After years of false starts and failed proposals, beachgoers and Miami Beach residents with disabilities will get a new facility that will give them easier access to the beach.
Over opposition from many neighbors, commissioners approved an agreement with the Sabrina Cohen Foundation to build the facility. The foundation pledges to raise the money for the building, which will take up part of a beachside parking lot next to the fire station at 5301 Collins Ave. Construction is expected to cost about $4.5 million.
Miami Beach will continue to own the land and the building, which will store equipment and house fitness programs.
The commission had committed earlier to using the site for the center but wanted additional input and discussion on details of the plan from the city’s finance committee.
For Cohen and her supporters it’s been a long, emotional journey. As Carolina Jones, a supporter and North Beach resident, gave her public remarks at the meeting, audible sniffles could be heard and some commissioners teared up as well.
“This is a moment in history, we rarely have the opportunity to impact an entire community so profoundly and change lives at such a fundamental level,” Jones said.
Approval came with a fair share of criticism from neighbors and other opponents. They felt that the best place for the facility might have been around 71st Street near the branch library and argued that the 139-space parking lot is already overused.
Attorney Kent Harrison Robbins, speaking on behalf of three neighboring condo organizations, said the commission should have delayed the vote and considered other locations. The agreement states that the foundation will manage the building for nine years and Robbins questioned the potential costs to the city after that term ends.
“This could be tens of millions of dollars of commitment. This rush to a determination fails to consider all the alternatives,” Robbins said.
The approval is a victory for Cohen who previously proposed a similar facility for Allison Park, 6500 Collins Ave., where the foundation first held its “adaptive beach days” program at the park’s beach access.
That plan was scrapped in early 2016 after neighbors created a group called “Save Allison Park” in an effort to preserve green space at the park.
“This is to increase public access, not deny it to anybody,” Cohen said. “I believe everything comes when it’s the right time and I think the right time is now.”
Tuesday’s agreement states that the city won’t proceed with construction until the foundation raises the money for designing and building the facility and gives the city the money. In six months the foundation also must submit a draft concept plan with construction cost and maintenance estimates.
When the agreement becomes official, the organization will have a year to raise at least 25 percent of its needed funding and three years to raise it all. The city can cancel the agreement if those deadlines aren’t met.
Some of the other changes proposed by the committee included assurances that the facility will never be used as a banquet hall or for alcohol sales.
The exact location of the facility in the parking lot will be determined by the commission. The building is expected to be about 5,000 square feet and can’t be more than two stories tall.