In the early 1980s, Miami was “Paradise Lost.” Rightly or wrongly, it had a bad reputation as the city with the highest homicide rate, the most refugees and the least major attractions.
Downtown shut down at night. Bayfront Park, Watson Island, Bicentennial Park and the FEC tract — separated by a slip from which an occasional visiting ship would create a brief, once-a-year attraction — were languishing, empty eyesores whose only permanent residents were the poor homeless people to whom Dr. Joe Greer attended.
When Pope John Paul II visited in 1986, some of my friends in the entourage asked where they could go downtown for a late dinner. I was embarrassed to answer that there was not a single eatery that stayed open after 10 p.m.
Now downtown and the Omni area boast about 200 restaurants that are open late; Brickell only adds to that number. Miami’s urban core has become, arguably, the world’s most desirable place to live, work and play. It does not need “attractions” such as a destination casino or a car race or — to be blunt — commercial attractions in what should be green, open areas for those who live there and who visit to enjoy.
When I was elected mayor in 1985, Miami was on the verge of losing the Dolphins to a suburban venue in North Dade. Needless to say, I did my best to refurbish the grand old Orange Bowl, but I soon learned — from team owner Joe Robbie directly — that the demographics of South Florida militated in favor of a location that was more or less equidistant to the three county urban centers.
Soon, it became evident that the Grand Prix auto race was also hungering for the greener pastures of South Dade. I not only did not fight that; I welcomed it. I was tired of fighting with the Grand Prix to restore the damage caused to bayfront areas by its high-powered vehicles. And downtown residents were tired of the noise, fumes and disruption.
Miami in the 21st century is what most cities would love to be: an urban core, bordered on both sides by a gorgeous but fragile natural environment, with excellent educational and artistic institutions and primed to continue being a destination for book and art fairs, eco-tourism and international trade, as can be provided by excellent airport and seaport, plus the finest multi-lingual professionals.
In our near future lies in becoming an international tech hub.
But we must protect the open spaces — particularly those abutting our magnificent seashores. I began that effort in the 1990s when we put together the master plan for Virginia Key and dedicated, along with the state of Florida, the Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Refuge.
I also fought to keep Watson Island as green and open as possible. I opposed any kind of hotel complex in the island and supported only marinas and a Children’s Museum.
I supported Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson’s efforts to keep Parcel B as a public space and a pedestrian connector to the now renamed Maurice Ferre Park.
I opposed putting a soccer stadium in the FEC slip and also opposed filling it in with any kind of commercial development.
And perhaps, most important, I put forth the vision of an undergrounding of Biscayne Boulevard that will connect the bayfront to Park West and create a 50-acre central park for Miami.
In another era, one could argue that an attraction such as Bayside was needed to attract people to our magnificent bayfront. Now, all we need is pedestrian flow and preservation of the flora and fauna nature has bestowed on us.
Xavier L. Suarez represents District 7 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.