02/25/2010

InnoVida’s Haitian Cabin: Room enough for Zo?

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Low-cost cabins offered for post-Haiti earthquake housing

From Thursday’s print edition.

BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI
Efficient, inexpensive and nearly indestructible, the little blue-and-aqua hut sitting in the parking lot of a North Miami-Dade factory represents cutting-edge building technology -- and many like it could soon could be headed to Haiti.

The company that made the prototype house and the space-age composite panels it is built from announced Wednesday that it will donate 1,000 of the cabins to people left homeless by the Haiti earthquake.

At a news conference attended by some high-profile backers, including retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark and retired Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning, InnoVida Holdings officials also said they have lined up $15 million in investment capital to build a factory in Haiti that could produce 10,000 houses a year. UNIT26 INNOVIDA DADE CTJ

``It can do more for housing in Haiti better and faster than any other technology out there,'' said Clark, who is on InnoVida's board of directors.

It's not yet a done deal. InnoVida officials say they must still ascertain who will receive the 1,000 homes, which can serve as temporary shelter but were designed by renowned Miami architect and planner Andrés Duany as permanent housing. The company is in talks with the Haitian government and several interested volunteer organizations working on quake relief.

Read all about it and watch video here.

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Posted by Andres Viglucci at 06:30 PM
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02/23/2010

Saving the Little Havana bungalows: First in a series?

A landmark 1921 East Little Havana bungalow glows anew as a new home for an environmental group, thanks to preservationists.

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From Saturday’s print edition.

BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI

For 40 years, Rolando and Mercedes Alvarez lovingly tended their elegant, gabled Miami bungalow, a 1921 landmark sitting atop a slight rise roughly a long touchdown pass from the Orange Bowl -- until, aging and in declining health, they agreed to sell to a developer who planned to tear it down.

Six years later, the OB is gone. But the Alvarez abode abides, saved from certain ruin by Dade Heritage Trust, and newly and fully restored inside and out.Ins20 DHeritage LNEW PPP


Saturday, the Hubbard-Alvarez bungalow at 138 N.W. 16th Ave. -- now an official historic landmark named for the two families who occupied it, and lightly converted to office use -- begins a fresh life.

Its new owners, Citizens for a Better South Florida -- a nonprofit environmental education group that focuses on underserved communities -- will establish its headquarters in the bungalow. The group's leaders hope the restored house will become a beacon of possibility for the struggling neighborhood around it.

Preservationists hope the bungalow restoration will inspire others to save the city's neglected and dwindling stock of bungalows -- of which the Hubbard-Alvarez is one of the crown jewels because of its soaring, stacked gables, which resemble a bird in flight.

Read all about it here.

Posted by Andres Viglucci at 05:35 PM
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Flipper in Sunny Isles: The other shoe drops

Indeed, there is more to the plan for an aquarium in Sunny Isles Beach (see below). My colleague Doug Hanks reports a condo developer is backing a plan for the aquarium across from a new luxury residential complex. You may well ask, given the events of the past two years, what, is he crazy?

An observation: Pedestrian bridges over busy roads=Bad. They never work. They are anti-urban. Sunny Isles and the developer would far better serve their community and their project by focusing on turning AIA from a sewer for cars into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard.

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From Saturday’s print edition.

Aquarium plan excites Sunny Isles commissioners

A new Sunny Isles Beach aquarium would give the city a needed tourist attraction and a nearby condo tower a major new amenity. It was the developer's idea, and the city is happy for the help.

BY DOUGLAS HANKS

Condo developer J. Milton & Associates is backing plans for a city-owned aquarium and park across from its new luxury residential complex in Sunny Isles Beach, creating a tourist attraction that city leaders see as a milestone for the resort destination.

side00 sunnyisles MHZ HO

The plan commissioned by the Coral Gables developer would transform a strip mall near Collins Avenue and Sunny Isles Boulevard into an elevated park with shops, restaurants and an aquarium run by the owner of the Miami Seaquarium. Sunny Isles spent about $20 million acquiring the land over the last two years, including a $1.5 million parcel owned by J. Milton.

Sunny Isles expects to spend an additional $15 million building the park and a 350-car underground parking garage. The complex could open as early as 2013.

Wometco, the Seaquarium owner, would finance construction of a $25 million aquarium and entertainment complex, which it would lease from Sunny Isles Beach.

J. Milton, which wants the contract to build the project, would donate a $1.5 million elevated walkway over Collins Avenue that would connect the park to the beach.

Read all about it here.

