Defining a CBD
What is a CBD? Central Business District: generally an area of intense commercial development in the center of an urban area. The CBD as defined in a transportation study may differ from the census definition. In the case of Miami, the CBD has always been in the Financial District where the Bank of America and Wachovia buildings reside. Now, with the dramatic influx of residential skyscrapers in the Financial District, the area is becoming less commercial and more residential. Within 3 years, residential and commercial skyscrapers will intermingle in a way that makes it difficult for the observer to employ the definition of a CBD as being mostly commercial. So then, 3 years from now, how will one determine where the CBD lies? Well, in the case of Miami, until a substantial commercial boom takes place, it is where there is the highest concentration of high rise density. Currently, the densest urban area remains the CBD.
However, Brickell Village is quickly coming into its own. Uptown, with several ambitious projects is not too far away from the CBD crown either. The only way to properly forecast where, or even if the CBD is shifting, is by gathering all the available existing and proposed building data and creating visual representations of the forecasted building density.
Above: Brickell Village Bar Graph-each bar represents a building that is either proposed, under-construction, or recently built. Right click to view full image.
Brickell Village’s Density
Data can be misleading at times, whether it is in this case will soon be determined. I have employed the use of bar graphs that are designed to visually represent new building density in three neighborhoods, which will be the subject of this analysis: Brickell Village, CBD, and Uptown. According to the bar graphs (scroll down to view all), the current CBD seems to be in for an uphill battle, especially versus Brickell Village. BV has more new development taking place. The neighborhood’s newest buildings are going to be averaging the mid-500ft. level in height. There will be 7 buildings at, near, or above 800 feet in height. To put that in perspective, what was once the city’s tallest Wachovia tower is shorter than all of them. Already the city’s current tallest, the Four Seasons, is in Brickell Village.
Density is spreading west from Brickell Avenue towards South Miami Avenue and west along the Miami River. There are impediments to the growth, however. To the south west of Brickell Village is an upscale residential area called The Roads. This area will not be touched by the wave of high density developments, although it is likely to be sandwiched in-between high rises in Brickell Village and mid-rises on SW 3rd Avenue. Still, the area creates a development boundary. Such a boundary does not exist in either the current CBD or Uptown. Brickell Village is seeing some interesting commercial development taking place with projects like Mary Brickell Village but there are no other major retail complex developments worthy of note. The current pattern of growth, despite its impediments, is rapid and aggressive; certainly enough to keep the CBD on notice. Through an urban density standpoint, Brickell Village seems to be on pace to outpace both the CBD and Uptown to the north. So what chance does the CBD have at maintaining its current status when the development is clearly tipping towards the Brickell Village side of the scale? Well, first one must consider events taking place north of the I-395.
Density in Uptown and the M&E
Below: Uptown density Bar Graph-each bar represents a building that is either proposed, under-construction, or recently built. Right click to view full image.
In Uptown, the Terra Group has massive plans for the 10 acres bordering the east side of the PAC, and even plans for the actual Herald property and the land next to the Venetia Condo. Add one 700+ tower in 1490 Biscayne and a total of seven 600+ footers in the area; an amount that would outdo the current CBD were it not for the CBD’s current rate of development, and you start to get the picture. However, the Uptown area has a healthy concentration of 500+ footers as well; nine in all. This is without mentioning the New York based Argent Group’s plans to demolish the Omni and possibly build up to seven 600+ towers on the site. The details are sketchy, but the implications are that the Argent Group plans to demolish in order to build big. Certainly, the Argent development combined with Terra’s 10 acre project and the other impressive projects nearby, make for a compelling argument that the CBD has a rival to the north as well. But most importantly, the Uptown area has an excessive amount of vacant land and under utilized land, which make new developments much more practical and cost effective to initiate and push forward. Add access to the PAC, proximity to both the Design District and Midtown Miami and the formula for success is clear. However, the Uptown area would have to see a sustained commercial development pattern outside of Midtown Miami, if it were to realistically vie for the CBD title, but even with the advent of the Terra Group’s City Square, the possibility is too far along the road to ponder.
In defense of the current CBD’s status, for one, the CBD currently has the most density. All future development will only add to an already fairly dense area. Additionally, there are big plans for the Financial District, which for argument’s sake, I’m combining with Parkwest. After all, Parkwest is situated next to the Financial District and is not separated from it by any obvious barrier except the rail road tracks adjacent to the Freedom Tower. Parkwest’s boundaries are blurred at best. In mentioning “big plans” for the CBD, I mean: the Empire World Towers, the Lynx development, and the 3-phase Metropolitan Miami project. These projects are truly monolithic by any urban standards. The proposed EW Towers at 1,124ft are to be the tallest condominium towers in the world. The aforementioned multi-phase projects, excluding Met 1 and 2, average out at approximately 965ft in height.
Other developments such as Epic, One Miami, Everglades on the Bay, and the other Metropolitan towers contribute with two towers each. Importantly, Parkwest has served to supplement the CBD’s density to the North. Parkwest will boast two 700+ and three 600+ footers. An extremely important factor in determining the location of a CBD is identifying where major transit lines meet and people congregate. Having the American Airlines Arena, Bayfront Park, Bayside Marketplace, and Museum Park located in your neighborhood can be considered obvious points of massive social congregation. The Government Center, which is the closest Miami has to a Grand Central Station is located in the CBD, and most of the People-Mover tracks and stations run in and around the CBD. Through a transit standpoint, no other neighborhood can get close to the current CBD. Access to the Port of Miami is found only in the existing CBD, and there is no clear strong pattern of commercial development in Uptown, although a decent amount is taking place in Brickell Village.
Comparing All Three Areas
However, a decent amount of commercial development is not going to make up for the Financial, Jewelry, Media and Entertainment District, and Courthouse Districts of the current Central Business District’s fold. Furthermore, the current CBD has more park space in Bicentennial (the proposed Museum Park) and Bayfront Park than its counterparts to the north and south. Parkspace is another important social congregation requirement in identifying a CBD’s location.
So maybe, after all, the visual data is misleading and the CBD is not going to shift north or south. Maybe despite there being a potential surpassing of building density in Brickell Village or even Uptown, the CBD simply has too many strategic variables in its favor; transit centrality, major civic centers, government facilities (local, state, and federal) and public parks. It is hard, if not impossible, to depict the social and transit advantages of the current CBD on a building height/density bar graph, but regardless the bar graph illustrates a compelling occurrence: the densification and expansion of the Miami skyline well beyond its current confines.
Below: CBD density Bar Graph-each bar represents a building that is either proposed, under-construction, or recently built. Right click to view full image. Continue reading past bar graph for additional notes.
Understanding the bar graphs:
I have taken a number of buildings, most of which are proposed or under construction, others which have just recently been topped off. This study has been aided by three bar graphs. Each bar graph is named after and represents one of three neighborhoods: CBD/Parkwest, Brickell Village, or Uptown. Each bar within the graph represents a building. The number scale on the left vertical margin of each bar represents height in feet. Therefore if a vertical bar reaches the 750 hash mark then the bar represents a 750ft. tall building in the neighborhood referred to at the graph title.
1. I have excluded most buildings on the Miami River both on the Brickell Village and CBD sides. I have done so because I believe that the riverfront development needs to be analyzed separately. The riverfront represents a different kind of neighborhood from its urban counterparts.
2. Not all buildings have been included in the bar graph. Certainly it was not necessary to display all building representations. For the sake of simplicity I have included each neighborhoods most significant developments. Typically, “most significant” means above 250ft in height; considering the level of development taking place that’s no small umbrella.