Underdeck wait grows by 2 years

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Stakeholders of the Underdeck – a 33-acre signature green area under the redeveloped I-395 that would extend from Overtown to Biscayne Bay, near the Perez Art Museum Miami – are conducting surveys and holding meetings to weigh a new name, which would be submitted to the City of Miami and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for consideration.

The city is currently conducting surveys and public workshops to get input for a possible new name, said a spokesperson from the FDOT.

“No final decisions have been made,” said Lisa Martinez, CEO of LM Genuine Solutions and Underdeck project advocacy manager, regarding the naming. “We want to make sure that we’re as comprehensive as possible.”

Branding and design agency Jacober Creative is working with the Underdeck Advisory Committee to compile concepts for consideration, which would be shared with the committee in Sept. 7 and 8 meetings.

The Underdeck is a 33-acre public open space under the elevated renovation of I-395, with 15 acres of urban gardens, 12 acres of pathways and plazas, about 1,250 trees, three playgrounds, a splash pad, an amphitheater, a signature pedestrian bridge, a multi-use court, a dog play area, two parking lots, food and beverage sites and an interactive water fountain.

Four key entities are part of the work: the Florida Department of Transportation, which funds the project; the awarded joint venture, which will build the signature bridge and the Underdeck in negotiation with FDOT; the City of Miami, which entered into a memorandum of understanding with FDOT to build and be the long-term manager of the project; and the Underdeck Advisory Committee, which is made up of community representatives and stakeholders.

Last December the city submitted a concept plan to FDOT with renderings of the future project, with a memorandum of understanding to work in partnership with the advisory committee for its vision and development. The committee works for the engagement component, recommending a fund development strategy for any capital needs and the future operating and maintenance fees.

The committee’s current work consists of “community outreach to gather insights from Overtown, from downtown residents, landowners and small business owners, and trying to make sure that we come up with some final recommendations to move forward to the city commission this year,” said Ms. Martinez.

The consensus plan wrapped up in the summer, she added. “There were some delays linked to the bridge, which dominoed to delays on the public space.” The I-395 bridge was to be done in 2024 and it is now expected to be in 2026. The Underdeck project would mirror that delay.

A main difference of how the original proposal’s design changed in the consensus plan in 2022, as submitted by the Archer-Western-de Moya Joint Venture’s original design-build in 2016, is the reduction of hardscape. The original plan had 70% hardscape and 30% softscape; the current consensus plan has 35% hardscape and 55% softscape.

The new city plan would also have a Miami Heritage Trail concept space, a signature pedestrian bridge overlooking the Underdeck, center activation efforts that would eliminate nearby embankments to improve safety, connectivity and opportunities for programming and other opportunities for revenue generation, such as event lawns, plazas, cafés, concessions, active recreation and rental opportunities.

At a July meeting of the Underdeck advisory committee, Ms. Martinez explained it could cost from $4.8 million to $6 million to operate the project internally within the city administration, and from $3.7 million to $4.9 million to contract with an outside operator.

At the August 25 meeting, the committee will have the status update on the final cost of construction, the resources and potential funding strategies, said Ms. Martinez. “Over the next couple of months, we’ll start developing a funding strategy to be able to get the resources needed.”

Some of the funds secured for the Underdeck so far include a $200,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Downtown Authority voted in December 2018 to commit $50,000 to the design; the Miami Parking Authority also committed $50,000; the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency agreed to contribute $150,000; and the Southeast Overtown and Park West Community Redevelopment Agency pledged another $150,000, Miami Today reported last September. These amounts have not been confirmed yet by FDOT.

In December, FDOT estimated $22 million to construct an enhanced pedestrian bridge and remove embankments around the I-395.

“We want more involvement than what we already have,” said Rebecca Mandelman, chair of the Underdeck advisory committee. “This is a community effort and anyone who would like to get involved can. Miami deserves an exceptional public space, and this can be it.”

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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.