Miami-Dade County

County commissioner pushes back on All Aboard plan for Clark Center

Miami-Dade commissioners won’t have to look far for a fight over development in Miami. A battle is brewing over prime real estate just a few steps from their offices at the Stephen P. Clark Center.

This week, the commission’s chairman issued a memo declaring himself “disappointed” in a reported plan to consider high-rise buildings in space next to the Clark complex, which is currently occupied by the county’s downtown library and museum center. And next week, a commission committee is set to consider blocking All Aboard Florida’s effort to use a tree-lined plaza outside the Clark center to build a garage and county bus depot, according to County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro.

“I don’t mind building sky-high and maximizing our square footage on buildable places,” said Barreiro, the commissioner who represents Miami and sponsored the resolution targeting the potential All Aboard facility. “But these little green spaces are pocket parks, and they’re important.”

All Aboard declined to comment on its plans, and the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez did not respond to a request for information on its talks with the private developer. The topic is already a sensitive one, given a recent storm over the possibility of building high-rises at the cultural complex that houses the main library branch and History Miami. Jean Monestime, the commission’s chairman, issued a memo Tuesday urging the creation of a public square where the high-walled library and museum complex now stands.

“A public square adds exponentially more value to our county as a destination than would another footprint for a high-rise building,” Monestime wrote.

The memo was in response to remarks Gimenez’s cultural director, Michael Spring, gave at a Sept. 24 privatization conference in which he discussed an effort to redo the complex and make it more pedestrian friendly.

When asked by an audience member if higher buildings were a possibility, Spring said, he replied that he was “open to” any scenario that can create the pedestrian-friendly square the county sought. A backlash followed on social media from open-space advocates, and this week Spring sought to deflect criticism. “Towers on the pedestrian plaza is kind of a crazy thought,” Spring said. “And probably not the best use of that property.”

There’s no doubt that the building known as County Hall, the 29-story Clark center, occupies enviable real estate in downtown Miami. It houses a Metrorail station and is next to All Aboard Florida’s eight-block-long train depot, residential and commercial enter that’s set to open in 2017 with a new Tri-Rail station.

Meanwhile, the county’s lobbyist corps is eager to pursue a stream of privatization initiatives designed to reduce government costs and increase revenues. In August, Gimenez released 51 potential “public-private partnerships” that range from opening a restaurant on an under-used toll facility on the Venetian Causeway to financing an $2 billion sewage-treatment plant.

Part of the so-called P3 strategy is offering county land to developers, who could then build facilities that might house government offices and parking garages while paying rent to Miami-Dade. That appears to be the approach with Miami-Dade’s previously unreported interest in turning over the grassy area outside the Clark center to All Aboard.

Barreiro described an All Aboard facility that would use the half-block-long grassy area, along with a parking lot for commissioners and the mayor and a daycare center for county workers. All Aboard, which is launching a passenger rail service to Orlando in its MiamiCentral complex, would build a five-story parking garage in the new facility and use part of the ground floor as a centralized terminal for county buses stopping nearby, Barreiro said.

A public square adds exponentially more value to our county as a destination than would another footprint for a high-rise building

Jean Monestime, County Commission chairman

His resolution seeks to put the brakes on any potential plan by designating the area a county park. That would impose a significant hurdle for All Aboard, since voters must approve park development. It also would order the Gimenez administration to seek commission approval before “studying” proposals for the area that weren’t park uses. The commission’s Metropolitan Services committee is scheduled to consider the item Wednesday at a 2 p.m public meeting.

Barreiro said he could support the All Aboard plan if Miami-Dade could find similar green space nearby to replace what would be lost.

A source close to All Aboard confirmed Barreiro’s account, and said the planned parking facility could still rise in the non-grassy area next to Clark. The hope is a nearby county bus depot can be transformed into substitute green space and then prompt Barreiro to scuttle his resolution before it passes, the source said.

“What’s the worst thing for being pedestrian friendly?” the source said. “Having to fight with buses on the sidewalk.”