Steve Dutton and Tom Lang fell in love with downtown Miami almost at first sight, after taking a cruise that ended here in 2012. When they retired to Miami from Fort Worth, Texas, that year, the couple came to especially love the eclectic mix of restaurants along the two blocks of NE Third Avenue, just a short walk from their Biscayne Boulevard high-rise.
They always thought the street had potential to be a major draw, if only it could be cleaned up a bit and made pedestrian-friendlier and more visually appealing. They also worried about
In September 2016, their concerns were confirmed in the worst way, when a man with a history of mental illness shoved Lang, causing him to fall and hit his head on the sidewalk. Days later, Lang died. His attacker, Evans Celestin, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. As New Times reported in a cover story last year, the incident sent Dutton on a mission to help the homeless and make downtown safer.
Now, almost a year later, he's spearheading an effort aimed at accomplishing what he and Lang had long envisioned: breathing new life into NE Third Avenue. With the support of groups such as the Downtown Miami Partnership, he's pushing to make the street pedestrian-friendlier by expanding the curbs to allow more space for sidewalk dining and adding public art. The goal is to turn it into a destination along the lines of Miami Beach's Española Way or Coral Gables' Giralda Avenue.
"Miami doesn't have that," Dutton says. "I think it's time we have such a promenade."
The project, tentatively called Paseo on Avenue Three, won a $5,000 grant from the Miami-Dade Quick Build Program, which funds resident-submitted ideas for improving streets and transit. The grant will help pay for improvements such as adding art crosswalks and asphalt art.
Dutton says the one-way street is the perfect location for such a project because it includes 11 restaurants within its two blocks (among them are Cvi.che 105, Pollos & Jarras, and newcomer u'Mast). At the same time, it's mostly quaint. He says he introduced the idea to Miami Commissioners Ken Russell, Francis Suarez, and Frank Carollo, who are intrigued.
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"It's pretty obvious to see how easy it would be to turn it into a destination promenade," Dutton says.
Dutton's group hopes to pilot the project with a weekend event this January. The blocks of NE Third Avenue between NE First and NE Second Streets would be shut down to traffic so visitors could see the advantages of making it more accommodating to pedestrians. Long term, the goal is to win the support of the city commission to replace street parking with expanded sidewalks, where restaurants could add outside dining.
Dutton says he only wishes Lang were around to see the project come to life.
"Tom is on my shoulder all the time," he says. "I know he is."