Brickell leaders uneasy about new juvenile center
By Eric Kalis
The Florida Department of Transportation has leased property it owns on South Miami Avenue behind Tobacco Road, Miami's oldest bar, to the Department of Juvenile Justice for a building that hundreds of probationary youths are to visit weekly.
The transaction has drawn the concern of Brickell area leaders who worry that juvenile offenders are not a good mix with Tobacco Road and a new nightclub nearby, Bricks. They say they are also concerned about the dangers to pedestrians posed by the portion of South Miami Avenue on which the probation center will sit.
The new office is to serve youths under 18, ranging from at-risk youngsters involved with prevention programs to those who have been adjudicated of more serious offences, said Tara Collins, a spokesperson for the Department of Juvenile Justice.
"The safety of staff and the youth in our care are the agency's top priority," Ms. Collins said. "Many factors were considered when choosing this location."
Larry Apple, president of Associated Photo and Imaging, a graphics company that has resided at 19 SW Sixth St. for more than 40 years, said he is appalled that the state would put a center for troublemaking children in the heart of a highly-developed neighborhood next to the city's oldest bar and down the block from Bricks.
Mr. Apple said he has made numerous efforts to buy the building and that if he were to succeed he would probably sell it to another business to create more jobs. He said no one in the area was notified that the building, previously used as a small office for a half-dozen Department of Transportation employees, would be serving this purpose.
"I have been trying to get that property for several years," Mr. Apple said. "I was told to wait until the Department of Transportation moved out. Then I tried in earnest.
"There is no reason this building needs to be in the middle of a boomtown. Not only will this hold back development in the area, but the building is on one of the most dangerous streets [for pedestrians] in the city."
Children and family members who visit the center can park in a small lot adjacent to the Associated Photo building. But Mr. Apple said there is a blind spot for pedestrians crossing Sixth Street from the parking lot to the Juvenile Justice building, making it difficult to see cars speeding around the curve in the right lane.
Tory Jacobs, president of the Brickell Homeowners Association, said he agrees that heavy traffic, combined with the presence of neighboring bars, makes the space a less-than-desirable location for the center. Mr. Apple should have a chance to buy the building, which would benefit the entire area, he said.
"I feel the program will not be well-served in that location, with the traffic and parking conditions," Mr. Jacobs said. "Cars go speeding through that area, and the proximity to Bricks and Tobacco Road present problems. They should try to build up a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. I do not want to encourage kids to run around there without parental accompaniment.
"I know Larry wants to buy the property and do major development to add more jobs in the area," Mr. Jacobs said. "That would increase the tax rolls in the city and would make much more sense."
Several residents and community leaders met with Chief Probation Officer Isabel Afanador last Thursday to address their problems with the state's decision. Mr. Apple attended and said he was pleased that Ms. Afanador seemed receptive to his concerns.
"When I explained to [Ms. Afanador] how dangerous the location was it seemed to get her attention," Mr. Apple said. "She told us she would inform her bosses. She listened and was very polite."