. It’s the second restaurant owned by an Italian-Venezuelan family that established a following with a Doral restaurant of the same name. They picked the location because of its potential — even though the building’s river walk for now is cut off on both ends.
“If you connect it, that would be awesome, as well as good for business,’’ said Capriccio operator and family member Mauro Valentini, who has big plans for docking permits so that patrons can arrive by boat for Sunday brunch.
There are several reasons for the persisting gaps.
The financial crash that followed the condo boom left a series of holes as projects stalled.
Older developments — such as the squat office building housing the Capital Grille on Brickell Avenue — often don’t have space for the walkways and turn their backs to the water.
And because most new development has occurred downtown or just west of it, the river greenway, which is meant to some day extend along both banks all the way to Miami International Airport, doesn’t exist west of the Justice complex by the State Road 836 overpass, where the river turns increasingly industrial in nature.
Some developers have not fully lived up to their promises, Martin and others say.
The developers of Epic, planned as a two-tower project, installed an attractive river walk when its hotel went up. Its Zuma restaurant, which has an open terrace along the promenade, has been so successful that its operators want to extend its outdoor seating to the underside of the Brickell Bridge, which they hope to transform into a cutting-edge dining space flanking a revamped river walk section.
But the developer, Ugo Colombo, has not complied with a city order to vacate and demolish a temporary sales building located on adjacent land where the second, unbuilt tower was to go. Martin and other critics complain the sales center, which appears to be used as a facility for Epic’s marina, is obstructing a critical greenway connection, forcing pedestrians to detour on a narrow sidewalk along Biscayne Boulevard Way.