33-acre Underdeck has a plan but not the money

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33-acre Underdeck has a plan but not the money

Written by Monica Correa on February 21, 2023

33-acre Underdeck has a plan but not the money

“The Overtown Miami Greenway, the heart of the city” is the name recommended by the Underdeck Executive Committee through survey results in its community engagement efforts to plan for the 33-acre green space that is to be built under the I-395 signature bridge that is under construction, with a 2026 date for completion. The project is not yet fully funded.

“This name encompasses the sense of the diverse neighborhoods and cultures of the adjacent communities,” said Lisa Martinez, Underdeck Committee manager and facilitator, “and it captures the strong desire from residents for a shaded, green space, and not a concrete pathway.”

Now, the Miami City Commission is to vote on the project “in the upcoming months,” she added, taking into account the work done by the executive committee, to then send unified recommendations to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Recommendations are to include public input on design, funding strategies, management and operations models, cost estimates, and future conservancy.

The Underdeck Committee, the community engagement arm that started under the Town Square Neighborhood Development Corporation under a memorandum of understanding with the city and FDOT in December 2021, finished its full recommendations, known as the consensus plan, and submitted it to the city Dec. 5 after a full year of work.

After 35 in-person and virtual meetings, 129 working group meetings – including the government, project management and strategic oversight group; the stakeholder awareness, education and engagement group; the funding strategies group; the traffic, mobility and utilities group; and construction, operation, and maintenance group – almost 2,500 survey responses and 124 community members serving on its working groups, the committee recommended that the project’s executive leadership and administration, as well as the fundraising leadership, should be individuals hired in-house, as opposed to mostly contracted.

Similarly, programming and marketing should be led in-house, with some outside contracting; maintenance should be overseen in-house, but mostly contracted out; and security should be overseen in house, with a contracted company, but implemented in collaboration with the city, according to the report.

Costs of operations for hiring full time employees in-house range from $4.8 million to $6.09 million a year, compared to a majority-contracted staff that would cost $3.7 million to $4.9 million, according to estimates by Hargreaves Jones, a cost consultancy firm that works with public spaces across the nation.

Hargreaves Jones also developed the consensus plan for the design, which has been agreed upon by the city and FDOT. Under this design, 55% of the space is softscape and 35% is hardscape, with an amphitheater, and event lawn, a community plaza, three playgrounds, a dog park, water features and parking. The Underdeck Committee does not list where the other 10% will be allocated. The total cost is $56,193,863.

A previous 2016 design by CJV, the entity that is building the I-395 bridge, proposed 70% hardscape and 30% softscape, costing $29,313,289.

In addition, as part of the recommendations report, the executive committee developed a capital funding strategy through its fund development working group, to address the $56 million-plus cost of the project and the $5.74 million annual maintenance and governance plan, composed of administrative costs, programming and marketing, maintenance, security, and coverage for liability.

FDOT committed to securing 30% of the construction cost and the city is committed to securing 20%, in a joint proposal submitted in October to receive the Reconnecting Communities Grant of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which grants communities determined to connect geographically with safer walking paths from a social, programmatic and economic development standpoint. The fund has $150 million, and the submission of the proposal asks for $26.5 million for the Underdeck/Overtown Miami Greenway.

“The community should be finding out about the results in the next days or weeks,” said Ms. Martinez. “The city is proactively compiling proposals for additional federal grants. The remaining funds would have to be secured before 2024, when construction is anticipated to commence. So, there is time to identify the funding.”

Additional funding strategies, as outlined in the report, include engaging Overtown CRA and Omni CRA for capital needs; Miami-Dade County support for capital needs; state level funding advocacy during the 2023 legislative session; and other local, state and federal government funded opportunities, including a federal Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grant, which the city and FDOT is currently compiling, due Feb. 28.

The project’s preferred governance style would be under a conservancy model, according to the report, with appointed directors from the city, the county, the state, and the stakeholder groups.


