One of South Beach’s landmark streets has faded and lost some of the charm that helped make it a cornerstone in the tourist mecca.
Many say that Lincoln Road needs help. A mishmash of outdoor cafe tables clutters the sidewalk and leaves a nonlinear path for pedestrians. Notable architectural features are obscured and feel like more of an afterthought than a centerpiece. Even the pavement, including the iconic black-and-white piano key pattern that runs along the center of the road and needs to be repainted every year, gets waterlogged after heavy rains.
While Lincoln Road remains an attraction mostly to tourists looking for a place to shop and eat, the outdoor promenade has some stiff regional competition from neighborhoods that weren’t marquee entertainment destinations in years past.
“Wynwood didn’t exist. Brickell didn’t exist. Midtown didn’t exist,” said Cem Onur, owner of Nexxt Cafe at the road’s intersection with Euclid Avenue. He’s watched other local districts become hip while Lincoln Road gets left behind. “This is growing old. Lincoln Road needs a facelift.”
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City Hall feels the same way, so it commissioned a renowned landscape architecture firm to dream up a new vision for the mall. Last year, James Corner Field Operations presented a lush reimagination for the public space. It features redesigned planters with seating carved out along the edges, a reorganization of cafe tables toward the center to create a streamlined experience for pedestrians, and better lighting, among other upgrades.
The entire design is supposed to envision the future of Lincoln Road over the next 20 years — and it may take that long to implement. Cost estimates for the first phase of work between Lennox and Washington avenues surpass the city’s $20 million budget for that phase by about $19 million.
The city and businesses are talking about how to prioritize the must-have improvements and set aside the work that is desired but not a necessity for later on. The goal is to get shovels in the ground by April 2018.
Paving, drainage and lighting
The mixture of stores and restaurants dictates much of Lincoln Road’s atmosphere and clientele, but there’s not much the city can do about high rents and the flight of locally owned establishments followed by the influx of big-box chains.
But where the public land can be improved, Adrian Morales sees an opportunity to clean things up.
“The pavement is tired. We need upgrades to the drainage,” said Morales, who manages Lincoln Road for City Hall. “And there’s another priority in lighting.”
A major theme in the James Corner vision is to celebrate the original look and feel of the mall that, at times, can get lost in the visual clutter. Morris Lapidus, a Miami architect known for designing classic Miami Modern hotels like the Eden Roc and Fontainebleau, designed the space with its signature black and white piano keys and a collection of shade structures, planters, fountains and a bandshell at Euclid Avenue.
Given its budget restraints, the city has placed a high priority on elements such as the piano key pavement. Each year, the pattern needs a fresh paint job. This has grown costly over time. The project calls for colored concrete to be poured, meaning upkeep will require only pressure washing.
Another priority: Reorganization of sidewalk cafe tables. Right now, tables with umbrellas jut out from storefronts and the center spine of the road at different points. The plan calls for tables to be grouped toward the center to open up storefronts and create a more consistent pedestrian experience across the mall.
It needs some better landscaping.
Ahmet Demir, owner of Groovy’s Pizza and Bar
Restaurateurs worry that they may lose some tables in the reorganization, including David Rodriguez, pastry chef for Sugar Factory at Euclid Avenue. His business pays the city to place tables under the bandshell near the “Euclid Oval,” a raised grassy feature where kids like to play.
With the movement of tables and increased use of the bandshell as a performance space, Rodriguez might not have the same capacity after construction.
Still, he told the Miami Herald he thought it was worth it in the long run if the improvement creates a more steady stream of visitors to keep his remaining tables full.
“It will be a headache,” he said. “But it will bring more people in.”
Morales said the city intends to keep the same number of tables while rearranging them and creating a more cohesive look among the umbrellas.
Israel Mendez, shopkeeper at Goorin Bros. Hat Shop, said just the drainage improvements would go a long way. He sees visitors zigzagging to avoid puddles after heavy rains.
“I like the idea of creating this clean look for Lincoln Road,” he said.
Many businesses succeed on Lincoln Road with a largely tourist customer base that is supplemented by local regulars. Part of the goal of the master plan and renovation is to attract more local families to the mall.
Part of that is tied to physical improvements. With more public spaces, like areas for public art and performance spaces, the local business association wants to market local cultural events to attract locals.
$20 million Miami Beach’s budget for first phase of improvements to Lincoln Road
Sitting outside Groovy’s Pizza and Bar, owner Ahmet Demir estimated 75 percent of his business comes from tourists, and the rest from locals.
“It has kind of kicked locals away,” he said. “It’s become more for tourists.”
As he looked around at the evening crowd, he said any physical improvements would help create an attractive environment for local families.
Nearby, over at Books & Books between Jefferson and Michigan avenues, manager Nalani Anderko said she’d like to see more activities for children .
The Lincoln Road Business Improvement District, a special taxing district property owners created last year to market the road, will soon begin promoting events. Steven Gombinski, president of the Lincoln Road Property Owners Association, said the plan is welcomed by owners and will dovetail nicely with the district’s plans to promote the mall and bring entertainment.
“The James Corner Field Operations plan provided cost-effective and robust solutions that have been warmly embraced by our residents,” he said in a statement. “That plan will not only redefine Lincoln Road, bringing arts and culture back for its resident, but its modern lighting and pavement design will substantially reduce future maintenance costs.”
The renovations are in the design phase, with construction of phase one expected to start in April 2018.
Some of the lush renovations to planters and fountains are less of a priority for the city, so they may not be realized until later. The second phase of the plan, which is not budgeted yet and doesn’t have a target date, includes more dramatic changes to the alleys directly north and south of the road — like bike lanes and opening up businesses onto those sidewalks.
The staging of construction will be another concern for merchants as access to businesses could be impacted.
“I think in the long run, it’s going to benefit everyone,” said Onur, owner of Nexxt Cafe.