Decades-Old Ocean Drive Palm Trees Removed and Relocated

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Just a few months ago, the Miami Beach City Commission approved a plan to clean up Ocean Drive, which Mayor Philip Levine described earlier this year as a "disgusting, terrible place" on a "15-year slide into the abyss."

But as a plan for improvements on the iconic stretch takes hold, business owners and residents say they didn't know the city's prescription included a measure to remove dozens of decades-old palm trees from the sidewalks along Ocean Drive.

"What bothers me is these trees survived a hurricane, a beetle blight. But city hall? They can't survive that," Tony Kay, the owner of Finnegan's Way sports bar, tells New Times.

Kay says the palm trees, three of which are in front of his restaurant, were planted in 1988 by the Ocean Drive Association.

"I've been on the Beach since '86, and I thought that was the greatest thing ever done," he says.

The tree removal is a part of the 10-Point Plan put together by Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who was directed by Mayor Levine this summer to field suggestions for revitalizing Ocean Drive. The goal of removing the trees is to create a five-foot walkway and eliminate the so-called gauntlet of umbrellas and café tables on the sidewalk.

"This is all part of a greater plan," Arriola says. "The trees, because of where they're planted — and they were planted decades ago — impede the pedestrian walkway and create problems."

In addition to creating more room on the sidewalk, the removal of the trees was supported and approved by the city's Historic Preservation Board in August as a way to provide better visibility of the street's historic hotel façades.

"The trees were supposed to be at a much lower scale," says Alex Tachmes, a lobbyist for the Ocean Drive Improvement Association. "Many of the trees have grown quite tall, and they're blocking the historic façades on Ocean Drive, which was never really the intention when the trees were initially installed on the street."

But some business owners say they're unhappy about the trees being taken away — and the implications for restaurants that rely on the towering palms to attract tourists.

"They're beautiful trees. We've got enough concrete in Miami Beach," Kay says.

Cecilie Jorgensen, who has a business inside the Netherland, located at 1330 Ocean Dr., also begged commissioners to reconsider the decision.

"We do not want to see those trees go down," she said at last week's meeting. "They've been there a very long time. That's what Ocean Drive is all about."

All of the trees were supposed to be relocated to Lummus Park across the street, but city staff says two of the 22 palms that were removed weren't able to be saved.

According to the city, the tree pits will be temporarily filled with asphalt and later replaced with concrete.

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