Miami-Dade County

What would Miami build with $58 million the city wants to borrow? Here’s the list

Downtown Miami
Downtown Miami

Note: Miami commissioners approved this initial list of projects at their Dec. 13 meeting. The plan passed in 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Joe Carollo opposing.

A re-imagined waterfront along flood-prone Brickell Bay Drive. Renovated playgrounds in Overtown and Allapattah. Upgrades to nearly four miles of some of the worst roads in Miami.

City administrators have released a long-awaited list of the first round of improvements to be funded by the $400 million Forever Bond, approved by voters in the November 2017 election. Voters gave their government permission to borrow money on the municipal bond market and use a new property tax to pay for a range of public projects across the city.

The bond passed as an outgoing victory of then-mayor Tomas Regalado. With the election of Mayor Francis Suarez came a change to city hall’s administration. Under new City Manager Emilio Gonzalez, a mix of new and old administrators set about devising a list of projects in five categories promised to voters:

$192 million for anti-flooding pumps, seawall improvements, drainage upgrades and other adaptation projects in the face of sea level rise.

$100 million for affordable housing and economic development.

$78 million for parks and cultural facilities.

$23 million for road improvements.

$7 million for public safety.

Now, city commissioners will on Dec. 13 consider borrowing $58 million for the first round of work. About $43.6 million would go to a slew of projects including road repaving, parks improvements, a renovated fire station in Flagami and 50 valves that prevent water from flowing backward up drainage pipes into city streets. Another $15 million would pay for new affordable housing projects and a single-family home rehabilitation program meant to keep people in their homes even as they face pressure from developers — particularly for property on high ground that is expected to become more valuable as the sea level rises.

“The administration has been diligent in identifying these specific projects,” Suarez told the Miami Herald. “They’ve been working with the commissioners. The projects have been selected based on need and based on what is a priority — but of course, in conjunction and in communication with the commissioners.”

Steve Williamson, director of capital improvements and the manager for the Forever bond, said the first batch of projects include work that city department heads have planned for a while and neighborhoods have discussed. Because some of the projects are ready for shovels to hit the ground, work can begin in the first few months of 2019.

“These projects just didn’t come out of thin air,” Williamson said. “These were projects that the directors have been working on for a long time. They’ve been working with the community.”

Flooding and sea level rise

Part of this funding includes $10.3 million toward fighting sea level rise, although city staffers were quick to point out these projects avoid the major drainage basins of the city, which require larger scale solutions and will be addressed with the ongoing stormwater master plan.

Williamson said with more details from the stormwater planners, the city can use bond money to pursue outside funding and matching dollars to pay for sea rise projects.

“We also want to make sure that we can leverage other people’s money,” he said. “If we spend too much money upfront, we lose that possibility.”

Miami Beach has put into action an aggressive and expensive plan to combat the effects of sea level rise. The city is rolling out its plan of attack and will spend between $400-$500 million over the next five years doing so.

The marquee project in the group is the sea-rise friendly revamp of Brickell Bay Drive, a low-lying coastal stretch of road that was swamped with storm surge in Hurricane Irma. If approved, this group of bond projects would include a million dollars toward a new design for the road, which could include a living shoreline or a park. Suarez said the city would seek matching funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.

“It’s needed, and the residents have been asking for it,” he said. “It would protect thousands of people.”

Jose Marti Park, a flood-prone area on the Miami River in east Little Havana, is also up for nearly a million dollars to study and design a plan to make the historic park more resilient. The city has a matching $60,000 grant from the Van Alen Institute, which helped Miami prepare the design solicitation, and plans to seek out a grant to cover construction costs.

Williamson said the money toward designing improvements at Brickell Bay Drive and at Jose Marti Park will set standards for how the city upgrades waterfront areas in the face of sea rise.

“How do we do it on the bay side? Brickell Bay Drive. How do we do it riverside? Jose Marti Park,” he said.

The largest chunk of money would go to installing one-way valves, which allow water to flow out of drainage pipes but prevent water from backing up and spewing into the streets when tides get too high. The city would spend $2.5 million on about 50 of these valves, said Alan Dodd, director of resilience and public works. Depending on the size, he said they can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000, so the exact number this funding will pay for is unclear.

Dodd said the city has about 300 locations that need a valve installed, but there’s not a list of where these newly funded valves will be installed.

“It’s going to be places where we have historic King Tide flooding,” he said.

The rest of the funding includes $1.8 million toward a new drainage pump station in Fairview, small drainage repairs in 50 areas (including installing new drains or repairing broken infrastructure) as well as another $1.8 million toward a road reconstruction and drainage repair on Northwest 17th Street from 27th Avenue to 32nd Avenue.


