Under-Utilization in the CBD (PART I)

Continued from the introduction.

The Central Business District of a metropolis is expected to have an abundance of modern high rises. In Miami, only the basic requisites of that are satisfied. The impressive high rises are mostly concentrated along Biscayne Boulevard, near the bay, and intermittently within the Central Business District’s interior. For the most part, the CBD of Miami is a compilation of early twentieth century-built, mostly under-utilized, structures–few of them with restoration potential. However, the CBD Interior is gradually being surrounded by new construction on all sides except west. Restorations are already taking place in the heart of the interior, and new developments have penetrated deeper than ever into it. The status quo is going to change, but how will it with so many under utilized structures in the way?

Image: 225 S.E. 2nd Street (built in 1945)

Understanding Under-Utilization

An under-utilized building is always held relative to its surroundings. It is described as such because the area around it is progressing in value and functionality. To have under utilized buildings implies something positive of the neighborhood. In the case of the CBD, the hundreds of millions being spent on construction along Biscayne Blvd. is positive. The CBD interior is held relative to it.

Chronological Development Map

As mentioned in the introductory post, I developed a chronological development map to visually indicate the age of Downtown’s structures. Miami-Dade County’s public property database was used as the basis for the structure-age data. The government data was missing, at times, and those properties were left uncolored. Other uncolored areas of the map include vacant parcels and parking lots which are not factored in.

Each color on the map represents the decade in which the highlighted structure was built. Here is the chronological map and color code legend:

  • Light blue -On or before 1919
  • Dark blue -1920’s
  • Light green -1930’s
  • Dark green -1940’s
  • Light yellow -1950’s
  • Dark yellow-1960’s
  • Orange -1970’s
  • Red -1980’s
  • Purple -1990’s

I had to cover a lot of temporal ground so don’t get caught up in all the color meanings just yet. Let’s focus on two two eras: pre-1920’s (light blue) and the 1920’s (dark blue). Now look at the map (above), which is zoomed into the heart of the Central Business District.

Image : 777 International Mall (built in 1947)

A Historic CBD

The map shows that a vast swath of the CBD was built prior to 1930. If you add the 1930’s (light green) and 1940’s (dark green) then you get a real understanding of just how old the buildings in the CBD are. This stands in stark contrast to the rampant new construction along Biscayne Boulevard. While the Biscayne Boulevard area is being built from the ground up, the interior was mostly built between the 1920’s and 1940’s. There is little in the way of a threshold. The disparity between the building-eras is as vast as wealth and poverty in Downtown.

The Composition and Uses of Under Utilization

It has been established that the CBD, whether officially designated or not, is a veritable historic district, yet the level of under-utilization has not been assessed. Let’s take a closer look at a couple of these buildings:

Image: 140 N. Miami Avenue (built 1925)

Image: 127 N.E. 1st Avenue (built in 1923)

Both properties were built in the 1920’s. Neither of them have any desirable architectural aspects worthy of restoration, yet both fulfill the livelihoods of the business owners and employees that operate from within them. So, is it fair to characterize them as under-utilized? Yes. A building will always have a use. Having one does not exempt it from under-utilization. In this case, both buildings are poorly maintained and do not contribute to enhancing property value in the periphery.

Let’s take a look at a building that really captures the essence of under-utilization in the CBD:

Image: 98 S.E. 1st Street (built in 1981)

This structure is an absolute waste of space. I found a corridor that ran along its interior. Take a look inside:

Image: Corridor leading to the courtyard

As you can see, the shops are closed. Although it’s not easy to see in this image, all of the hanging plants are dead and the maroon and gold drapes create a haunting atmosphere. At the end of the narrow corridor is an eerily colorful courtyard. The lot size is 39,063 square feet. We’re talking an absolute waste of space. Just about anything would better utilize this space than its current state.

The three examples I’ve shown are exemplary of the majority of structures within the CBD. Not exactly the sleek high rises we like to equate a CBD with. These structures maintain all sorts of small business. In them you can find colorful fabric, jewelry, luggage, electronics, shoes, and just about any random object you can imagine. Their presence gives downtown a bazaar-like feel.

Image: Don’t let the tacky colorful facade fool you. This building (76 E. Flagler Street) was built in 1928

These types of under-utilized structures represent the majority composition of the CBD interior. This stands in stark contrast to the Brickell and uptown areas where buildings were built comparatively recently. Miami, at heart, is old. Which begs the question:

What about Restoration?

As much as these under-utilized structures are a part of the City, they are equally, much of what holds it back. Many of them are vandalized, abandoned, poorly maintained, falling apart, and filthy. They are a direct compromise to the urbanism momentum gained during the boom. How many of these structures actually stand a chance to remain in Miami’s rapidly changing urban environment? What buildings have restoration potential? Fortunately, as we explore the restoration potential of these structures, there are some pleasant surprises in store.

(to be continued)

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5 Comments

Filed under BoB Articles, CBD: Financial District, CBD: Jewelry District, Gentrification, The Big Picture

5 responses to “Under-Utilization in the CBD (PART I)

  1. bon Vivant

    Wow I’ve walked around downtown several times but never realised that these building were that OLD! Do you think it would make sense restoring any of these buildings? It looks like most of them have been mutilated to such a point the the damage is irreversible. I think it would be important for the city to keep some of the old buildings but only if they can be fully functional and contribute esthetically to the CBD. For example that 777 building needs to go! Well after reading a article in the herald this morning about the end of the boom we might not see any more interests from developers in downtown. Hopefully I’m wrong but I think that once they are done with the buildings that are under construction its over. There isn’t really a Strong infrastructure in the city to support such a dense CBD. As well as a very small amount of people actually living there. That’s the only way i can see these mom and pop tacky stores go and some retail that locals use move in.

  2. BV, I thought the same thing as I gathered the government data, but it is true, they are that old. The majority, in my opinion, don’t have restoration potential, but there are some interesting exceptions. I’ll get more into restoration in the next installment.

    Developers will not lose interest in Downtown. The effects of new construction occupation will lead to a stabilization of the urban communities, which has not yet happened due to the ongoing construction and infrastructure improvements. The high density residential boom laid the foundation for true urbanism in Miami. If only the office market can see a similar surge. I don’t think its that far off the horizon.

  3. Bon Vivant

    Well i hope your right… I see allot for planed office space for the area Met 2, Logic and 100 S Biscayne. I guess it is slower than the residential. Hopefully with the slowdown developers will start building commercial space.

  4. randy

    Historically it’s after a residential boom, that a commercial boom soon follows. Lets cross our fingers…Most of the older buildings in the CBD lack character. The commercial establishments in the area are not up to par for such a lucrative part of town. Implementing modern residential/commercial structures would better serve the area in achieving successful urbanization. It would create an inviting atmosphere that would translate from day to evening.

  5. Commercial typically follows residential activity. Still, the CBD is filled with crap. There isn’t much to spare. Because its filled with crap, there is no positive nighttime activity. The Related Group is helping change that with new developments planned for the interior and hopefully other developers will start emphasizing restoration and add historic character to the city while maintaining modernity.

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