Posted by Andres Viglucci at 05:18 PM
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02/18/2010

Regalado to UEL: Expect no grand plans, but thy will be done – like Miami Marine Stadium restoration

First, the news: Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado told an Urban Environment League forum Wednesday evening to expect an announcement soon about $3 million in seed money for Miami Marine Stadium restoration. Details in three weeks.

Among mostly friends, Regalado was chatty and relaxed,  reiterating positions that must have sounded like sweet music to the audience.

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I.E,: He still doesn’t think the port tunnel is a good idea; he’s “skeptical’’ the Miami Art Museum and Miami Science Museum have the fundraising muscle to meet their financial commitments towards new homes in Museum Park; the Miami River should be preserved as a working waterway; and he intends to amend the Miami 21 zoning code, approved by the previous commission but frozen by the new administration, to incorporate a laundry list of rejected amendments that had been proposed by neighborhood activists (interesting to see how that comes out since some appeared to be unworkable).

Still no overarching vision and little evidence of an appetite for one, other than a promise for greater transparency and public participation in government decisions and operations – to, as he put it, “reclaim the city for the residents.’’

But what started to emerge, perhaps, was hints of a strategy, if that’s what it is: A piecemeal approach that eschews the sweeping plans and multi-generational vision of his predecessor, Manny Diaz, for building blocks that can set in place in short order. Perhaps the right thing for parlous times and, as Regalado put it, widespread “government fatigue’’ on the part of voters?

That’s what struck me when he was asked if he favored forming a trust to guide master planning and restoration of Virginia Key. Why? he responded. Instead, he said, focus on something achievable – like renovating the landmark Marine Stadium.

“I’m not going to promise the people we are going to have the greatest thing ever on Virginia Key. I don’t know that,’’ he said, in what was perhaps a dig at Diaz, who came in for his share of them during the talk.

“But I know we can do Marine Stadium. This should be our immediate goal. If we do Marine Stadium, then people will believe Virginia Key can be done.’’

Other tidbits:

* The city will drop appeals of court decisions that struck down certain condo projects on the river as incompatible with the city’s comprehensive development plan. The comp plan will be re-amended to restore protections for marine-oriented businesses.

* He and new City Commissioner Richard Dunn will “do something’’ about severe underuse at the new $20 million Little Haiti Cultural Center (see below).

* He will seek to foster economic development in the city through expansion of the city’s film industry and revitalization of industrial zones in Allapattah, Little Haiti and Wynwood.

Posted by Andres Viglucci at 01:23 PM
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02/17/2010

Why is the City of Miami’s $20 million Little Haiti Cultural Center underused, underfunded?

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(Herald photo by Charles Trainor Jr.)

Almost forgot this, from Sunday’s print edition.

By ANDRES VIGLUCCI

With its sumptuous murals, light-filled gallery, spacious dance studios and state-of-the-art theater, the gleaming new cultural center in Miami's hardscrabble Little Haiti might be the envy of many a wealthy community.

It should be. It cost Miami taxpayers around $20 million.

Yet, a year after its understated opening, the city-run Little Haiti Cultural Center is largely unheralded, severely underfunded and sorely underused.

Most days, there are no visitors in the gallery, which holds a first-rate show of contemporary art by Caribbean artists living across the globe. The kiln in the ceramics studio is rarely, if ever, fired up. The 270-seat theater is nearly always dark.

Only since October has there been any sign of regular activity at the center, when several dance companies, working under a barter system, began offering a smattering of classes in exchange for the use of studios for rehearsals -- though the start of most lessons has been put off because of the post-quake crisis in Haiti.

``They built it, but it really didn't have a function,'' laments renowned Haitian-born artist Edouard Duval-Carrie, whose private studio adjoins the center and who has volunteered to help city administrators devise programs for it, including the Global Caribbean art show he curated.

``It's a wonderful space. It could become a place of international stature, but the city doesn't know what to do with it.''

Read all about it here.

Here are some more views (architecture by Zyscovich Architects, photos courtesy Miami Parks Dept.)

Senior Photographer

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Senior Photographer

Posted by Andres Viglucci at 02:00 PM
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02/16/2010

Flipper in Sunny Isles Beach?

To Urbanista’s way of seeing things, Sunny Isles, now Beach, lost much of its old luster – along with any sense of place or any reason to visit if you didn’t already live there – when it destroyed its fantabulous, zebra-striped, Polynesian-Safari-themed MiMo hotels and motels and sold out to banal condo monumentality.

Now, perhaps in an effort to recapture some of that old pizzazz, comes this highly preliminary but intruiguing idea…Brilliant stroke or nutball scheme? I understand there may be another shoe to drop in the form of adjacent redevelopment. Stay tuned.

