Updated designs of an upcoming revamp to Lincoln Road have business owners pleased with progress but still worried about the impact the project will have on their pocketbooks.
Using input given by restaurant and shop owners after an initial design, the landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations has updated its plans to include more green space near Washington Avenue, a reimagined Euclid Oval with a colorful floor and a new logo for the road with a black-and-white motif inspired by the street’s iconic piano key floor.
But while the revisions are welcome and the overall design has been met with approval, proprietors are nervous about the details of rearranging sidewalk cafe tables and the phasing of construction along the pedestrian walkway.
“I like the concept. It’s clean. It looks nice,” said Suevia Pérez, who runs marketing and operations for Tapelia Spanish Cuisine on the 500 block. “Is it practical for businesses? I’m not too sure.”
Meanwhile, the design’s initial cost estimate nearly doubles the city’s existing budget for the project. Of the anticipated $43 million it would take to give Lincoln Road and its side streets the full makeover, the Beach currently has about $22 million set aside. The administration said it looks to allocate more money for the work during budget talks in the summer. Officials also hope to cut costs by adjusting designs.
Miami Beach paid James Corner $500,000 to dream up an updated look and feel for the promenade that includes infrastructure improvements, such as much-needed drainage upgrades, and aesthetic enhancements.
In 2015, the designers first unveiled their ideas for the pedestrian mall, which was designed in the late 1950s by noted mid-century architect Morris Lapidus. The new plan includes creating a streamlined walking path on both sides of the road, with consolidated cafe tables and umbrellas that will be uniform in size with colors matching the restaurant. The inside spine of the road would be repaved with black and white concrete so the piano key pattern would not have to be repainted each year.
At the intersection of Lincoln Road and Euclid Avenue, there’s a raised, oval-shaped platform covered in turf where kids play. The initial plan recommended turning the feature, called Euclid Oval, into a landscaped amphitheater with a wood panel floor at the bottom. The revised approach changes the floor from wood panels to a multicolored surface accented with LED lights.
Near Washington Avenue, a new horizontal trellis would be erected over concrete planters with seating carved out on the sides. After feedback from locals, the design includes more space for vegetation than the previous version. A welcome sign with several vertical lines — a nod to the piano key pattern — will mark the entrance.
The new features “will help to bring a cool edge, a new identity and something everyone here can be proud of and love about the new Lincoln Road,” said James Corner at a recent community meeting.
The initial proposal also eliminated some space for sidewalk cafes as a result of a reorganization to open a straight walking path along the road. Restaurant owners quickly raised concerns because they depend on revenue from tourists who come to dine outside and people-watch. This prompted changing the design to accommodate more tables.
“We gave a lot of feedback,” said Marsha Maya, whose family runs Maya Tapas and Grill on the 800 block. “They pretty much listened and came up with something that is quite reasonable and quite attractive that would be compatible with our restaurants. And they respected our seating.”
In Tapelia’s case, Pérez worried that even though the restaurant may be getting the same square footage for its outdoor seating, the rearrangement of that space and changes to the umbrellas could result in fewer seats.
The bigger concern down the road: The timing and phasing of construction.
Streetscape and road reconstruction projects are known for choking businesses that can’t survive the loss of sales. In Coral Gables, where Miracle Mile and and Giralda Avenue are undergoing a redo, some merchants have relocated. Some of those who have remained say they are barely hanging on. One jeweler has seen sales fall off 50 to 60 percent.
During a complete rebuild of Alton Road a few years ago, businesses reported similar losses, and some didn’t survive. The loss of revenue, combined with increasing rents, forced the closure of longtime thrift store SoBe Thrifty in January 2015.
“There are going to be losses,” Pérez said, noting that while work is being done, the loss of crucial revenue from outside seating will hit her hard. “It’s not even a question. It’s going to happen.”
The plan is a long-term vision for the road that likely won’t be implemented all at once. The city does not expect to put a shovel in the ground until May 2018. Owners want to see a construction plan for where and when the work will be done as soon as it’s ready.
City officials want to prioritize the must-have improvements, like drainage, and find ways to save money while making other additions. Funding also needs to be finalized. The City Commission will have to grapple with how to pay for the full plan during budget season later this year.