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BEST CANDIDATE FOR URBAN RENEWAL Miami 2004 - Biscayne Plaza mall

Could the architectural wasteland at Biscayne Boulevard and 79th Street have seemed like progress when it was built in 1954? These days Biscayne Plaza is about as feo as a strip mall can be. Developer Ed Easton and a partner bought it for three million dollars in 1983 with hopes of attracting shoppers from all around town. Today the yellowish two-story structure sprawls over a dreary asphalt landscape where Pier One, Starbucks, even Walgreens dare not tread because robbers frequently do. But this intersection could be a sleek northern gateway to the Magic City, or so savvy urban designers tell us. Instead it says: "Welcome to Miami: Home of Payless Shoes, Dollar Stores, and Ugly Strip Malls." A big part of the problem, by today's standards, is that whoever designed the plaza had his head on backward. "They were applying suburban design principles to an urban condition, which is what Miami's zoning code still does," sighs Maria Nardi, former chief of urban design for the City of Miami. Instead of the current layout -- a 73,000-square-foot parking lot between the street and the storefronts -- the cool thing would have been to place the storefronts adjacent to the street and the parking behind the structures or in a beautifully concealed garage. Shops abutting the sidewalks, trees providing some shade. Above, as many floors of offices (or lofts) as developers desire. See the area bustle with happy pedestrians. Watch residential property values rise in Shorecrest to the east and Little Haiti to the west. So what's the holdup? Maybe the holdups. But also this: Today the rent even from lower-class tenants is all gravy. Easton has little incentive to sell. "It's a cash cow," says one knowledgeable developer. "They're making a killing."

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