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Miami Herald - June 4, 2006

Planned Street Could be Town Mecca

A project to create a Main Street would bring an entertainment area, an industrial village and a wider 54th Street to Liberty City.


County and state officials have unveiled a plan to transform one of Liberty City's busiest corridors into a town Main Street with its own entertainment center and industrial village and a roadway that would be widened by 15 feet.

As officials spoke during a public hearing on the plan to upgrade a large part of Northwest 54th Street, Ken Knight interrupted the proceedings to interject, ``I'm tired of the pawn shops and Chinese restaurants.''

Knight was expressing the feelings of some residents waiting for a proposed Living Communities project for the section of the busy street from Northwest 17th to 37th avenues.

That stretch of 54th Street will be revamped using ideas from a 2003 Model City/Brownsville charrette held at the Joseph Caleb Center by the Urban Design Center and involving nearly 200 residents.

The work is not expected to start for another few years.

County Commissioner Audrey M. Edmonson and officials of the Florida Department of Transportation outlined the project at a news conference May 17 at the Caleb Center.

Claudette Freeman, Edmonson's aide, said the initiative was the commissioner's ``main piece.''

''It's a real partnering,'' said Janet Seitlin, FDOT's Multimodal Projects administrator.

More details surfaced May 24 during an open house hosted by FDOT, the county Department of Planning and Zoning and the Renaissance Planning Group at the Caleb Center to seek community input.

''We're still in planning, still getting feedback from the community. We will be in the programming phase soon and looking for funding,'' said Kevin Tilbury, principal of the Renaissance Planning Group, which is leading the design work. ``The more community interest, the more likely we are to get funding.''

The project will cost between $2 million and $5 million, Tilbury said Wednesday.

According to the presentation, much of 54th Street -- also known as State Road 944 -- is only 70 feet wide and includes two travel lanes in each direction, narrow sidewalks and either a directional turn lane, a two-way center turn lane or a painted median.

The plan includes widening the roadway to 85 feet to create a Main Street feel. Developers would build store fronts that meet the sidewalk and replace parking from the front to the side and rear, which would create additional streetscape enrichment such as wider sidewalks, on-street parking, bus pull-outs, bike lanes and benches.

The redevelopment would also include a larger turning radius on corners, because of the high volume of truck traffic on the street, and textured, colored pavement at intersections to serve as gateway features and encourage drivers to maintain a reasonable speed.

A median was proposed but vetoed because 54th Street is the route for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade which already had to move from Northwest 62nd Street (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) when medians were installed on that roadway.

Despite an obvious heavy bike flow on 54th Street, no bike lane currently exists and bicyclists must share an 11-foot travel lane with trucks, buses and other vehicles.

According to Tilbury, much of the proposed construction would be done at night and the work will not start for ``another two, five, even eight years.''

But, Tilbury said, ``In the grand scale of road development, this is minor and should be measured in terms of months, not years.''

The open house, attended by about 30 people, had poster boards displaying sections of 54th Street slated for renovations and feedback cards for the community to fill out.

Natasha Alfonso of the Department of Planning and Zoning outlined the master plan the 2003 charette created. The suggestions included a movie theater, a gym and corner stores to add to the proposed Main Street charm.

The first proposal to be discussed was an entertainment and cultural themed area. This entertainment district would be at State Road 112 and Northwest 29th Avenue and would include restaurants, shops and a hotel. The plans include renovation of the historic Hampton House -- a once bustling motel that is now in ruins -- and remodeling and reopening of Bethune Elementary School, provided enough families move into the area.

The master plan also calls for an industrial village bounded by Northwest 41st and 46th streets and Northwest 25th and 27th avenues. This could become an ''employment center,'' according to Alfonso. The area currently includes warehouses, storage facilities and auto repair centers. Future businesses would include retail, mixed-use commercial and mixed-use industrial.

Also set out in the plan is a proposal for a youth center that would include a gym and bowling alley on Northwest 27th Avenue.

The Brownsville Metrorail station at Northwest 54th Street and 27th Avenue would become an ''entrance to the town,'' according to Alfonso.

''The community wants to see more supermarkets and single-family homes,'' she said.

The charrette also proposed using the 8.7-acre train station property and the adjacent 1.7 acre parcel at Northwest 27th Avenue and 54th Street as site for a shopping center with a supermarket and a pharmacy.

Also included in the master plan is a proposal to revamp the Joseph Caleb Center, at Northwest 54th Street and 22nd Avenue, to allow the facility to provide more services.

During the charrette residents called for a post office, a larger library with extended hours and regional library services, a meeting hall and a cafeteria to be included in the center.

The Caleb Center, which was built in 1976 and is named after a slain labor leader, is currently under renovations for communication, sound and acoustics, under the county's Building Better Communities Bond program.

Kenneth Kilpatrick, chairman of the Brownsville Charette Neighborhood Foundation, which requested the 2003 charrette, was among those at the Open House.

''In this community, we had to take a step to restore the historic and economic vitality,'' Kilpatrick said.

The foundation represents neighborhoods such as Brownsville, Olinda, Earlington Heights, Treasure Heights and Highridge. Residents wishing to be affiliated with the foundation must belong to their own neighborhood associations.

''It's a positive thing because the neighborhood associations have never come together before,'' Kilpatrick said.