Big changes could be coming to Lincoln Road, with the firm behind New York's High Line cooking up plans to transform South Beach's iconic but aging pedestrian mall.
Those plans, combined with a vote at the city commission later this week on whether to let property owners form a business improvement district for the mall, could mean a major facelift for a walkway where high-end retailers have been flocking in the past five years.
Earlier this year, the City of Miami Beach quietly contracted James Corner Field Operations, the architectural firm behind New York's famous High Line and Miami's upcoming Underline — a greenway planned beneath the Metrorail tracks.
"Lincoln Road has a great history and a great legacy," founder James Corner tells New Times. "It's still one of the great streets in America, probably in the world. But over the years it's deteriorated."
Corner says he and his team have been meeting with business owners, residents, community groups, and city official and "listening to what's on people's minds and what they complain about."
Corner had few specifics to offer just yet on what his group will recommend for the walkway, but says most people he's spoken with agree it needs an update.
"There's a lot of positive energy and a lot of enthusiasm," he added. "But at the same time they feel it's underperforming ... It's a bit run down and tattered in parts. It could be greener, more sociable. Not a lot of places to sit right now unless you're in restaurants."
In coming up with its design for the street, the firm will also consider Lincoln's history, including its noted Morris Lapidus-designed buildings, he said, and consult with a local engineering team and historical and sustainability consultants.
By August or September, the team expects to have a master plan in place, which will give the city a clearer picture of budgeting and provide a more specific framework for changes. Corner said he expects the project could then actually begin sometime in 2016.
At the Miami Beach City Commission meeting on Wednesday, commissioners will also decide on whether to form a Business Improvement District (BID). The quasi-governmental group, made up of Lincoln Road property owners, would have authority over enforcing certain regulations and alterations to the heavily trafficked pedestrian street, all of which would add up to a more pedestrian friendly and efficient public space.
"Certainly with the master plan," says Ben Pollara, a spokesman for the Lincoln Road Property Owners Association, which is advocating for the BID, "the face of Lincoln Road will change substantially. And change for the better."
If Wednesday's vote is approved, Pollara said, the BID will also be able to better regulate the sometimes-obnoxiously loud volume coming from Lincoln Road businesses and logistics like valet services and security.
But the BID's main focus will be on supporting and collaborating with the plans developed by one of the world's premier landscape architects.
"I love South Beach. Who doesn't?" said the UK-born Corner. "It's very exciting, edgy, and cool. [But] I do think that if you stroll along Lincoln Road today you feel that it's losing oxygen. It needs a refresh. It needs an injection of something new to capitalize it forward for the next few decades."
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