Downtown Miami has made more progress over the past decade than any other neighborhood in South Florida, and perhaps the nation. After years of taking a back seat to South Beach, downtown is now a destination in its own right. A new MLS soccer stadium and expanded Museum Park will build on that progress.
I launched my first downtown business, Metro Beauty Center, in the mid-1990s and quickly realized that the area was overly dependent on Latin American tourists. Years later, we opened the doors to La Loggia restaurant and Churchill’s Barber Shop, both of which catered to the area’s business base.
My newest restaurant, Tre Italian Bistro, began serving guests during the depths of the recession and I have since watched downtown evolve into a lively residential and commercial district from the vantage point of a resident and business owner.
Today, more than 45 percent of our sales come from nights and weekends, a good indicator of downtown’s 24-hour, seven-day-a-week appeal. Likewise, Metro Beauty Center & Churchill’s Barber Shop experience their busiest days on Saturdays.
For all the progress our urban core has made, there remains a pressing need for more parks and public spaces that cater to the growing number of residents. This is an issue I have championed as a Miami Downtown Development Authority board member — and one that is critical to improving the street-level experience in downtown.
The addition of museums is a major step forward for the city, but the vision of an adjacent destination park remains a pipe dream beause of a lack of funding. Plans for an elaborate park created almost 10 years ago have been shelved in favor of a lawn dotted with trees and crisscrossed by concrete walkways.
Fortunately, the city has been presented with a realistic solution to this problem. Converting two of downtown’s most inactive sites — the FEC slip along Biscayne Boulevard and Parcel B behind AmericanAirlines Arena — into a continuous waterfront park surrounding a soccer venue is central to a new proposal by David Beckham’s MLS ownership group.
Expanding Museum Park with almost five acres of open land along the water would create new public spaces while connecting our museums with Bayfront Park and Brickell Avenue to the south. These new amenities will draw more people to downtown by activating public properties that have sat lifeless for more than 30 years and granting access to stretches of bay front that are now off-limits.
Forget for a moment that David Beckham and his partners are offering to build a professional soccer stadium and fulfill the vision of Museum Park without taxpayer dollars. When investors want to come to our city with bold plans to spend their own money on worthy projects, politicians should embrace the opportunity.
For all the excitement surrounding the new museums, the Miami Heat and the billions of dollars in new investment pouring into the urban core, I have yet to see the level of enthusiasm that the promise of an MLS soccer team has sparked on the streets of downtown.
Soccer, more than any other sport, is meant to be played in an urban setting. Matches are played continuously without interruption, meaning fans typically forego lines at concession stands in favor of eating and drinking before and after the game. The critical mass of restaurants and bars cropping up in and around downtown lends itself to the fan experience.
Travel to cities across Europe and South America and you will find that many of the world’s great urban centers are situated around world-class museums, destination parks and iconic stadiums.
Building a privately funded soccer stadium and expanded park alongside our new museums would be a major step forward for downtown and our community as a whole. The fact that Miami voters will have the final say in approving these plans, unlike the Marlins stadium fiasco, makes this proposal all the more attractive.
José Goyanes is a member of the Miami Downtown Development Authority board and is a downtown property owner.