Downtown Revitalization: Miami

Like many cities, Miami aspires to achieve greatness with its downtown. Judging from the amount of cranes dominating the skyline, Miami is well on its way. Today, Metro Jacksonville's Ennis Davis takes a look at the street scene of one of the country's most rapidly growing downtowns.

Published January 6, 2014 in Cities -

While South Beach came to life as an international nightlife and tourist destination, 1990s Downtown Miami was known for its high homeless population, wide pedestrian hostile streets and being a vertical office park that closed up at night.

However, much has been achieved over the last decade. For example, Downtown's homeless population has been reduced by 90%. Downtown's Flagler Avenue is one of the few historic walkable retail streets in the South still lined with department stores and hundreds of smaller retailers. In 2007, the Miami 21 zoning code was implemented, banning most autocentric building designs throughout the entire city. In 2012, Metrorail was extended to Miami International Airport, providing a direct connection to downtown and leading to an increase of nearly 10,000 daily riders on the heavy rail system since its opening.

Like Jacksonville, there's also a fare free downtown peoplemover. However, fed by Metrorail, Metromover averaged nearly 34,000 daily riders as of November 2013. Downtown's residents now make up 40% of the city's tax base and 50% of its workforce. As of 2010, the population of downtown Miami was 71,000 with a density of 27,487 per square mile. Growing from 40,000 in 2000 and adding 550 new residents each month, downtown Miami is currently one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the state. Add in nearly 200,000 office employees and 4.33 million cruise passengers annually and it's not difficult to understand that Florida's largest downtown has a pretty bright future.

Despite the numbers, the atmosphere a pedestrian experiences in Miami is vastly different from what one would associate with cosmopolitan walkable cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or even South Beach, which is less than five miles away. Now, Miami is working to change that. All Aboard Florida has ambitious plans to build the first private "higher" speed rail system, which will terminate at a massive transit oriented development in the heart of downtown Miami. Already home to a Macy's, La Epoca, Marshall's and Bayside (a successful version of the Jacksonville Landing), plans were recently unveiled for a new Macy's and Bloomingdales as a part of a 740,000 square foot mixed-use development near AmericanAirlines Arena.

After years of battling FDOT to improve Brickell Avenue for pedestrians and cyclist, the city of Miami struck a deal in mid-2013 requiring FDOT to relinquish control to the thoroughfare. Now plans are underway to create what could be its own version of Chicago's Michigan Avenue by transforming the former FDOT highway into a street with wider sidewalks, a multi-use path and new median landscaping. If that's not enough to get excited about, there's even an initiative going through City Hall that would widen sidewalks, create tree-lined canopies, and make right turns on red lights illegal. Furthermore, a $1 billion tunnel project to get trucks headed to the port out of downtown should be completed in 2014.

The overall goal of all these projects are the same: to make the city's core a safe, comfortable and inviting place for the pedestrian experience, which are all critical components of great cities that many downtown revitalization advocates across the country overlook. Instead, their eyes remain glazed on large scale one-trick ponies intended to lure suburbanites.

What is occurring in Miami is natural, according to Victor Dover in a recent Miami Herald article,

It’s a natural evolution, said Dover, who wrote extensively about it in his new book Street Design, which describes the great streets of the world.

“We were growing up on The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch. All those television shows were unfolding in the ’burbs,” he said. “But new families have grown up on Friends and Sex and the City. What’s cool now is to be out on the street walking and riding your bike.”

Dover has a strong point in claiming that the rapid revitalization of downtown Miami is a part of a natural trend overtaking the nation. Census estimates indicate that growth in big cities have surpassed the rate of growth of their surrounding suburbs in recent years, which is a sign of a growing preference for urban living.

The challenge for communities like Jacksonville is to recognize and invest in the critical components that all great cities have in common. While thoughts of downtown amusement parks, ferris wheels, shopping malls and aquariums built to attract suburbanites continue to make the news reels in Jacksonville, take note of little things like shade trees, awnings, mobility options, signage, etc. as you look through the images of downtown Miami. These are the little discussed elements of walkability found in most vibrant urban areas that must be included in the effort to change downtown Jacksonville.

Next Page: Downtown Miami Photo Tour

Named after industrialist Henry Flagler, Flagler Street travels through the oldest section of Downtown Miami.  Historically, downtown's premier retail cooridor and anchored by a six-floor Macy's, the thoroughfare still lives on as a major retail destination. Anchored by Marshall's, the Galeria International Mall is also located on Flagler Street. Overall, the Downtown Shopping District stretches from Biscayne Boulevard to 3rd Avenue and SE 1st Street to NE 3rd Street, encompassing more than 1,000 stores. It also houses the nation's second-largest jewelry district.

Founded in Cuba in 1885, La Epoca was the third largest department store in Havana when it relocated to Miami in 1965. In 2005, La Epoca relocated to this three story building on Flagler Street.

Downtown Miami's streets are filled with 'hidden shopping arcades.' These arcades are a large network of through-block retail passageways that have been struggled in recent decades. They may be ripe for a second life as downtown continues to densify with new residents.

MDM Development's 32-story Met 3 will include a ground floor Whole Foods Market in an 11 story pedestal with 17 floors of 462 apartments above. Later this year, MDM Development plans to start construction on Met Square, across the street from Met 3. Met Square, a four-story entertainment center, will be anchored by the Silverspot, a 12-screen movie theater. These projects will complete the development of Metropolitan Miami. Met 1, a 447-unit condominium tower was completed in 2008. Met 2, now the 47-story Wells Fargo Center and 41-story Marriott Marquis, was completed in 2010.

