Sewer System Coming To Miami Shores With Promises of New Restaurants

Miami Shores, the wealthy village wedged between Little Haiti and North Miami, is poised for a commercial renaissance along its main downtown corridor on NE Second Ave., as a long awaited sewer system is planned to be installed in the next two years, according to a municipal official.

Tom Benton, the village manager said in an interview that he expects construction to begin by January 2015. From there, it could be up to 15 months before the new system is complete.

The sewer is critical to making Miami Shores a viable economic district, says Todd Leoni, who owns two buildings on the street.

"I would like it to be a great downtown area where people come to everyday and I think it has the making of that," Leoni, a Miami Shores native said. "But I think it's yet to be defined."

Leoni said that he owns roughly 15 properties around Miami, mostly bunched on Biscayne Boulevard.

"There's still a lot of obstacles to overcome, but I've lived in the Shores for 12 years and I believe in it," Leoni said. "It's really the last little village that hasn't made it because of the fact that we don't have sewers."

As an older community in the county, Miami Shores relies on drain fields and septic tanks, which have to be periodically emptied. This limits the type of business that can come into the area.

The village classifies its downtown as running along NE Second Ave. from 94th to 101st Streets. It is made up of a series of block-sized buildings (some built in the 1930s) that break up the flow of suburbia that characterizes life here. O Cinema, the independent film theatre non-profit, has one of its two locations on Second Ave. The theater and a handful of other mom-and-pop shops offer a bit of culture to the otherwise bland and sterile street populated with banks, doctor's offices, and real estate fronts.

Councilman Jesse Walters reports that 81 percent of commercial space is currently full on Second Ave. But it's mostly office-style spaces, he points out; while more people are working in downtown Miami Shores, there's a lack of restaurants and retail outlets that would invigorate the area. Those are the type of businesses the people of the community want, Walters says.

"The vision is what residents have repeatedly say they've wanted, which is restaurants, maybe a bar or two and some gentle retail like a bookstore," Walters said sitting on a bench in front of the local chamber of commerce office.

Leoni, the property owner, recently purchased 9600 NE Second Ave., a wide building with a few unfinished spaces on the bottom floor, which could be turned into future restaurants -- assuming the new sewer system provides the infrastructure to support them.

But until then, Leoni's stuck operating his business as usual. Which isn't so bad; his new building is 60 percent full, he says. But things would be better if the employees in those offices just had a few more options for happy hour.

Still, he says he's optimistic about the Shores' post-sewer future.

"I'm willing to wait," he says. "I believe in the town."

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Rich Robinson