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Great cities invest in great public spaces

 

As a steward of publicly owned land, the city of Miami has flopped badly. The downtown waterfront, once a postcard-worthy stretch of parks and green space, is now a sea of concrete and glitter — Bayside Marketplace; a parking garage; AmericanAirlines Arena (which hasn’t shared the profits city leaders expected); and Museum Park, with its promised greenspace component greatly reduced. Nearby, the waterfront Jungle Island theme park is years behind in lease payments. And not far away, on land provided free, Marlins Park sits largely empty, its promise as an economic catalyst as elusive as a winning season.

It’s no surprise Miami ranks last among metropolitan areas in public park land, per capita. This sad legacy of botched and misinformed land deals frames the pitched battle in Coconut Grove over the fate of seven areas of waterfront property on historic Dinner Key.

City officials say the Grove Bay Investment Group’s development will revitalize this gritty tract of working waterfront with new restaurants, shops, enhanced marina facilities and a multi-level parking garage. The group pledges to invest $18 million and pay the city $1.4 million annually for at least 50 years.

Opponents are skeptical. They say the long-term lease — negotiated with the project’s only bidder — remains vague on specifics. Indeed, officials acknowledge that conceptual plans and drawings remain just that — conceptual, with changes permissible to the design, tenants and usage. Equally ephemeral may be the development team itself, which secured a provision to sell the lease at any time. Residents have grown cynical over the bait-and-switch land-use game practiced so often in Miami.

But such arguments misdirect the debate. Voters should consider the Grove Bay development plan not as an alternative to Coconut Grove’s existing waterfront, but as an alternative to a grander vision for what could be, and should be, within what is arguably one of the most coveted public parcels in America. Great cities invest in great public spaces, building vibrant, shared meeting grounds for residents and visitors alike. It’s hard to imagine how another Shula’s Steakhouse can be part of that formula.

Sadly, Grove Bay reflects a consistent policy for managing under-utilized public lands in the city of Miami: lease it to developers, trading the responsibilities of stewardship for quick money. But as history shows, such agreements rarely meet expectations. Let’s start over with a more inclusive, visionary process for bringing life to this irreplaceable seven acres of waterfront land in Coconut Grove. Voters should vote No on Nov. 5.

David Villano,

Community Coalition, Miami

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