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Commissioner Ken Russell Wants The City To Pay Upfront For Biscayne Line

Many people tend to think of Miami as a car dominant, traffic heavy metropolis. Yet, the city is becoming more pedestrian friendly. An ongoing project by real estate group The Related Group and Miami’s Downtown Development Authority seeks to make Miami a top destination for walking, living and vacation.

Similar to The Highline in New York City, a new project called The Biscayne Line would be a 15-mile long public walkway that stretches from Downtown Brickell to the Design District.

Although stretches of the line have already been built privately, the funding to get the rest of the line built publicly has resulted in heated debate. The latest proposal is a $25 million bond to finance the rest of the project.

The project has received pushback from the city commission and arguments continue over funding priorities, sea-level rise resiliency and the impact on high value condos along the water.

The city of Miami has already been ranked in the top 10 cities nationwide for walkability based on various metrics: proximity, public transit, sidewalks and more.

Carlos Rosso of the Related Group and Commissioner Ken Russell joined Sundial to discuss how they hope to expand upon the city’s pedestrian friendly attributes and provide a unique public space.

WLRN: So the latest proposal for the city commission is a $25 million bond to finance the project?

Russell: Right. So first it needs the legislation and then it needs the financing. The legislative piece that is needed is to allow the city to invest in it at all because this is private property. The city technically cannot expand on private property. The legislation I'm looking for would allow the city to invest upfront. But what triggers the developers to actually build this is the actual construction, their permitting and if they're land banking for years or decades. What I'd like to do is to see the city be able to build this upfront, pay for it upfront and be reimbursed by the developers as they trigger their need and their responsibilities.

Obviously there's been some opposition on this. 

Affordable housing is a major crisis we have in the city. All five commissioners talk about it at every single meeting, yet sea-level rise and the issues of storm surge as we saw in Hurricane Irma last year is also a very critical thing that we need to confront. Our front line on storm surge is our bay front, our bay walk, our Biscayne line. And so as we build this seawall, this walkway, we can also fortify it in the best possible way for storm surge and sea-level rise. I think there are two different conversations that don't necessarily need to oppose each other. We can do both and it's not an either or situation. The recent bond that that was passed is $400 million ... half of it is meant for sea-level rise mitigation. It can't be used for affordable housing and that bond has very specific buckets -- $100 million of it is for affordable housing. So really this isn't an either or conversation.

Is this project more about creating a space for the public to be able to move around or are we talking more about protecting from sea-level rise?

Rosso: I think it's all of the above. You know what Commissioner Russell just mentioned. It's very important that the general public realizes that public access to the water gives the properties behind that public access more value. More value signifies for the city more taxes and more jobs created in that location. So any push from the city to finish this walkway ahead of time will create more revenues for the city, which in return are going to create more ways to fund affordable housing.