Despite free parking options, Miami wants to buy land, build garage
By Paola Iuspa
Miami officials want to spend nearly $3 million on land to build a garage while free land is available nearby for surface parking.
Functioning as the Community Redevelopment Agency, a group that focuses on redeveloping the Park West, Overtown and Omni areas, Miami commissioners said the purchase and development of a privately owned parcel would foster business growth.
In addition to easing area parking problems, City Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. said, the agency wants to build a garage with ground-floor retail and space for businesses to store garbage dumpsters. Also chairman of the CRA, Mr. Teele said his group wants to build a promenade in the Park West alley between Northeast 10th and 11th streets, which is where business owners now keep dumpsters.
The agency decided last week to offer $75 per square foot, or $2.95 million, for 39,333 vacant square feet at 1001 N Miami Ave. Owner Gregory Mirmelli said he bought the land two years ago for about $1.5 million and spent $1 million to demolish buildings and pay property taxes.
The commissioners voted about 9:30 p.m. Thursday before a nearly empty commission chamber. The CRA meeting, which had been called for 5, began after 8 p.m., when commissioners created a break in their regular commission meeting.
Interviewed the day after the vote, at least four Park West business owners opposed having their tax money used for a garage and favor the less costly and faster surface-parking solution. They want the CRA to lease the vacant land under Interstate 395 from the state and convert it into parking.
If there is a demand for parking after building a lot under the expressway, then city officials could build a garage, said neighborhood activist Luis Melo, who owns many area properties.
The state's land under the interstate, three fenced-off blocks west of Northeast Miami Court and east of First Avenue, is now used by the homeless and drug dealers, said Gil Terem, a property owner and a New York transplant. Neighboring business owners agreed.
"I welcome the idea of a parking garage," Mr. Melo said. "But who is going to pay for it? There is plenty of space under the I-395. Using that land will end parking, homeless and drug-distribution problems."
Area property owner George Sanchez said building surface parking under the I-395 will "cost less than $3 million." The goal for the 10th Street (proposed garage) is four-story parking. It could cost another $3 million."
"To use the I-395 space is a no-brainer," said Jason Beck, a partner with developer Avra Jain, whose New York-based group has being buying land in the neighborhood for two years. "The land is sitting there. Let's use it."
The CRA signed an agreement with the state in 1999 to use the land for parking, said Annette Lewis, the agency's acting executive director, but nothing was ever done. She said the agency has had four executive directors in the past three years, making it hard to follow up on projects.
It is common practice for the state to transfer rights for land under a state-owned expressway to a city for public parking, said David Rosemond, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation.
And, Art Noriega, executive director of the Miami Parking Authority, said the state has previously given space to the city under expressways at no charge. The city becomes responsible for building and maintaining the surface parking lot.
Mr. Noriega has said the average cost of building a parking space on a surface lot is about $2,500.
Some Park West business owners also complain the proposed garage will directly benefit Club Space - soon to be moving to a site also owned by Mr. Mirmelli and next to the parking garage site - rather than the entire neighborhood.
Club Space, now a block away, was the first nightclub to open in Park West two years ago.
Since then, four other nightclubs fronting Northeast 11th Street have opened. Those business owners said the state-owned parcel under I-395 is more centrally located for parking.
Mr. Mirmelli said CRA executives approached him about buying his North Miami Avenue land about a year ago and in the past few months both parties have gone back and forth over a contract. As of Tuesday, Mr. Mirmelli said he expects to get a contract soon and while not sure he wants to sell the land to the city, he will entertain the CRA's offer.
Saying he owns about 250,000 square feet of real estate in the neighborhood, Mr. Mirmelli said his parcel is ideal for parking because "it is 20 feet" from the clubs. He agrees that a garage, likely to hold more than 700 parking spaces, could act as a catalyst for the neighborhood's redevelopment.
"It will help the area as it did the garage that Craig Robins with Dacra and Tony Goldman built in 1995 on Miami Beach, on Seventh Street between Washington and Collins Avenue."
He said the space under I-395 is at least one block from the clubs and it could be dangerous for patrons to walk far at night.
Mr. Noriega said his group has been studying the possibility of parking under the expressway and estimated that 2,000 cars could fit there. He said the authority tried years ago to convert the lot but backed off until the CRA expressed interest in spearheading the effort. He restarted his efforts nine months ago.
But Ana Gelabert-Sanchez, director of the city's planning department, said she was not aware of any talks going on between the city and the state to provide parking under I-395.
Mr. Melo, like other Park West business owners, said he would like elected officials to invest the $2.95 million the garage parcel would cost in providing better services. He said area streets need repair, landscaping, lights and law enforcement.