This could change the city

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY AN­DRES VIGLUCCI aviglucci@mi­ami­her­ald.com

A piece of the Un­der­line, the planned 10-mile trail and park un­der the Metro­rail

tracks, breaks ground in Brick­ell this week, just the start of an am­bi­tious plan laid out by vol­un­teer Meg Daly and her late father, Parker Thom­son, who helped launch

the Ar­sht Cen­ter.

It took 20 years for Meg Daly’s late father, the prom­i­nent at­tor­ney Parker Thom­son, to re­al­ize his am­bi­tion of a trans­for­ma­tive per­form­ing arts cen­ter in Mi­ami.

It may not take Daly and her ad-hoc team of vol­un­teers, dream­ers and en­trepreneurs quite that long to pull off her own un­likely con­ceit: a 10-mile­long park and walk­ing and cy­cling trail that aims to re­gen­er­ate an over­looked swath of Mi­ami in the same way the her­alded High Line did along lower Man­hat­tan.

But she’s hav­ing to tap into

ev­ery bit of that re­serve of Thom­son fam­ily grit to get it done.

On Thurs­day, a con­trac­tor is sched­uled to break ground on the first phase of the much-an­tic­i­pated Un­der­line, which will even­tu­ally ex­tend from down­town Mi­ami to Dade­land un­der the Metro­rail’s el­e­vated tracks. That ini­tial seg­ment, in the boom­ing Brick­ell district, is just seven blocks and a halfmile long.

But mov­ing from con­cep­tion to con­struc­tion in five years is a flash for a civic project in Mi­ami. At least two more seg­ments, one along Mi­ami’s The Roads sec­tion and an­other in Co­ral Gables, will fol­low in short or­der. And no mat­ter what it takes, Daly says, she is de­ter­mined to see the Un­der­line all the way through to com­ple­tion with the same un­flag­ging spirit in­stilled in her by her father.

Thom­son, who died sud­denly last year at 85, not only helped usher the Ar­sht Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts into ex­is­tence but also was Daly’s ear­li­est cham­pion when she was struck by the in­spi­ra­tion for the Un­der­line, an idea she at first feared might be a non­starter.

“I had what I call this crazy idea. My Dad was the sec­ond per­son I told af­ter my hus­band,” re­called Daly, a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive who had never tack­led any­thing of the kind. “He’s al­ways been one of the great­est sound­ing boards. And he said, ‘I don’t think it’s crazy. I think it’s a great idea.’ ”

Soon, Daly said, Thom­son was mak­ing in­tro­duc­tions, help­ing raise money and ply­ing her with sug­ges­tions, all in ser­vice of her par­tic­u­lar vi­sion. Just be­fore he died, Thom­son was still tag­ging along with

Daly to Tal­la­has­see and city halls to cor­ral sup­port and money, both of them work­ing as vol­un­teers.

“He brought so much cred­i­bil­ity to this,” Daly said. “It was re­ally eye­open­ing for me.“

It was Thom­son who em­pha­sized to Daly the im­por­tance of start­ing con­struc­tion be­fore the end of 2018 to make it abun­dantly clear to skep­tics and sup­port­ers alike that the Un­der­line is no pipe dream. The ground­break­ing, she noted, will come pre­cisely 383 days af­ter his death.

“I re­ally feel like he’s still help­ing us,” she said, paus­ing briefly to sti­fle tears. “It’s very emo­tional. There is noth­ing greater than hav­ing your par­ents be­lieve in you and what you’re do­ing.”

What Daly’s do­ing — in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mi­ami-Dade County and its tran­sit agency, which have pitched their full weight be­hind the Un­der­line — is just short of Her­culean.

A mas­ter plan drawn up by High Line de­sign­ers James Cor­ner Field Op­er­a­tions for the non­profit group she leads, Friends of the Un­der­line, en­vi­sions 10 miles of con­tin­u­ous, par­al­lel but sep­a­rated path­ways for peo­ple on foot and peo­ple on bikes. Lushly land­scaped with na­tive species, the trail would con­nect a series of parks, gar­dens, play­grounds and other gather­ing spots whose look and feel re­late to neigh­bor­hood sur­round­ings that range from in­tensely ur­ban to placid sub­ur­bia.

The com­pre­hen­sive con­cept could cost as much as $120 mil­lion to build out. Daly has so far se­cured about $90 mil­lion in fund­ing com­mit­ments from Mi­ami, Co­ral Gables, Mi­ami-Dade and the state of Florida, in­clud­ing money from road and park im­pact fees paid by de­vel­op­ers and state funds ear­marked for trail con­struc­tion.