From Sunday’s Neighbors editions:

Miami Seaquarium seeks to build aquatic center in Sunny Isles Beach

The owners of Miami Seaquarium are in talks to build a 100,000-square-foot aquatic center in Sunny Isles Beach.

BY MICAELA HOOD [email protected]

Everyday, busloads of people head over to the Miami Seaquarium to swim with the dolphins and get up close and personal with stingrays, seals and sharks. Now, Wometco -- the owners of the Key Biscayne tourist attraction -- want to build an aquatic center in Sunny Isles Beach.

aquatic center sunny ho

Last month, city commissioners were presented with conceptual design plans for a three-story, 100,000-square-foot center. (Arquitectonica-inspired rendering by axioma3architects.)

It would be housed at 151 Sunny Isles Beach Blvd., the present site of a city-owned retail complex.

Commissioner George ``Bud'' Scholl said the site would eventually be torn down -- if the center is given final approval.

Read all about it here.

Posted by Andres Viglucci at 04:20 PM
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02/10/2010

Miami Mayor Regalado to speak at Urban Environment League’s dinner forum

The title of Mayor Tomas Regalado’s Feb. 17 address -- “What’s in Store for Miami’s Future?’’ -- suggests that there might a vision knocking around in there after all. Even if we’re not a Metropolis.

So maybe now that he’s been in office a couple of months, the mayor who won office by saying ‘’no’’ to predecessor Manny Diaz can spell out an urban agenda that’s not limited to the (alas) very necessary task of shoring up the city’s dismal fiscal picture. 

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The mayor is hardly an electrifying  speaker and the audience is likely to be friendly, but there should be some smart questions from this bunch. And a chance for you to pitch a query as well.

The talk, at 7:30 p.m., is free, at The Rusty Pelican on Virginia Key (Regalado’s thoughts about which I’m looking forward to).

You can also have cocktails and a 3-course dinner with the mayor and the UEL crowd starting at 6 p.m., though that will cost $25 ($20 for students) plus cash bar. UEL asks for cash or a check at the door, or you can go to the UEL website and use Paypal (www.urbanenvironmentleague.blogspot.com). RSVP a must at [email protected], or phone 786-472-0011.

Posted by Andres Viglucci at 12:12 PM
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02/08/2010

Anyone know this dude? A new interactive feature for Urbanista!

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I encountered this friendly-looking fellow while out and about in South Florida recently. Sitings have been rare in the past, but he’s wintering with us in a secure location. Can anyone identify the place? Please take a crack at it.

This shouldn’t be a hard one. But it’s the modest start to what I hope will be a recurring feature here (now that I got a camera for Christmas). I plan to spotlight some of our best/worst places, from treasures to eyesores.

And they don’t all have to come from me. In fact I’d prefer they didn’t.

Suggestions and photo entries are very much solicited. Each should say something beyond the image – be it a place of special or historic significance, an especially great block or street, or an egregious example of an urban ill or architectural insult. (And, unlike my example above, not too obvious.) All equally welcome!

Send submissions to [email protected] (no big files pls).

Posted by Andres Viglucci at 06:40 PM
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02/03/2010

Urban (cowboy) catalyst: Rocco Landesman brings his National Endowment for the Arts look-see tour to Miami and Miami Beach

RLatBASSmuseumpool            (Photos: Yamila Lomba)

No, he didn’t run the table. Yes, Rocco Landesman, President Obama’s choice to lead the National Endowment for the Arts, is a betting man with a special fondness for the ponies, but he’s not playing pool on the government’s dime.

The cowboy-boot shod Landesman took a moment to try out the hands-on art at Miami Beach’s Bass Museum of Art (“Oval Billiard Table with Pendulum” by Gabriel Orozco – and good luck hitting that ball) during a head-spinning, daylong tour of urban arts sites in Miami and Miami Beach.

On a week when everyone in town seemed besotted with Super Bowl hoopla, there was a substantive theme to the day. Sum it up as “Art Works,’’ the outspoken Landesman’s triple-entendre brand for his attempt to revitalize the NEA, neutered in the 1990s culture wars.

In short: The arts put people to work, generating real economic activity. (Landesman should know. He produced “The Producers’’ and “Angels in America’’ on Broadway’’ and his company owns several Broadway theaters). Art, artists and artistic institutions work as a fulcrum for urban revitalization. (Surely more than, say, a football game, though Landesman has a soft spot for baseball, having owned three minor-league teams.)

And thus the NEA should help fund such efforts directly.

