Connecting Ocean Drive, Española Way, and Lincoln Road

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Connecting Ocean Drive, Española Way, and Lincoln Road:

Commissioners discuss potential pedestrian pathway and activating a crime-prone area

Betsy Hotel owner Jonathan Plutzik successfully transformed an alley next to his hotel (above), connecting Ocean Drive to Collins Avenue with a brick walkway, a restaurant, decorative screening, and, perhaps most important, additional lighting. Now Plutzik and Commissioner Ricky Arriola are supporting a proposal to take the same concept a little further west to connect Ocean Drive with Española Way and, ultimately, Lincoln Road.
At a recent Commission Finance Committee meeting, Plutzik talked about connecting three of the City’s most important assets to create “one of the great pedestrian walkways and connections, frankly, in the country.” Such a connection extending from the ocean through Española Way to Lincoln Road, he said, creates an exponential benefit. “One plus one equals three.”
At the same time, the City has the opportunity to address what Plutzik called “one of our challenge blocks” referring to the area on Española Way between Collins and Washington Avenues anchored by Cameo on the west and Señor Frog’s on the east. That area, he said, “hasn’t really been lifted up but on any busy weekend that is a street that’s jammed with people.” 
That stretch has been challenging from a crime perspective. In a referral email to the Finance Committee, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote, “a long, fluid pedestrian pathway” that “would link the city’s major economic engines… would also serve to activate the 200-400 blocks of Espanola Way (between Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue) that have remained underlit. By positively activating these blocks, it is anticipated to prevent crimes like the recent one that occurred during Rolling Loud.” In that incident, 24-year old rapper AAB Hellabandz was shot and killed in the 200 block of Española Way.

During Memorial Day Weekend this year, Miami Beach Police closed off Española Way between Collins and Washington and provided additional lighting. When MBPD Major Paul Acosta briefed the Commission’s Neighborhoods Committee on the Memorial Day Weekend plans, he indicated that stretch of road “seems to be the hub of a lot of activity” during high impact events. 
Lighting is one of the short-term options for making the area more pedestrian friendly and to begin encouraging people to make the connection from Ocean Drive through The Betsy Alley over to Española Way. The cost is minimal, $6,000 to replace the current lighting with LED lights and $2,000 to wrap the coconut trees in decorative lighting.
Longer term suggestions include installing street pavers and closing the 200 and 300 blocks of Española Way to traffic. The street is already pedestrian only west of Washington Avenue through the western corners of Drexel Avenue.  The price tag for the pavers is estimated at $200,000.
Finance Committee members Commissioners Michael Góngora and Mark Samuelian are supportive of the idea and agreed it was an easy win to activate the eastern portion of Española Way but both urged careful consideration of the segment that would connect from Española to Lincoln Road. Options include Drexel, Pennsylvania, and Euclid Avenues.
“I love the activation and the lighting, especially on the portion of Española between Collins and Washington that is very dark,” Góngora said. “I’m still unclear about the Española to Lincoln connection because whichever way you go, you have to go through a residential block so we have to be careful about the level of activation that we do because then at the next meeting we’re going to have the residents that live there saying there’s too much light, there’s too much signage, there’s too many people walking down that block so I think that part’s going to need to be fine-tuned.”
Samuelian suggested reaching out to the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association to come up with “the less obtrusive way to do this.”
Committee Chair Ricky Arriola suggested an urban designer be hired to help. “Part of it will go through a residential area, but I think with good design we could probably pull it off through landscaping, low impact lighting, and beautify those neighborhoods. I think it would probably be a win-win for the neighbors as well.”
“One section of this, the section between Collins and Washington has been a problematic crime ridden area,” Arriola emphasized. “so I think through good, clever urban design we can address that issue because that has been a trouble spot for us and so I’d like to see us start moving in that direction sooner rather than later because we’ve had some horrific crimes there and I think if we made it a pedestrian walkway that’s safer, we’ll be better off.  

Google maps image of Española Way between Washington and Collins Avenues

City CFO John Woodruff said there is $326,000 in South Beach Quality of Life funds available in the budget year that begins October 1 which could be used for the pedestrian connector.
Samuelian also suggested working with local businesses who might be willing to participate. Plutzik noted The Betsy paid all of the costs for turning 14th Place into what has become the busiest entrance to the beach in South Beach. 
Plutzik urged Commissioners to get started on the short-term plan as soon as possible. “We have a really important season coming up, obviously the Super Bowl, but many other things,” he said. “How do you light that section between Collins and Washington that’s so dismal at the moment? How do we do that inexpensively and quickly, wrap some trees with lights? See what’s happening on Washington now just with the wrapping of the lights, how the community’s transformed, so I would encourage Commission and staff to think about how do we do a one-month plan, spend a couple tens of thousands of dollars to uplift it quickly and then think about the longer term solution which may take a year or two to implement.”
MBPD Deputy Police Chief Wayne Jones told the Finance Committee his department supports more lighting for the area. “Lighting at night is the best prevention of crime. I think Jonathan [Plutzik] is on the right path, changing the environment there through lighting, through redesign, through activation, which will in our opinion, I think, help prevent crime in that area so I think this is a good thing.”
Arriola also threw out the idea of having pop up restaurants or street fairs during high impact weekends to activate the east end of Española.
Jones responded, “Activation, have the street energized, people moving about, we think helps in crime prevention.”
Samuelian suggested adding signage indicating the pedestrian walkway immediately even if the idea isn’t fully fleshed out to encourage immediate activation of the area between Washington and Collins.
Arriola pointed to the success of the recent “Umbrella Sky” project on Geralda Avenue in Coral Gables. “If we’re going to close that street long-term, [maybe] make that sort of our Geralda Avenue that you have in Coral Gables and that’s the place we can do activations like the Umbrella Sky and have parklets where people can eat outside.”
“Anything we can do to activate the street,” Góngora said, “especially with an art element, a pop up element, something fun and cool that’ll bring people there, I think is good.” He noted the large crowds that showed up to take selfies with the temporary art exhibit on Geralda. “It became a real popular spot just for people to come post a picture, so if there’s anything we can do along those lines I think it’s great.”
Plutzik said the “orb” which connects The Betsy building on Ocean Drive and another behind it and which can be seen midway through the 14th Place Alley attracts people “from all over the world by the thousands” to take photos in front of it. “If you give people a reason to come and you light it up, they’ll send pictures all over the world about how wonderful our city is,” he said.  “Between Collins and Washington it’s just not the case yet but, frankly, I don’t think it requires a tremendous amount to take the first step.” 
The item will be on the September Commission agenda for further discussion.
Top photo courtesy The Betsy Hotel
The Betsy orb

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