I have memories as a young man in my late teens going to the public library located in Bayfront Park at the foot of Flagler Street where it runs into Biscayne Boulevard. Years ago the magnificent two story white marble library was pulled down in order that residents and tourists shopping on Flagler Street could look to the east and see the park and the bay. They called it “progress.”
Tourists and Miami residents alike shopped at Burdines department store, now Macy’s, located at SW Second Avenue and Flagler Street. Burdines, the biggest department store in Florida at that time was the fashion hub of the community.
I remember the first time I went downtown to attend a concert at the Olympia Theater on Flagler Street. What a treat. The Olympia, in all its 1920s glory is still to this day open to the public with performances that appeal to all ages. Unfortunately few tourists are fortunate enough to know the theater exists.
Flagler Street, once the pride of our community has fallen into a state of disrepair, last given a minor update 20 years ago, and is no longer a promenade for the fashionable of Miami. Today it has been replaced to the south by Brickell Avenue with its towering condos and bank buildings. The Adrienne Arsht Center for the performing arts and AmericanAirlines Arena are on Biscayne Boulevard to the North.
Flagler Street still is physically the center of our city but no longer maintained or promoted as the heart of our community.
Miami-Dade County District 7 Commissioner Xavier Suarez has a vision and the drive to see Flagler Street, Bayfront Park and the downtown section of Biscayne Boulevard brought back to life and updated to serve our community once again.
I met with Commissioner Suarez and several members of his staff in his office on the second floor of the Government Center in downtown Miami, spending over an hour hearing and telling stories of old Miami and looking over Suarez’s thrilling concept of a “new” downtown Miami.
Gone are the cars in Suarez’s vision of Flagler Street. The commissioner envisions Flagler Street as another Lincoln Road — a shopping, dining and banking center, a rejuvenated city center where business men and women, tourists and locals can meet for lunch, dinner or an evening on the town.
Suarez has a dream. But, he also has a plan — something that has been missing on previous plans to rehabilitate Flagler Street. The commissioner informally has presented his plan to the governor and received encouragement as well as a suggestion of possible state financial assistance. Suarez is checking out a U.S. Department of Transportation grant program designed to rejuvenate city centers.
What exactly does Suarez envision? First Flagler Street is converted to a pedestrian mall with lush plantings and sidewalk cafes. New name: “Town Square.” Biscayne Boulevard would go underground from the turn at the river to just north of the American Airlines Arena. Bayfront Park would almost double in size coming right up to the front doors of high-rises currently lining the Boulevard.
We so often, myself as a columnist included, have taken to task members of our county commission and the office of the mayor for not seeing, not having the vision or the drive to make our community the place we wish to live, to raise our children and grandchildren and to retire. It should be a community filled with activities to satisfy those of us that live here year round and to continue the appeal to tourists and members of the business community who visit Miami and return home with stories of our great city.
Commission Suarez, the community is behind you. Call upon us if you need support in making downtown Miami once again the hub of our community.
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