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Miami Herald- 6/13/02

Renewal plan for Biscayne - FEC Corridor Outlined and Proposed
By Judy Odierna

Miami commissioners today are expected to approve a sweeping plan for economic redevelopment of the city's Biscayne Boulevard corridor that calls for mixed-use retail and residential projects, light rail, road improvements, and housing rehabilitation.

The $372,000 study targets the area known as the Florida East Coast (FEC) rail track corridor, from Northeast 79th Street south to Northeast 14th Street. It's bordered on the west by Interstate 95 and the east mostly by Biscayne, although it extends to the waterfront in the Edgewater and Omni neighborhoods.

The plan was prepared over the last two years by the city and staff from Florida International University's Metropolitan Center, with input from community leaders in Wynwood, Buena Vista and Little Haiti.

''To think that a city in this day and age has over 2,000 acres of undeveloped or underdeveloped land within its corporate limits is staggering,'' said Ned Murray, associate director of the FIU Metropolitan Center. ``If the plan is implemented properly, it could turn the whole area into a tax-producing, job-creating and real livable area.''

The planners identify the 55-acre Buena Vista Yard as the area's biggest economic opportunity -- land owned by Florida East Coast Railway between North Miami and Second Avenues at Northeast 29th Street. It's now leased to the Port of Miami-Dade as a staging facility for truck containers, but the railway is in discussions with potential developers.

The report's suggestions for the yard include allowing ''big box'' retail, like a Target or Home Depot store, on the southern end of the site and mixed residential and retail development on the northern part.

''There's no shortage of major players looking at that site,'' said Commissioner Johnny Winton, who has championed the project. ``At the end of the day, the market is going to indicate what goes in there. What cannot happen there is that someone comes in and puts a big wall up and disconnects it from the surrounding area.''

Other study suggestions include:

Murray said the city can attract developers to the corridor by changing land use and zoning laws, providing money for sewer, light and street improvement, and partnering with the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization on the trolley line and the U.S. Department of Transportation on streetscape improvements for Biscayne Boulevard.

''Acts of good faith need to be put into place,'' Murray said. 'There has to be a clear plan that is fully supported by the city with clear action steps to make a developer say, `We're going to take a risk here because we believe the city is a true partner.' ''

David Lombardi, a broker and developer, has already taken a chance on the area by purchasing 12 buildings in the past 18 months.

Lombardi says other developers just don't yet know the positive side of doing business in the area. He likes the idea of retail in the Buena Vista Yard to attract them.

''If they put in big box retail, there will be 100,000 cars a day going to those stores,'' Lombardi said. ``If you bring up the traffic count, people will be inspired to invest more.''

Dena Bianchino, Miami's assistant city manager for planning and development, said the study was funded by a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration.

''Everything we're doing is in support of economic development,'' she said. ``It is all designed to attract business into the corridor.''

Winton said the commission hopes to ensure the plan actually gets put into effect by asking City Manager Carlos Gimenez to take a number of immediate steps to move it forward.

''No one wants another plan that just sits on the shelf,'' said Murray.

``One of the recommendations is to create a marketing plan around the study because a lot of the development is going to be done by private investors, Murray said.''