Linear Park Projects a Growing Trend

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Underdeck in planning stages while Underline gets big boost in funding

by Samantha Morell

Miami-Dade County is currently in the process of changing the structure of its landscape with The Underline, a 120-acre linear park below the Metrorail that will ultimately extend from Brickell’s Miami River to the Dadeland South station in Kendall. Now, the state is planning to bring its own spine-like area of recreation to Miami, this time under a reconstructed I-395.

The Underdeck is an open-space project initiated by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) that will serve as a key destination for residents and tourists alike while connecting Overtown to Biscayne Bay.

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(Courtesy of Hargreaves Jones)

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The current design for the Underdeck shows a one-mile, 33-acre open space landscape beginning in Overtown and extending to Biscayne Bay.

The plan entered its early stages in 2017 when the state selected a proposal made by a joint venture between construction groups Archer Western and de Moya, which introduced plans for the space as part of their I-395/SR 836/I-95 Design-Build Project. The proposal most notably includes the construction of a signature bridge over NE Second Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard – now underway – that is expected to embellish Miami’s skyline in 2024.

Now, Nelson Adams, a member of what’s known as The Underdeck Committee, says progress is beginning to ramp up.

“It’s now our time to sow, to sow a seed into this green space that’s not just for us,” he said. “Hopefully we will be able to enjoy it, but it’s for our children and our children’s children and generations to come.”

FDOT reached out to the city of Miami and assigned it the responsibility of engaging residents and stakeholders, and in came The Underdeck Committee, officially called The Underdeck Subcommittee Advisory Group (USAG). The group is tasked with creating its own plan for the park – one that represents the vision of the local community.

The committee recently launched monthly community meetings to keep residents up to date and gather feedback. In March, one was held in Overtown and another at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, both of which focused on the newly proposed design. Mary Lydecker of Hargreaves Jones, a consulting firm hired by the city to finalize the plans, was there, and has shared with the Biscayne Times what they’ve come up with.

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The Underdeck will feature open lawns, multiple interactive water features, and other amenities for residents and tourists.

The design consists of a single 33-acre landscape beginning near Overtown’s Gibson Park that extends across the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and reaches key cultural institutions near Biscayne Bay, including the Arsht.

The plan houses a variety of what’s being identified as character zones, including the “Civic Waterfront” near the bay where the signature bridge begins; a 24-hour active urban zone around the Omni district known as “Live, Work, Play” complete with a broad, open lawn and an interactive water feature; the “Active Heart” across the tracks that includes a dog park and a multi-use court; the “Neighborhood Green” zone, bringing event plazas, a “splash path” and a performance stage to Overtown; and the Heritage Trail, which will serve as a spine for the project connecting the east and west ends.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restitch neighborhoods that were historically divided by the original construction of I-395 in the 1960s,” said Lydecker.

Still, members of the committee reminded those listening to the details of the plan that the USAG is first and foremost an advocacy group, encouraging residents to share their thoughts.

In turn, many spoke about possible health-related effects that may arise from frequenting a dwelling space that’s located under a major highway. Some were worried that the area and its public restrooms could be overrun by people experiencing homelessness. Others brought up safety, either for pedestrians crossing major intersections or for young people using the space during later hours.

What was also inevitably mentioned was the continued debate for The Underdeck’s official name, for which there has been much discussion between stakeholders and residents of Overtown wanting to reclaim the space that once destroyed their community. Virtual meetings have been held and a survey was conducted to gather feedback prior to making the final decision.

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(Courtesy of Hargreaves Jones)

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The Heritage trail will connect the east and west ends of the Underdeck.

Additional concerns had to do with operations taking place behind the scenes, like where the money is going to come from.

The Underline was recently able to pick up $3 million in the 2022-2023 fiscal year’s state budget, which was approved by the Florida Legislature March 14, possibly serving as a sign that the state will be committed enough to the linear park trend so as to designate additional funds for The Underdeck as well.

But Lisa Martinez, the lead facilitator for the USAG, said that those answers are soon to come, assuring that finances will be the focus of April’s meetings. In the meantime, the plan is to assess the total cost of the committee’s proposed design compared to what was originally submitted to the state by the Archer Western-de Moya joint venture. If additional dollars are needed, the relevant working group will begin to explore available funding strategies.

The committee also wants to make sure that community involvement continues to be a priority for the state beyond these early planning stages. The USAG is committed to advocating for a plan of governance – one that gives residents a permanent seat at the table.

The city of Miami’s first deliverable is due to the state June 30. The Underdeck Committee plans to present its recommendations to the city manager by May 2, giving Miami ample time to review them and provide feedback before its commission meeting June 23.

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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.