Officials: I-395 project could help Arsht Center, in long term
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Although a long-discussed overhaul of the 1.2-mile I-395 bridge could take as many as 500 parking spaces from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, center officials say they're confident they wouldn't be crippled by the project and are even hoping to benefit from it.
"In the short term it'll have some disruptive effects," said trust Chairman J. Ricky Arriola. "But long term, how can we influence it so that we have a downtown that's interconnected, increased green space [and] even increase parking once the thing is done?
"We want a seat at the table to make sure that this thing is done right."
The project, which has been in planning since the mid-1990s, looks to replace the existing bridge with a taller one closer to the arts center. The Florida Department of Transportation, which is managing the project, has long cited the existing bridge as poorly designed, structurally deficient and a source of urban blight in nearby Overtown.
But if work were to begin, the department would have to re-take control of land adjacent to the opera house that it purchased in 2004 and leases to the center for parking.
The loss of the land, where the new bridge would rise, would also include a loss of 500 parking spaces.
But Mr. Arriola said if the project were to ever get off the ground, the center wouldn't lose all parking in what appears to be its main lot.
The transportation department "owns a piece of the lot that is closest to I-395," he said. The "northern half of lot C is owned by the county, so they don't take all of that."
If the state took back part of the land, center patrons would be forced to find parking at another surface lot near the center, on nearby streets or in the Omni garage. The two-building center was built without parking of its own, though parking was originally planned.
And while most of the trust's talks seem to imply that it's dead set against the project, Mr. Arriola said a new bridge for I-395 does have potential to bring downtown together.
"If this thing ever comes to pass, it's a huge opportunity for us and the community to basically lift that eyesore of 395 into an elevated overpass so we can finally connect downtown with the rest of what was traditionally our downtown," he said. "We want to see this happen because… it's going to help Overtown and help [the center] a lot because it'll create a more [pedestrian-friendly] downtown."
Even though the project has been a dream for more than a decade, the state hopes to see it become reality soon.
Alice Bravo, director of transportation development for the transportation department, in a previous interview said the department hopes to "have a shovel in the sand four years from December."
The department's latest study on the $500 million project is to wrap up once it's approved by the Federal Highway Administration in the next few months.
Then the search begins for financing.
Meanwhile, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority gave the trust two seats on its evaluation committee for the I-395 project and the trust has formed its own committee, headed by Mike Eidson, a partner at law firm Colson Hicks Eidson, to monitor the work.
We "have to take into account lots of things," Mr. Arriola said. There's "disruption of traffic, parking, noise and the impact of development in the areas around us.
"We basically just want to have a task force to… pay attention to conversations in Tallahassee and locally."