It’s a rad­i­cal idea for Mi­ami: a flow­ing, ex­pan­sive ur­ban safe space for peo­ple to walk, bike, recre­ate and con­gre­gate that’s in­ti­mately linked to tran­sit. The Un­der­line would not only con­nect neigh­bor­hoods and im­prove qual­ity of life for the 125,000 peo­ple who live within a 10-minute walk of the trail, but also pro­mote Metro­rail use and com­mut­ing by bike by mak­ing both more ap­peal­ing and con­ve­nient, Daly and Un­der­line sup­port­ers say.

It’s po­ten­tially also a draw for tourists, pro­vid­ing a fresh way to see Mi­ami, and a boost to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. De­vel­op­ers and com­mer­cial prop­erty own­ers along the line are al­ready ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of open­ing cafes, mar­kets, res­tau­rants and other busi­nesses to cater to Un­der­line users.

Do­ing all the above en­tails ma­jor de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenges. None is big­ger than en­sur­ing that cars don’t col­lide with Un­der­line users at its nu­mer­ous street in­ter­sec­tions, which in­clude some of the busiest and most danger­ous in the city. Mi­ami-Dade and Florida De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion en­gi­neers are an­a­lyz­ing the in­ter­sec­tions. All will re­quire tweaks big and small, say Daly and the county’s project man­ager, plan­ner and ar­chi­tect Irene Hege­dus: mov­ing traf­fic sig­nals, re­align­ing the right of way, and in some places elim­i­nat­ing right turns on red.

A trail-align­ment study is un­der way to de­ter­mine pre­cisely where the trail should cross in­ter­sec­tions to max­i­mize safety, Daly said. The Un­der­line project will re­move the ex­ist­ing paved M-Path, which me­an­ders be­hind columns that of­ten block views of on­com­ing users. Some sharp turns now make it dif­fi­cult for a cy­clist to nav­i­gate.

There is no elec­tri­cal sys­tem at ground level un­der the trains, so one must be in­stalled along the trail’s full length to it can be lit at night. Be­cause the trail was once a rail cor­ri­dor, there is soil con­tam­i­na­tion that must be reme­died. A foot of top­soil will be re­moved so that the sur­face can be capped by a tex­tile ma­te­rial to con­tain any re­main­ing pol­lu­tion, then cov­ered with clean fill.

Mi­ami-Dade Mayor Car­los Gimenez says the ef­fort and ex­pense will prove well worth it.

“It took me like five min­utes to see the vi­sion,” he said. “You are cre­at­ing a great lin­ear park in the heart of the city. It will have a multi-gen­er­a­tional ben­e­fit. And if you are go­ing to do it, you need to do it right.”

Daly came up with a great idea at the right time, said Al­berto Ibargüen, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Mi­ami-based Knight Foun­da­tion, which funded de­vel­op­ment plans for the Un­der­line.

Other cities have em- barked on high-pro­file projects that turn aban­doned ur­ban spa­ces such as rail cor­ri­dors into parks and trails. The best known is the High Line, which re­claimed a rust­ing, dis­used el­e­vated train line for use as a lin­ear park. It has proven to be a mas­sive tourism draw and spurred bil­lions of dol­lars worth of de­vel­op­ment along its route. At­lanta is also cre­at­ing a 22-mile Belt­line; some por­tions are al­ready open.

Both projects, like the Un­der­line, were launched by neigh­bor­hood ac­tivists and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­braced by gov­ern­ment, busi­ness in­ter­ests and cit­i­zens. That the same is hap­pen­ing in Mi­ami, Ibargüen said, rep­re­sents a leap for­ward for the city and its de­mand for and con­cep­tion of pub­lic space. The ex­plod­ing condo and apart­ment-dwelling pop­u­la­tion of Brick­ell, for in­stance, vir­tu­ally re­quires the park-like ameni­ties the Un­der­line will pro­vide, Ibargüen said.

“It cre­ates a kind of nat­u­ral de­mand. And there is the vi­sion and tenac­ity of some­body like Meg,” Ibargüen said. “I can’t help but note it was her father who saw a park­ing lot, along with [the late de­vel­oper] Woody Weiser, and imag­ined a per­form­ing arts cen­ter. It took them lit­er­ally 20 years. And it turns out it’s his daugh­ter who looks at this amaz­ing amount of land un­der the Metro­rail that you and I might look at and say it looks crummy, and she sees some­thing great.

