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Panelists, from left to right: Vincent Signorello, President & CEO, Florida East Coast Industries; Steve Owens, President, Swire Properties; Meg Daly, Founder, Friends of the Underline; Philip Aarons, Principal and Founding Partner, Millennium Partners; Charles C. Bohl, Director and Associate Professor, Master of Real Estate Development + Urbanism (MRED+U) Program, School of Architecture, University of Miami (Moderator). 


Maximizing Public Space Could Draw Real Estate Investment

Miami is known for its enviable quality of life, but some forward-thinkers are working to enhance that quality by focusing on the value of public spaces. These thought leaders understand that the quality, character and distribution of public space has a fundamental impact on the quality of life in urban areas — and that public space can also drive investment activity.

A group of experts explored the potential for linear park initiatives in South Florida to have a transformative impact on the metropolitan area — and highlighted the extraordinary success and lessons learned from the High Line in New York — in a panel called “Creating Value: Urban Real Estate and Public Space” at the University of Miami 2015 Real Estate Impact Conference in February.

Experts on the panel included Philip Aarons, Principal and Founding Partner at Millennium Partners; Meg Daly, Founder of Friends of the Underline; Steve Owens, President of Swire Properties; and Vincent Signorello, President and CEO of Florida East Coast Industries. Conference Chair Dr. Charles C. Bohl, Director and Associate Professor of University of Miami’s Master of Real Estate Development + Urbanism (MRED+U) program in the School of Architecture, moderated the discussion.

A project called the Underline would develop 10 miles of bicycle and walking paths under the Metrorail line that runs from Dadeland to Brickell Station. The vision transforms the underutilized space into an iconic linear park with a world-class urban trail and living art destination.

“We want to find ways to take these leftover lands and give them back to the public in meaningful ways,” said Meg Daly of Friends of the Underline, the entity championing the project. She pointed to the success of the High Line, an elevated park and walkway in Manhattan along the site of an unused railway spur that drove investors to an abandoned area.

The Underline proposes to connect communities, improve pedestrian bicyclist safety, create hundreds of acres of new green space with restored natural habitats, encourage a healthy lifestyle, provide an easily accessible place to exercise, create a mobility corridor that integrates transit, car, biking and walking, provide a 10-mile canvas for artistic expression, attract development along US1, and generate significant economic impact. The space is currently unsightly and underutilized.

“It will increase property values and be a new way to get around the city,” Daly said. The University of Miami’s School of Architecture is working with Friends of the Underline on plans for the project. Daly hopes to see construction launch in 2016.

Steve Owens, President of Swire Properties, the company that’s developing the $1.2 billion mixed-use Brickell City Centre, is redesigning and enhancing the Eighth Street Metromover station to integrate into its project.  Swire is constructing two overhead pedestrian crossings connecting the retail center at South Miami Avenue and Southeast Seventh Street. With a 99-year lease in place with county transit, Swire funded the project to transform underused land into attractive green space.

“We thought it was part of engaging the urban area and activating it,” Owens said. “You don’t always receive an economic benefit, but the community in which you are building receives a benefit.”

For its part, Florida East Coast Industries (FECI) has pitched a linear park that would run along a six-line abandoned rail line it owns. Dubbed Ludlam Trail, the 6.2-mile East Kendall Corridor would essentially become a “greenway.” The trail would combine commercial and residential uses along the abandoned rail right of way that runs between SW 72nd Street and Miami International Airport. Plans call for over 1,200 apartments, single-family homes, commercial units and a bike and pedestrian trail.

FECI President and CEO Vincent Signorello was on hand to cast the vision, explaining he would like to see a walkway and public park with the mixed-use development. The largest commercial component of the project, he said, would be at Dadeland. He expects activity in the parks and along the trail to draw people to the area.

“As we commence with development we will create green space and set in place a mechanism that is funded forever to take care of it,” Signorello said. Miami-Dade County has yet to approve the Ludlam Corridor plan.