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Concept Design

Traffic, Mobility & Utilities

This group will be convening with all relevant agencies and stakeholders to identify key related challenges and to ensure short-term and long-term cross-sector plans are agreed upon and implemented.

Funding Strategies

This group was initially charged with fundraising the match dollars required by the Knight Foundation grant (noted in the approved MOU and City resolution).  All fund-raising goals have been fully met as of December 2021 and are currently funding all planning activities.  The group is now developing a framework for the fund development strategy related to capital, operational and maintenance needs.

Stakeholder Awareness, Education & Engagement

This group is responsible for casting the net broadly to create awareness of the project and engage residents in the Underdeck’s development.  A full engagement strategy has been launched and will continue through the summer of 2022.  A monthly newsletter and website will be launched beginning in March, monthly community meetings will be held through the Summer of 2022, and stakeholders will have regular monthly opportunities to inform and engage with the Underdeck Committee Working Groups.

Construction, Operation, Maintenance

This group is working closely with the City of Miami and FDOT to ensure that the Heritage Trail, Legacy Walls and other public art components will include stakeholder leadership, participation and input in the exhibits, artists, and content.  This group is also working with the City to identify the appropriate expertise to develop a realistic estimate for the operation and management budget for the long-term sustainability of the public space.  This estimated budget will inform the work  of the fund development working group in the coming months.

Government, Project Management & Strategic Oversight

Naming/Branding – Over the last two months community meetings, focus groups, surveys, and interviews have been conducted to gather input from our community. Two engagement and marketing firms, Kivvit and Circle of One have been brought on board to support this process.  A Creative Brief will be developed inclusive of potential names for the Underdeck or Open Space Area.  These potential names will be shared with the community and further input will refine the final recommendations that will be considered by the Underdeck Executive Committee.  The final selected name is subject to the approval of the City Commission.   

This group has researched best practices on governance of public spaces and has been reviewing various governance structures nationally and locally.  They are currently working on recommendations that would inform the governance of the public space.  These recommendations will inform future bylaws.

Voice Your Support for The Underdeck!

Greetings and Many Thanks,

It is not often that a municipal project with the scale and scope of the Underdeck, is developed with the intentional and valued participation from members of the community. The City of Miami is to be celebrated and commended for empowering the people of Miami through its sanctioning of the Underdeck Committee to provide community-driven recommendations about how the Underdeck should be designed, named, branded, programmed, operated, governed, and maintained.

In 2022, 124 members of the community served on five Underdeck working groups focused on Stakeholder Awareness and Engagement, Operations and Maintenance, Traffic and Mobility, Funding, and Governance. A total of 129 working group meetings were held during the year. More than 35 community in person and virtual meetings were held in Overtown and Downtown to engage residents, along with survey respondents providing feedback for the Underdeck Naming totaling more than 2000. In addition, two special interest groups were created for Economic Development and Youth Engagement, further expanding the Underdeck Committee’s outreach.

The anticipation of this 33-acre public multi-purpose green space is enhanced by knowing that the recommendations for development through this community engagement have been submitted for your review and will soon be voted upon. With a vote of “Yes” to these recommendations, the Underdeck will truly be a project of the people, by the people, for the people.

As a public space positioned to reconnect communities and serve as a destination for families and friends to engage with one another, it is greatly appreciated that the City of Miami has and will continue to value the voices, insights, and recommendations that will ultimately make the Underdeck we can authentically call our own.

Alan Fein

Chair Government, Project Management, Strategic Oversight Working Group

Alan Fein is a Shareholder in Stearns Weaver Miller’s Litigation Department and a member of the Firm’s Board of Directors. For over three decades, Alan has successfully handled complex business litigation in South Florida and in the leading business courts in the nation, including the Delaware Court of Chancery, the Delaware Supreme Court, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Eleventh Circuit and the District of Columbia. At the same time, he has developed one of the region’s most vibrant sports law practices, and brought vision and leadership to a number of community leadership roles.