“Hav­ing been stalked by this woman, I can tell you, she is not go­ing away, just like her father,” Ibargüen said, only half-jok­ing. “It must be in her genes. She makes a good case, and then she comes back.”

That Daly thought of it at all owes to an un­happy ac­ci­dent. She had bro­ken both arms in a cy­cling mishap, couldn’t drive or do much else, and was tak­ing Metro­rail to phys­i­cal ther­apy. One day, walk­ing to the train un­der the rail­way, she took in for the first time all that space un­der­neath the el­e­vated train tracks.

There was a paved path­way, but it was thread­bare and got scant use. What if some­one could in­stead turn it into a walk­ing and cy­cling trail lined with lush trop­i­cal veg­e­ta­tion? Daly pic­tured jog­gers, cy­clists, fam­i­lies and rail users shar­ing the trail all the way from Dade­land through South Mi­ami and Co­ral Gables to Mi­ami’s Co­conut Grove, Sil­ver Bluff, The Roads and Brick­ell neigh­bor­hoods.

Daly roped in as­sis­tant county parks di­rec­tor Maria Nardi, who now holds the top job at the de­part­ment, and even­tu­ally Gimenez and the tran­sit agency, which owns and man­ages Metro­rail and the land un­der­neath it.

Friends of the Un­der­line has a for­mal agree­ment with the county to guide the de­vel­op­ment of the Un­der­line, which will be built in phases by de­sign­ers and con­trac­tors work­ing for Mi­ami-Dade un­der com­pet­i­tive bids. The group has also hired the plan­ning and en­gi­neer­ing firm Kim­ley-Horn to draw up a con­sis­tent ba­sic de­sign tem­plate for the trail and de­ter­mine the cost for each seg­ment.

The group is now launch­ing an af­fil­i­ate that will man­age and main­tain the trail, a job es­ti­mated to re­quire $3 mil­lion a year. Daly has not yet fig­ured out where that money will come from, but cor­po­rate do­na­tions, nam­ing rights and spon­sor­ships and pro­ceeds from a new county tax­ing district en­acted to tap into new de­vel­op­ment around tran­sit lines could help cover that cost, she and the mayor said.

Daly and Gimenez em­pha­size that the Un­der­line is only one piece of a broader con­cept for a longer Mi­ami Loop. It would in­clude the in­ter­sect­ing Lud­lam Trail, a sim­i­lar multi-use green trail and park run­ning from Dade­land Mall to just south of Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional Air­port planned for a for­mer freight-rail cor­ri­dor. In Septem­ber, the MI­AMIDADE Com­mis­sion ap­proved the pur­chase of the six-mile cor­ri­dor for

$25 mil­lion. The Lud­lam Trail could in turn even­tu­ally link up with the Mi­ami River­walk and back to the Un­der­line.

“It’s a very big vi­sion to have a 22-mile, off-road, multi-use walk­ing and bik­ing trail,” Daly said, re­fer­ring to the Mi­ami

Loop idea.

The Un­der­line has one built-in ad­van­tage: Be­cause there is al­ready a paved path along its full length, peo­ple can use and en­joy it be­fore it’s com­plete.

“As soon as the first pocket is de­vel­oped, you are able to start ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it,” said de­vel­oper Brent Reynolds, a mem­ber of Friends of the Un­der­line’s board of di­rec­tors. “It’s right around the cor­ner.”

The in­au­gu­ral Brick­ell Back­yard seg­ment is the most com­plex and, at a cost of $14.2 mil­lion, the most ex­pen­sive in the Un­der­line plan, Daly said. But given the boom­ing area’s den­sity and young pop­u­la­tion, it’s also the piece most likely to get im­me­di­ate and heavy use. Fund­ing in­cludes $5.4 mil­lion in county money, $4.8 mil­lion from Mi­ami, and nearly $4 mil­lion from the state.

The sec­tion be­gins at the Mi­ami River and ex­tends seven blocks south to the edge of Simp­son Park, the last pre­served rem­nant of a hard­wood ham­mock that once cov­ered the Brick­ell area. The plan for the nineacre seg­ment, which was de­signed by James Cor­ner un­der a com­pet­i­tively bid con­tract and is sched­uled for com­ple­tion in 18 months, con­sists of sev­eral out­door “rooms” with fea­tures that Brick­ell res­i­dents asked for dur­ing a series of pub­lic meet­ings. Those in­clude:

A green, dog-friendly park at the edge of the river.