So the NEA, through its Mayors’ Institute on City Design, which steeps elected municipal leaders in the finer points of urban design, will dole out money to projects meant to enhance urban quality of life -- 15 grants ranging from $25,000 to $250,000. Cities whose mayors attended the institute at any point in the past 25 years are eligible, and in South Florida that includes Miami, Miami Beach, North Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale, Hollywood and Lauderhill. Application deadline is March 15.

Monday’s visit was as much demonstration of the Art Works principle at work as a learning tour for Landesman, who has a place on South Beach and is no stranger to its artistic attractions – not to mention Calder and Gulfstream, which he name-dropped (but has anyone told him Hialeah reopened?).

For this blog, it was See Miami Like a Tourist day. And, setting aside both hype and cynicism, strong evidence that our cultural institutions -- with lots of taxpayer help -- are bit-by-bit transforming the city before our too-often unbelieving eyes.

From DASH, the design magnet high school, the whirlwind tour dashed through Wynwood and the Design District, made a stop at the year-old Little Haiti Cultural Center, a terrific and attractive but still-underused city facility (look for a story on this soon), and gave the Arsht Center a drive-by.

The (alas, very soggy) afternoon  was all Beach: A tour of the under-construction, Frank Gehry-designed New World Symphony concert and rehearsal hall (can I say wow?), the Bass and Miami City Ballet – all centerpieces of ambitious urban revitalization plans by the city. And, finally, the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum, a favorite of this blog (see earlier post below).

For at least one visitor, Deputy NEA chair Joan Shigekawa, the artistic riches of Miami, the variety and innovation on display – see NWS’s interactive, wired hall – and the depth of public investment was a revelation.

“It’s a surprise to me,’’ she said while waiting for a standing-room-only roundtable to begin at the Wolfsonian. “It’s places like Miami where the new thinking comes from. The thing is, it’s really of this century. Very impressive.’’

Is this a view from the outside that Miamians can now finally embrace?

RLandHowardHerringexteriorNWSsite

       (NWS president Howard Herring shows off Gehry’s handiwork. To this blog, Herring made a Gehry joke: “Oh, no, someone messed up the steel!’’ Urbanista! did laugh.)

Posted by Andres Viglucci at 08:02 PM
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02/02/2010

Engineering study: Miami Marine Stadium repairable, cost less than once thought

   The concrete-and-steel skeleton of the long-shuttered Miami Marine Stadium is pocked with moderate to severe corrosion but could be feasibly repaired for as little as $5.6 million, a new engineering analysis released Tuesday says.

   But the report, by the nationally recognized firm of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, suggests the minimum price for basic repair would be higher because its engineers were unable to analyze the pilings sunk into bay bottom that support the stadium.

ds03 dade stadium EPF (Marine Stadium architect Hilario Candela, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and World Monuments Fund president Bonnie Burnham tour the shuttered landmark on Tuesday. Photo By Patrick Farrell.)

   The condition of those hard-to-access pilings is ‘’largely unknown,'' the report concluded, and would require costly analysis before any repairs to the stadium could prudently proceed.

   Still, contractors who estimated the repair costs for SGH said the good news is the 46-year-old, publicly-owned stadium -- considered a marvel of architecture and engineering -- is eminently salvageable.

   ‘’The steel's in real good shape,'' said Robert Cunningham, a representative for Structural Preservation Systems, the structural-repair company that rescued Frank Lloyd Wright's sagging Fallingwater house in Pennsylvania. ‘’It's an amazingly well-built facility.''

   The new report, which was commissioned by the World Monuments Fund and other preservation groups, pegs repair costs at far less than previously estimated, boosting the prospects for the stadium's renovation.

   The report concluded that basic structural repairs could go as high as $8.5 million if the city chose to also include a range of protective measures, such as chemical treatment of the concrete, to slow corrosion from seawater in the future. An earlier, less in-depth study by the city estimated concrete-repair costs as high as $15 million.

   Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, who has said renovating the stadium is a key goal of his administration, said he is confident the cost of repair can be covered by state, federal and private grants.

   ‘’This report shows it can be done,'' Regalado said Tuesday as he showed World Monuments Fund president Bonnie Burnham around the graffiti-covered facility, which has been closed since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

   The group, which works to save world architectural landmarks, last year put the stadium on its watch list of endangered sites, but Burnham had not visited the site until Tuesday. She compared the raw-concrete shell to a sculpture.

   ‘’It makes a huge impression,'' she said, standing under the stadium's vast overhanging roof. ‘’I can't think of any place like it in the world. It's like a building that's been sleeping.''

Posted by Andres Viglucci at 06:31 PM
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