South Miami Commissioner Bob Welsh took some time off of his rigorous bicycle regimen to question whether the city chose wisely last year when it gave $25,000 to the Underline project.
The $25,000, along with contributions from the city of Miami, Coral Gables, Miami-Dade County and the Knight Center was pledged toward the cost of the development of the “Underline” Master Plan.
New York-based James Corner Field Operations was chosen in March the route designer for the 10-mile bicycle route and linear park. The aforementioned parties, as well as the Miami Foundation and the Health Foundation, will fund the $500,000 design contract.
“They have half of a million bucks to make a plan and then try to get grants with it,” Welsh said. “My main concern is that if you give designers a half a million bucks with no guaranteed funding sources for construction, they are going to design as much of a park as they can to justify the expenditure of a half a million bucks. … One twentieth of that is our money.”
Welsh sponsored a resolution requesting that the Underline not spend the $25,000 from South Miami, or funds from other cities, until a public visioning had been held. The resolution was withdrawn from the April 7 commission agenda.
Since then, the nonprofit Friends of the Underline held public input sessions on April 16, 17 and 18. The group plans to have more sessions June 23 and 25.
“This is Miami-Dade County Transit’s land,” said Meg Daly, president and founder of Friends of the Underline. “So for us to apply for funding, we were directed to get a master plan. From the master plan, the components are: a design team, which is landscape design … a traffic engineer, cost estimator, lighting consultant, and economic impact studies … all of those vendors are part of the price tag. When we get our design done, we are targeting mid-September, then the cost estimator comes in and professionally gauges what the cost will be.”
Daly will make a presentation in May in front of the South Miami commission.
“I believe the session we had at U.M., the Mayor Philip Stoddard spoke very positively,” Daly said. “Vice Mayor Harris and (commissioners) were all there. We have a report with photos of each meeting. We have a design team working furiously on meeting some very aggressive deadlines and you know they are doing a great job.”
The project is not yet funded but backers hope it will be under construction next year.
“[Daly] is supposed to come to City Hall sometime and give a presentation and I haven’t reviewed the resolution where we gave them the $25,000, but the city manager assures me that we gave it to them with no strings attached, which is dangerous,” Welsh said.
Daly said there is no budget for the Underline because they do not yet have a plan.
“I couldn’t get a straight answer out of [Daly] of how much of the [budget] will be spent on Metrorail re-dos,” Welsh said. “How much on the path and how much on the landscaping? She called me back and said we don’t have a budget because we don’t have a plan. In construction, that’s backwards. You get your budget first and you make your plan according to your budget.”
James Corner Field Operations designed Manhattan’s High Line and the new plaza in Museum Park between the Perez Art Museum Miami and the Frost Museum of Science.
Another concern Welsh inquired about in his resolution dealt with trees planted by TREEmendous Miami near the existing M-Path. Welsh said he is worried that they could be dug up and replaced with less adequate trees.
“I think our correspondence has been friendly and [Daly] is trying to do a good thing,” said Steve Pearson, president of TREEmendous Miami. “I have nothing against her and think she recognizes we have done good work out there and she is going to try to keep our work as part of the plan for the Underline.”
TREEmendous Miami has planted thousands of trees in the last 11 years along U.S.1 that cost less than $18,000, including money for fertilizer and maintenance.
“I think they have bought in to the idea that I told them you should not use irrigation,” Pearson said. “I think they are thinking native trees and butterfly gardens and things like that. That’s all fine but I hope they keep flowering trees as part of the picture. Part of flowering trees is that they are very well adapted to our climate … that’s why so many of those trees we have on US1 are doing so well.”
Daly said the plan is to raise 20 percent of the construction funds privately, in the form of sponsorships and organizations that believe in the vision. She is also searching available state, county, municipal, and foundation funds.
“I think it’s irresponsible to not have a maintenance plan before you execute,” Daly said. “More importantly we are really following process directed by Miami-Dade County. Whether or not this is done other places, I’m really executing on their marching orders.”
“Without a master plan we are not capable of getting construction dollars from a variety of sources. This is the step that we were directed to take.”
For more information go to www.theunderline.org.
“I’ll be back for the second meeting in May,” Welsh said. “I hope to get some kind of commitment out of them that they are going to spend our money wisely. What I would consider wisely is giving us our $25,000 back and making us buy trees with it. Yours truly will plant those trees pro bono.”