A gym con­sist­ing of a court that can be used for bas­ket­ball, vol­ley­ball or mini-soc­cer, work­out sta­tions and a run­ning track around the block.

A three-block Prom­e­nade with a per­for­mance stage at one end with room for 300 peo­ple or 85 yoga mats; ta­bles for chess, check­ers and domi­noes; a 50-foot-long ta­ble for com­mu­nal din­ing.

An Oo­lite Room with four but­ter­fly gar­dens set around rock out­crop­pings that sit across the street from Southside El­e­men­tary School.

Phase two, which is set to go out to bid in Novem­ber, will ex­tend from Co­ral Way to South­west 19th Av­enue along South Dixie High­way, Daly said.

The project then skips over to Co­ral Gables, where the city is plan­ning a seg­ment stretch­ing be­tween Dou­glas and Le Je­une roads. That in­cludes a re­vamp of a tiny, trailad­ja­cent park, now a fenced-off bit of as­phalt, that could be­come a stag­ing spot for food trucks, Daly said.

That Gables seg­ment also in­cludes a quar­ter­mile piece to be built by Reynolds and his firm NP In­ter­na­tional. The Friends of the Un­der­line board mem­ber is also de­vel­oper of the Gables Sta­tion mixed-use project now un­der con­struc­tion along Ponce de Leon Boule­vard. Un­der the per­mit­ting agree­ment with the Gables, Reynolds will con­trib­ute $3 mil­lion to build and land­scape the trail por­tion, which is now be­ing de­signed by Kim­ley-Horn, the firm al­ready work­ing on the de­sign tem­plate for the en­tire Un­der­line.

Next to the trail, Reynolds will add a pub­lic dog park, the city’s first. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity will pitch in $300,000 to­ward the dog park.

His ar­chi­tects de­signed the Gables Sta­tion build­ing to face the Un­der­line, Reynolds said. An ex­pan­sive court­yard will open up to the trail, and the ground floor will have food, drink and other “ac­ti­vated space,” he said. His con­cept is to get build­ing res­i­dents out to the Un­der­line, and Un­der­line users to the re­tail — just the kind of sym­bi­otic flow that Daly en­vi­sioned. It’s also an at­trac­tive lure for po­ten­tial res­i­den­tial and re­tail ten­ants, Reynolds said.

“Our idea is to draw peo­ple out and into the Un­der­line space,” he said. “It’s def­i­nitely part of our story. It plays well into modern-day trends of health and well­ness and al­ter­na­tive means of trans­porta­tion and con­nec­tiv­ity.”

Reynolds plans to start build­ing his Un­der­line sec­tion in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2019, and it should be ready when Gables Sta­tion opens in late sum­mer 2020, he said.

Mean­while, Daly re­mains an un­paid vol­un­teer, five years in. Friends of the Un­der­line, which re­ceives no pub­lic money di­rectly and sub­sists on pri­vate con­tri­bu­tions, has one paid staffer and de­pends on pro-bono at­tor­neys and sup­port­ers to do much of its work. But for her it’s much more than a job, she says. Daly, who has two adult chil­dren, says it’s now her life.

“I do this full time,” she said. “This is all I think about.”

As the ground­break­ing draws near, Daly only wishes her father could be there to cut the rib­bon with her. With him gone, she’s had to do the work of not just two peo­ple, but. some­times. it seems. that of a whole squad.

“It’s like he’d died yes­ter­day. I think it was a huge loss for our com­mu­nity,” she said. “You don’t re­place Parker Thom­son with one per­son.”

AAAAHAVING BEEN STALKED BY THIS WOMAN, I CAN TELL YOU, SHE IS NOT GO­ING AWAY, JUST LIKE HER FATHER.

Al­berto Ibargüen, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Knight Foun­da­tion, which con­trib­uted Un­der­line fund­ing

A ren­der­ing shows a por­tion of the Un­der­line trail and park in Brick­ell.

JAMES COR­NER FIELD OP­ER­A­TIONS Friends of the Un­der­line

A de­sign ren­der­ing of the first phase of the path and park be­neath the Metro­rail tracks in Brick­ell, which breaks ground Nov. 1, shows a sec­tion fea­tur­ing nat­u­ral rock out­crop­pings.

C.M. GUER­RERO

Meg Daly, founder of Friends of the Un­der­line, near the Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami Metro­rail Sta­tion.

CARL JUSTE Mi­ami Her­ald File

Parker Thom­son in front of the then-Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter in 2006.

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