Westward Expansion of Pedestrian Mall Backed by City Board
West End of Lincoln Road to Be Closed to Cars
“The openness and the flow of landscaping design really celebrate the nature of the pedestrian road.”
West Lincoln Road after the closure, as depicted by an aerial rendering.
By Randy Abraham
Miami Beach’s Historic Preservation Board agreed to recommend to the City Commission the closure to traffic of the west end of Lincoln Road, during its Nov. 14 meeting.
The proposal came from the city’s Planning Department and is to be in conjunction with the redevelopment of the SunTrust building at 1111 Lincoln Road. If the plan is approved, the closure will be paid by the city without any assessment required from Lincoln Road property owners.
Board members praised plans presented by the architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron and landscape architect Raymond Jungles.
HPB member Beth Dunlop said although she was concerned about providing enough space for vehicles to drop off theater-goers, she felt the concept will further the design of famed MiMo-era architect Morris Lapidus, who designed the original pedestrian mall in 1960 that closed Lincoln Road to traffic. The move was part of a city effort to revitalize the street in the face of declining tourism revenue and increased competition from Bal Harbour Shops and suburban shopping centers.
Lincoln Road between Alton Road and Lenox Avenue, which is adjacent to the Regal Cinema megaplex movie theater, was reopened to vehicular traffic in the early 1990s as part of the city’s more recent renovation project.
“If he [Lapidus] was alive, he would have done this,” said Dunlop. She also complimented the proposed landscape design and said the city should consider having the firm landscape the rest of the street and also Alton Road.
Board member Jean-Francois LeJeune shared Dunlop’s concerns regarding traffic heading to the movie theater and said more attention should be placed on the intersection of Lincoln Road and Lenox Avenue to improve traffic flow. He said he also felt the streetscape design should be simplified and made less “busy.”
A few local residents also expressed concerns about traffic flow near the theater, but noted that the new design could add to the district’s cachet. Said local resident Elaine Sevin, “I’m concerned about the safety of people letting off people at the theater. If you close off the road, you need an area for drop-off and pick-up,” she said.
Lincoln Road property owner Michael Comras supported the concept but added that perhaps the city should consider leaving one lane open to vehicular traffic in each direction. He did note that “the block doesn’t work in its current configuration.”
Board Chairman Randall Robinson said he agreed with Comras. He said that during past visioning sessions for Lincoln Road, he initially supported opening the street up to traffic, but noted that many now feel otherwise. Robinson added that he doesn’t support either all-or-nothing approach – closure or maintaining vehicular traffic. “I’m not sure if either extreme is correct,” he said.
Miami Design Preservation League member Arthur Marcus added, “For once I think the architects and the developers made the right decision.” He recommended the city add signs directing motorists to parking and said the design would bring a sorely-needed western gateway to the street. “The openness and the flow of landscaping design really celebrate the nature of the pedestrian road,” he said.
In February, when the board approved plans for a new parking garage with ground floor retail space as part of Robert Wennett’s proposed redevelopment of the SunTrust Bank building at 1111 Lincoln Road, city staff encouraged him to explore with them the possibility of extending the existing pedestrian mall and closing the block in front of the building to vehicular traffic.
In a memo to board members, Planning Director Jorge Gomez wrote, “Staff believes the extension of the very successful pedestrian mall will benefit this portion of Lincoln Road and reinforce the pedestrian experience of Lincoln Road from Washington Avenue through to Alton Road.”
The proposal was not without detractors, however. Sherna Brody, who with her husband owns two buildings in the 1000 block of Lincoln Road, said she believed the closure will hurt tenants and aggravate traffic conditions at the Regal Cinema.
“For them to say this is the update to Lapidus’ vision is ridiculous. He [Lapidus] designed a nice deep drive in there for a reason. What I see in the proposal for the drop-off for the theater looks like little blips; I don’t think they are going to be effective,” Brody told the board.
Brody also questioned the landscape rendering’s depiction of large mature trees and doubted they could flourish in the available space. She said she circulated a petition opposing the proposal and has more than 10 signatures from business owners opposed to the plan. She added she felt that the closure would only benefit the 1111 Lincoln Road project. “They need a plan for the whole thing,” she said.
Wennett, who also attended the meeting, denied that the closure would be self-serving and stressed the proposal is entirely separate from his project. “My project stands on its own merits. Everyone – city staff, the Design Review Board, the Board of Adjustments, the Miami Design Preservation League and local businesses – agree that that has always been a dead block. We accepted that, and agreed to explore the closing of Lincoln Road,” he said.