From fixing sidewalks to replacing roofs to upgrading playgrounds, $25.3 million will pay for improvements in Miami’s public parks. Nearly $2.8 million would fund playground renovations at Juan Pablo Duarte Park in Allapattah, Henry Reeves Park in Overtown, Bryan Park in Shenandoah, Mary Brickell Park and others.

A host of parks across the city would get repaired sidewalks and ADA accessibility upgrades, along with new roofs for facilities. The city would put $1 million toward a new 6,000-square-foot community center at Douglas Park in Coconut Grove, $6.8 million for a gym at Moore Park in Allapattah, a little more than $2 million for brand new parks in East Little Havana and the Roads.

city3 commission lnew cmg
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, right, chats with City Manager Emilio Gonzalez during the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. C.M. GUERRERO

Staffers tasked with developing priorities while trying to please their bosses — a commission made up of five politicians elected to represent different districts across Miami — said they tried to balance administrative priorities with the feedback from commissioners.

“The commissioners agreed that these are important things to have in tranche one,” said Gonzalez, the city manager. “This is not the 100 percent solution for everybody, and I think we got consensus on that. I’m sure that there will be commissioners that will say, ‘Gee I’d like to have a little bit more of this, a little bit more of that.’ But overall, in our briefings with them, they’re cognizant of the fact that we got to get out of the chute. This is step one.”

Public safety and roads

Public safety represents the smallest piece of the bond pie, with $7 million approved by voters. The first group of funding includes $420,000 for the planning and design of an upgraded fire station No. 10 at 4101 NW Seventh St. The second round of bonds will pay for construction.

“It impacts response time. It impacts safety,” Williamson said. “Not only that, but it impacts the morale of our firefighters.”

About $7.6 million would pay for a smattering of road improvements across Miami in this initial round of work, with 3.8 miles of some of the city’s worst streets taking priority, with one exception — roads that are inside the areas being studied for the stormwater master plan. Those streets won’t be considered for work until after the study is complete.

Multiple sections of Northwest 23rd and 24th streets, about 2,800 feet of road, would get fixed. About 1,700 feet of St. Gaudens Road from Main Highway to Biscayne Bay would be upgraded. More than half of the road segments slated for improvements are in Allapattah and Little Havana.

Affordable housing

Amid a housing affordability crisis, the city plans to fund $15 million worth of projects that aim to make more affordable housing units available.

The largest chunk, $8 million, will go toward putting together public solicitations to invite bidders to propose affordable housing projects.

“We’re going to invite people throughout the community to come back with their recommendations and their solutions on how they can bring affordable housing to the city,” Williamson said.

Another $3 million will go toward two projects in Liberty City already in the works: Residences at Dr. King Boulevard and Liberty Renaissance.

In an approach that bridges the affordable housing issue with impacts from climate change, the city wants to use $4 million to provide single-family homeowners with assistance rehabilitating their properties, hardening their homes to withstand storms and maximizing energy efficiency.

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Officials said the city wants to pay special attention to property owners who can’t afford fixes their homes need, which could put them in the sights of developers eager to buy them out. When sea rise predictions are factored in, Miami officials expect some neighborhoods on higher ground could face more development pressure than others.

“When you have a combination of their physical location, with the fact that there is deterioration to a lot of these homes, where people may not have the funds to renovate them, you sort of have the perfect storm — no pun intended,” Suarez said. “You have a tremendous amount of pressure for people to sell.”

The home rehabilitation program, Williamson said, aims to keep people in their homes and communities together.

“How do we keep people in the city who have been in the city for years, and their houses need just a little bit of work?” Williamson said. “How do we make them more resilient?”

Miami is in the midst of an expansive study of the affordable housing issue, which led administrators to hold off on bigger spending plans untilmore data is available. The city’s examination includes a citywide master plan under development by Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center and a community outreach initiative led by the Center for Community Investment meant to bring residents, banks, developers and other interested parties together to recommend realistic strategies for how to create more affordable units.

Public oversight

A seven-person bond oversight board comprised of community members appointed by city commissioners met for the first time in November to discuss their role in keeping bond spending on track.

The board has an advisory role with the responsibility of assessing the progress of bond projects and making recommendations to the city commission. Board members can question city staffers, vendors and contractors who receive bond money and review quarterly expenditure reports to make sure the money is being spent on time and for purposes outlined in the referendum.

See a breakdown of the first group of Miami Forever bond projects below:

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, ranging from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He attended the University of Florida.
Alex Harris covers climate change for the Miami Herald, including how South Florida communities are adapting to the warming world. She attended the University of Florida.