The 47-story Wells Fargo Center rises in the background.

The 41-story Marriott Marquis.

The Mansard-style copper roof cladded Security Building was the most imposing building in Miami when it was constructed in 1927. In 2004, the historic highrise was converted into the Capital Building Lofts.

In 2008, the Carlisle Development Group and Carrfour Supportive Housing completed the renovation of the Royalton into affordable housing for formerly homeless individuals. Monthly rents at the Royalton range from $167 to $622 depending on income level. Approximately $18.5 million in financing was arranged for the development from a variety of funding sources including City of Miami HOME, Miami Dade County Surtax, Miami Dade County HOME, Federal Low Income Tax Credit Program which includes historic tax credits from the National Park Service and the State of Florida’s Homeless Housing Assistance Grant. Operating funding is provided under a U.S. HUD program administered by Miami Dade Housing Agency.

Construction has begun on the conversion of the historic Miami National Bank building (left) into a boutique hotel called the Langford. The project is being funded through a rather novel financing method called the EB-5 visa program. People are given green cards for a $500,000 investment in the US, basically investing their way into the country.

The 360' Miami-Dade County Courthouse was the tallest building in the State of Florida when it was completed in 1928.

Construction is occurring on Newgard Development Group's Centro Lofts. Miami's high-density district zoning rules exempt minimum parking requirements for residential buildings located within 1,000 feet of transit stations. This essentially covers all of downtown. Newgard is taking advantage of this exemption. The 352 unit, 37 floor Centro Lofts will offer a valet, a five-spot Car2Go autoshare hub, covered bicycle parking and a bike share station instead of a parking garage. Residents who need parking will have to get spots in a nearby city garage.

The Worldcenter will have direct access to the Metromover.

Flagler Street's historic Macy's (originally Burdines) days may be numbered. In December, Macy’s and its sister department store chain Bloomingdale’s were announced as the flagship tenants for the proposed Mall at Miami Worldcenter. Worldcenter will anchor the north side of downtown Miami with a 1,800-room Marriott hotel, a 600,000-square-foot convention center and 750,000-square-foot mall. Worldcenter will be within walking distance of All Aboard Florida's new downtown passenger rail terminal, AmericanAirlines Arena and Bayside Marketplace.

Miami's skyline is ranked third most impressive in the U.S., behind New York City and Chicago, and 19th in the world according to the Almanac of Architecture and Design. The city currently has the eight tallest (as well as thirteen of the fourteen tallest) skyscrapers in the state of Florida, with the tallest being the 789-foot Four Seasons Hotel & Tower.

PortMiami is the 11th largest cargo container port in the country. It's also the largest cruise ship terminal in the world, with a record 4.33 million passengers in 2010. To accommodate the expansion of the Panama Canal, projects underway at the downtown port include the Port of Miami Deep Dredge Project, the Port of Miami Tunnel, and an FEC intermodal rail facility.

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

The Freedom Tower serves as a memorial to Cuban immigration to the United States. Originally completed in 1925 as the home of Miami News & Metropolis newspaper, the structure was used by the federal government to process, document and provide medical services for Cuban refugees during the 1960s. Today, the tower has been restored and converted into a museum, library, meeting hall and the offices of the Cuban American National Foundation.

Bayside Marketplace wraps along the banks of Biscayne Bay. Completed by the Rouse Company, the same year the Jacksonville Landing opened (1987), the center attracts 15 million visitors annually and is now owned by the same firm that owns Jacksonville's Regency Square Mall, General Growth Properties.

The 32-acre Bayfront Park hosts many large events such as the New Year's ball drop, Christmas celebrations and concerts.

The Miami Riverwalk parallels the north side of the Miami River for a mile between Bayside Marketplace and the Riverwalk Metromover Station.

The Brickell Financial District is the epicenter of Miami's banking, investment and financial sectors. Brickell has most of the state's foreign consulates.

Swire Properties' Brickell CityCentre is a $1.05 billion mixed-use development under construction in Brickell, just south of the Miami River. The development includes a 520,000 square-foot shopping center, 120,000 square feet of office space, 120,000 square-foot wellness center, 800 condominiums in two towers, 243 hotel rooms, and 93 serviced apartments.

Tale of the Tape

Miami Population 2012: 413,892 (City); 5,762,717 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1896)

Jacksonville Population 2012: 836,507 (City); 1,328,144 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Miami (249,276)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2012)

Miami: +3.56%
Jacksonville: +2.40%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Miami: 5,502,379 (ranked 4 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Miami: 4,442.4
Jacksonville: 2,008.5

City Population Growth from 2010 to 2012

Miami: +14,435
Jacksonville: +14,723

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Miami: James L. Knight International Center (1982) - 28,000 square feet; larger convention center in Miami Beach.
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to Convention Center:

Miami: Hyatt Regency (615 units)
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Miami: Four Seasons Hotel & Tower - 789 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2013 (City limits only):

Miami: World Fuel Services (74), Ryder System (404)  
Jacksonville: CSX (231), Fidelity National Financial (353), Fidelity National Information Services (474)


Urban infill obstacles:

Miami: Interstate 395 serves as a barrier between Downtown Miami and Wynwood.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Miami: Park West District, Mary Brickell Village
Jacksonville: The Elbow, The Jacksonville Landing


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Whose Downtown is more walkable?

Miami: 92 out of 100, according to
Jacksonville: 73 out of 100, according to

City Land Area

Miami: 35.87 square miles
Jacksonville: 747.00 square miles

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at

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Metro Jacksonville