Lincoln Road Master Plan Scope, Costs Reduced

Lincoln Road

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Lincoln Road Master Plan Scope, Costs Reduced:

City trims budget from $77 million to $50 million

In an effort to bring the planned renovations to Lincoln Road back in line with original budget projections and to minimize disruption, Miami Beach City staff sharpened their pencils and came up with some areas to cut back. The original budget to implement the James Corner Master Plan grew along with the vision – rising from an estimated $50 million to $77 million.
Earlier this year, when City Manager Jimmy Morales and Commissioners asked property owners to contribute to the cost of construction as a means of balancing the budget, they agreed but said they were not willing to spend money on capital projects because they said that was the City’s job. Instead, they want to invest in programming to keep people coming to Lincoln Road during and after the construction.

This week Morales met with the Lincoln Road Business Improvement District (BID) Board of Directors representing the property owners and laid out a compromise plan that brings the costs of the renovations back to $50 million.
He said Commissioners are open to the BID making its contribution through programming. “They also heard, if you can’t do this in 2.5 to 3 years don’t bother,” Morales said reiterating concerns expressed by businesses about a long construction schedule being calamitous for them.
Morales said the City is proposing to “make some changes, come within that time frame, minimize the impact on sidewalk cafes, and stay within that budget.”
The good news, he said, is that the water utilities under the pedestrian area were upgraded in the 90s so they do not have to be done now. In addition, he said, “You don’t get much by raising the street,” so the proposal is to not do any underground work or street elevation to address sea level rise issues.
“We don’t have to close or relocate anyone,” Morales said addressing one of the main concerns of the businesses.
The sanitary sewer pipe is in the lanes behind Lincoln Road so replacing it will not cause any disruption to retail or restaurant entrances or the sidewalk cafés. 
The rest of the work will go as planned including restoration of the Morris Lapidus follies, fountains, lighting, landscaping, and cameras.
One of the signature pieces, however, will be left out. “The trellis everyone agreed might be too expensive,” Morales told the group. “It’s a $5 or $6 million piece.” The trellis was to mark the entrance to Lincoln Road on the south side. [See rendering at top.]
A proposed pedestrian connector from Lincoln Road to Soundscape Park and the New World Symphony via Drexel Avenue is being put on hold.
With the changes, Morales said, “The contractor is confident” the project can be done in “2.5 years at most… What we were doing before was not doable in that time.”
Construction will still go block by block, he said, 
The reduced price tag, Morales said, “gives Commissioners an opportunity to spend on other projects, funding for the Fillmore potentially. I think that will be an important part of this area in the future.”
BID President Steven Gombinski who owns 900 Lincoln Road addressed the timeline first. “We’d like a realistic date that takes into account every possible contingency” saying he thought the timeline still sounded long.
Morales reminded him “The sidewalk cafés will be relatively unimpacted” during construction. 
Gombinski said he thought the new plan was “a really good option,” though, he said, “Losing the trellis is not optimal.” He would like to see something else, “a substitute instagrammable moment” on the street.  “I think we can come up with alternatives,” he said.
Gombinski also lamented losing the Drexel Avenue pedestrianization. “It is the connection to the New World Symphony which is our most significant cultural attachment.”
Morales said the street “can always close area temporarily” for special events.
“You’re also asking us for money which we are inclined to do,” Gombinski said. “We’d respectfully ask you to reconsider that. We’re okay with the trellis and the sidewalks.”
Lincoln Road on Washington and Collins, leading up to the southern entrance of the pedestrian mall, was also under consideration for an upgrade but that will come later, Morales said. 
Gombinski called that “a perfect opening to Lincoln Road and we’d really like to see that.”
“We still want to do that,” Morales replied. “We don’t want that to hold up the pedestrian [mall]. We can use transportation dollars for that” due to the area being where buses stop.
Morales said the City heard the property owners concerns that potential tenants were not making decisions about leases given the uncertainty over when construction would start, how long it would take, and how much disruption it would cause. As a result, he said, the focus now is “Let’s get the critical mall piece done as quickly as possible. Do other streets later.”
Gombinski agreed that “having both the sidewalks being freely open, that’s going to solve a lot of issues.”
Returning to the issue of how long construction will take, Morales said estimates are for two to three months per block which Gombinski said would translate to 16 to 24 months.
Next steps are to create revised plans. 
Mel Shlesser, owner of the building at 1627 Euclid, said “We’re at a point there’s a clear path that we can find positive, that this is going to happen.”
Owners had asked if work could happen overnight while businesses are closed but were told the contractor is opposed to night hours given the late operating hours of businesses and the fact it is next to a residential area. The time to set up and take down a construction area every day would result in too much lost productivity time.
Morales said, “You have our commitment that we will push the contractor to do this as quickly as possible. We’ll discuss night hours” again with them.
“It’s painful to take New World Symphony out of it because it’s such an important element in the City,” Gombinski said again but Morales reminded the group the “pedestrianization of [Drexel] was not part of the original plan.”
“We appreciate it,” Gombinski said. “We know the constraints you’re under.”
Morales noted one of the performance goals in his new contract is to complete the Lincoln Road renovations. “I want to get this done as much as you do,” he assured them.
He said has spoken with all of the Commissioners but one and said “I got them comfortable with no capital dollars” from the property owners. “The alternative is a robust and effective programming,” he said, adding that Commissioners will want to hear the owners’ plan and monetary commitment for that. 
Gombinski said that the owners were asked to come up with $9 million when the budget grew to $77 million. Now that it’s back to $50 million, the BID needs to consider what it will do. “We intend to come up with something,” he said.
Currently, Schlesser said property owners contribute $1.5 million to the BID budget “and now we’re talking about increases in it which at this stage of Lincoln Road is impacting all of us,” but, he added, “We’re in this game.”
Regarding the City’s participation, Morales said, “Whether it’s $50 million or $70 million, it’s significant. How many commercial corridors get a $50 million investment?”
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