This is the story of how the people of this community lost control of their own waterfront.
I am an urban planner by practice and education, so I sometimes slip into jargon. We are taught in planning school that the heart of a great city is its PLVI—the Peak Land Value Intersection—the place of highest real estate value where also the public gathers for communal events. We are taught that the PLVI of New York is Times Square. In San Francisco, the PLVI is Union Square. In Boston, the PLVI is Faneuil Hall. In Baltimore, the PLVI is the Inner Harbor. In London it is Trafalgar Square. Every great city has a PLVI.
So where is the PLVI in Miami?
An illegal condo sales building now used as a private yacht club, at Miami’s PLVI.
Miami’s PLVI is where its major boulevard meets its major body of water—the place where Biscayne Boulevard meets Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami. That is Miami’s PLVI. How could Miami’s major public square turn into a private yacht club? Here is the story.
The Dupont Plaza Hotel, an ugly riverfront structure with its back to the River, was torn down and two buildings were proposed to replace it at the PLVI—the place where Biscayne Bay meets the Miami River, directly across the River from the Miami Circle, the ancient beginning of a lost civilization that once ruled the Carib nations 2000 years ago. The City spent precious tax dollars in a joint venture with Miami’s most prominent real estate developer, Related Housing, to build a new River Walk at One Miami, across from the Circle, to connect to an existing River Walk at the Knight Center, downtown’s jewel of a convention center, all for the public’s enjoyment. The Miami Circle was constructed with State, County and private money on the other side of the PLVI. A beautiful new Phase 1 project was built at the old Dupont site—now known as the Epic Hotel, home of the celebrity restaurant Zuma, and where the Greenway continues.
The gleaming new Epic announced its plans for Phase II and asked the City for a temporary sales site smack at the PLVI (Peak Land Value Intersection). It was promised to be a sales site, and would only temporarily block the Miami River Greenway—a project approved by not only the Federal government, but the State, County and City—to open the PLVI to the public. It was allowed a one year permit to sell its condo and hotel units in 2009. But what happened?
The market crashed, even though the Greenway progressed all the way for five miles. The “temporary” sales office was, appropriately, declared illegal on October 13, 2009 for blocking the new Miami River Greenway at Miami’s heart, and ordered to be demolished. Construction continued all around the PLVI, and today the Miami Greenway has miles of public land, accessible to the new downtown residents, tourists and businesses, but blocked from public usage by this illegal private yacht marina building. This illegal building, built as a temporary structure, is allowed to prevent the public from accessing its public waters so that yacht owners can enjoy easements for their private enjoyment. This site, promised to the public as a condition of its use, is now forbidden from public use by a wealthy yacht club in an illegal building. The City of Miami has not found the political will to enforce its own laws. Two years waiting, and the City refuses to open its land to the people that rightfully have access to its waters—its own taxpayers. What’s wrong with this picture?
Miamians sometimes wonder why their City, at such a beautiful site and with so much potential, can sometimes seem like a backwater political swamp that fails to meet its grand destiny. Here is a case study.