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2/9/03 - Sun Sentinel
Miami hopes arts center will revitalize a drab downtown
The Associated Press
MIAMI -- Marquitte Garner carries a screwdriver to fend off drug addicts in the
same downtown neighborhood city officials hope to turn into a vibrant center for
the arts and redevelopment.
Those contrasts are common in Miami, the poorest major city in the United States.
Garner, 26, lives on the streets near the construction site for a $255 million performing
arts center that officials believe will succeed where two nearby sports arenas failed:
spurring business and job growth.
When the Miami Arena was built in 1988 and the AmericanAirlines Arena in 2000, many
officials predicted that they would jump-start redevelopment throughout the downtown
area. While some nightclubs, restaurants and other businesses sprang up, much of
the area remained neglected.
East of the performing arts center's site in the Omni neighborhood, there are high-rise
hotels, luxury condominiums and The Miami Herald. To the west, dilapidated buildings,
abandoned lots and homeless people such as Garner dot the landscape.
Michael Hardy, president and CEO of the Performing Arts Center Trust of Greater
Miami Inc., predicts that his project will transform the neighborhood when it opens
in two years. ``Typically, the areas around big performing arts centers like this
do improve dramatically, not overnight,'' he said. ``Generally, it's five to 15
He pointed to the success in neighboring Broward County, where a performing arts
center that opened in 1991 helped revitalize downtown Fort Lauderdale. But that
area did not suffer from the blight in the Omni neighborhood, which even Hardy calls
The city has commissioned several urban plans to determine how to redevelop the
neighborhood around the center. Those plans will focus on where affordable housing,
higher-priced condominiums, businesses and restaurants should be located. Those
plans, and others designed to improve pedestrian and automobile traffic flow, should
begin before the center opens, Hardy said.
About $2 million dollars in city taxes each year will be used for programs that
could include rent control to keep poorer residents in the neighborhood, said Frank
Rollason, executive director of Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency.
But city Commissioner Johnny Winton, whose district includes the center, acknowledges
that affordable housing may not be a priority for developers, who tend to focus
on building more lucrative lofts and condominiums.
``That's a national challenge,'' he said. ``I'm not a magician.''
To attract residents to the area, city officials need to make many improvements
immediately, said Gil Terem, a real estate developer. He recently opened a sandwich
shop two blocks from the center and also plans to convert warehouse space in the
neighborhood into housing.
When the center opens, ``they need more people like me already here with cafes,
restaurants and galleries,'' he said.
The city should begin repairing sidewalks and landscaping, installing better street
lighting, and increasing police presence to convince businesses and residents the
area is safe, he said.
If not, Terem predicts, the center will become another AmericanAirlines Arena, the
gleaming home of the NBA's Miami Heat. ``People get out of a game, walk across the
street to the parking and two minutes later, they're gone.''
The city is aware of those fears, but plans to repair and improve streets and sidewalks
will take about a year, Rollason said.
Miami police Cmdr. Robert Reed, the department's top officer in the neighborhood,
understands the frustration of business owners, but said an increase in police presence
is not in the works.
``Their taxes justify it but the rise in crime does not,'' he said.
Overall crime in the area has dropped by more than half over the last five years.
A major problem now is the increasing number of homeless, many of whom are drug
users, he said.
Garner, the homeless man, said that although he doesn't take drugs, many others
on the street do.
``They're not concerned about finding a job,'' he said. ``Their only thing is hustling
to buy drugs.''
Under a 1992 federal court ruling, a shelter bed must be available, offered and
refused before a Miami police officer can arrest a homeless person. The Omni area
lacks enough shelter beds to accommodate its homeless, Reed said. The city estimates
about 300 homeless people live in the area.
``You're sending me into a battle without any ammunition. I don't have the beds
to put the homeless in,'' Reed said.
Hardy expects poorer residents and the homeless will get some of the estimated 1,300
to 2,000 jobs that will be created at the center and businesses around it.
The arts center, which is financed by Miami-Dade County and private donors, will
have two large halls for orchestras, operas and ballets and a smaller studio theater.
Concerts will range from classical music to jazz and hip-hop. The center will also
hold arts and music classes for students throughout the county.
``It's not just a place for rich people,'' Hardy said.
Garner hoped that was true, saying he might eventually get a job in the area.
But, as he looked at his ripped pants and sneakers, he said businesses probably
wouldn't want to hire someone like him.