Noted landscape architect James Corner stood before an audience of about 100 people after walking through an early draft of his vision for giving Lincoln Road a makeover.
“I’ve heard a lot of anxiety and criticism over things,” he said Wednesday night, following a block-by-block tour of his firm’s draft for the road’s master plan. He referred to whispers and rumors about what ideas his firm, James Corner Field Operations, has for upgrading the Morris Lapidus-designed walkway.
“We can take it,” he said, causing the crowd to chuckle.
What followed was a mix of praise and criticism for the details of the draft plan, which comes at the halfway point of the process to dream up a new look for Lincoln Road. The team plans to take the public comments back to the drawing board.
Field Operations unveiled its ideas Wednesday night to a packed house at the Miami Beach Golf Club. The firm is best known for designing the High Line in New York City, an elevated linear park built along unused railroad tracks in Chelsea, transforming the neighborhood.
On Wednesday, residents and business owners got a taste of Corner’s early concepts. These include:
▪ Organizing cafe tables along the inner spine of the walkway, leaving a minimum of 15 feet of grayer sidewalk open for pedestrians in front of businesses. Umbrellas for the tables would be either uniform or picked from a small selection of styles.
▪ The black-and-white, piano-key design of the center would remain. It would be bolstered by laying down new material that wouldn’t require yearly coats of paint. In a few areas, more of this design would be revealed as planters are redesigned and seating is added.
▪ A new folly would be constructed at the Washington Avenue entrance to the mall, providing shade and allowing for performance space at night. Similarly, at the Euclid oval, a flat water fountain would be added where there’s currently turf. The fountain could be turned off and set up as a stage at night with new lighting overhead.
▪ New public art exhibition space under some of the Lapidus structures along the mall.
Some welcomed the idea of public art, less clutter caused by restaurant tables and more public seating. Others took issue with decreasing the total amount of tables, dull sidewalks and changing the Euclid oval area, where kids often run around and the beloved seashell dreidel is erected each holiday season.
“People already come to Lincoln Road,” said Alejandro Maya, owner of Maya Tapas and Grill. “They’ll reduce the number of sidewalk cafes and waste more water in fountains. And for what?”
Corner said he met with stakeholders Wednesday and agreed to revisit the table organization plan in a way that doesn’t eliminate a significant number of tables. He also said his team would consider creating a kid-friendly area where children could play.
Bob Schwarzreich, who lives a few blocks south Lincoln Road, said he liked parts of the plan but wants to see more green.
“It focuses too much on water features,” he said. “And more trees would make more sense.”
The planters are a key element to Corner, who countered criticism of neutral, gray pavement on the sides by saying he sees the color variation coming from the piano-key design and an array of vegetation in the planters.
In the fall, the Beach gave the firm a $500,00 contract to develop a new vision for the outdoor mall. Some images from an even earlier draft leaked last week, which caught the attention of the Beach’s robust preservationist community.
Preservationists are protective of the Morris Lapidus design and want to see the city build upon, not substantially alter, his Lincoln Road design. Lapidus was a heralded mid-century architect known for designing the Fountainebleau and Eden Roc hotels.
Preservationists like former city commissioner Nancy Liebman are less concerned with the design of the road than turnover in businesses along the mall. She said the skyrocketing rents are leading to more chain stores, and argues that the closing of locally owned shops has a bigger impact on Lincoln Road’s future than anything else.
“I just hope that this is a respectful restoration,’’ she said.
Preservationists will keep a close eye on the specific details of the plan as they become available.
The concept of making improvements to Lincoln Road was born more than a decade ago, when the city decided that $20 million of Miami Beach Redevelopment Agency funds would be earmarked for improvements to Lincoln Road to be done alongside a renovation of the convention center. The initial half-million paid to Field Operations is coming out of that fund.
Work on the plan will continue until August, when Field Operations will present a final draft to the public. The plan will then move through the usual layers of City Hall, like the Historic Preservation Board and the City Commission, before a shovel ever hits the ground.
After the meeting, Corner said the criticisms were well-taken and constructive, and the compliments were appreciated. He was actually surprised because he thought there might be more “lively conversation.”
“I think many of the questions at the end were totally reasonable. There was nothing unreasonable,” Corner said. “They’re all very helpful.”