There’s a new twist in the debate over Walmart and the future of Midtown Miami.
A developer opposed to the store opening in the neighborhood, Alex Vadia, has submitted to the City of Miami a preliminary design for “Mpark”, a new urban park to be located on a narrow strip of land on Midtown Boulevard near N.E. 29th Street. The location is significant: The park’s plan includes property that Walmart had planned to use to build the entrance for a parking garage with space for 650 cars.
The company Vadia manages, Midtown Opportunities, submitted the design last Thursday along with a letter that described the project as a “linear oasis, anchored by mature oak trees between intimate walkways.”
Mapped out, Mpark looks like a staff, with a “ball” of land on the southern end bordering N.E. 29th Street that connects to a 18-foot-wide strip stretching northward up Midtown Boulevard (N.E. 1st Avenue) to the end of the block at N.E. 31st Street.
While the design is still preliminary, the park would contain an area for dogs and a designated area for young children, two amenities designed to appeal to the young families and professionals who have flocked to the condos in Midtown in recent years.
According the Miami-Dade property appraiser’s website, the park takes up two parcels of land that together make up 16,307 square feet. Midtown Opportunities acquired both lots last December for a combined total of about $1.1 million.
The MPark proposal neglects to mention the fact that the park overlaps with the area where Walmart had planned to build the entrance to its parking garage. The only site plans for the proposed store that have been made public were submitted to the city by Diversified Development Reality (DDR), which is under contract to sell Walmart the five acres of land the retailer needs to build its proposed two-story, 164,525-square-foot store in Midtown.
DDR, the Cleveland based company that owns Midtown Shops, submitted plans for the loading dock and parking garage entrance on Midtown Boulevard and N.E. 29th Street in December, only to revise and then withdraw them in February after Miami planning director Francisco Garcia indicated they would not be approved. Walmart has said a new design is in the works.
While we don’t know what those new plans look like, the documents show that the park proposal would conflict with DDR’s original site plan for the parking garage entrance off of Midtown Boulevard. Here, in a rough Photoshop illustration, is a copy of DDR’s plans, with the approximate area of the proposed park outlined in red, and the parking garage entrance outlined in blue.
How could two companies submit different sets of plans for the same land? The answer may lie in a letter that Midtown Opportunities’ lawyer sent to the city last week, in which the company asserted that DDR did not have an “access easement” or a permit that would allow it to build a street entrance through a portion of the land owned by Midtown Opportunities. This implies that, if DDR does have a valid access easement, the company could legally build the garage entrance through the area where Midtown Opportunities is proposing to build Mpark.
The companies aren’t discussing the details. Midtown Opportunities would not comment on how or if the park proposal relates to Walmart’s plans. A Walmart spokesperson said all questions on the subject should be directed to DDR — and DDR just doesn’t return our calls.
However DDR reacts, Vadia seems intent to go forward with the park, and has already begun the process of soliciting community support and input. He has reached out to a Midtown condo association, the owner of a pet store, and a local mom’s group, the Midtown Miami Munchkins.
“The park will provide the residents of Midtown a much needed permanent, designated recreational green space for families and for pets,” said Yelsi Saravia, an organizer with the Munchkins, “and I’m hopeful it will address the specific needs of our community, being that a great portion of us are dog owners and/or parents to young children.”
Steven Cohen, the owner of Dog Bar, said he is consulting Midtown Opportunities on the best way to design the portion of the park that will be designated for dogs, likely the wider area by 29th Street. He believes a dog park would help foster a better sense of community in the neighborhood.
“The actual community that’ll be brought together from having this is amazing,” Cohen said. “You’ll have neighbors that would never talk to neighbors really communicating because they are out in the park, throwing a ball for their dogs.”
Vadia also contacted the president of the Midtown 2 Condo Association, David Hartman, who was left impressed with the park’s design.
“The details that stand out to me are that it was conceived and designed to be part of the neighborhood, and not an afterthought,” Hartman said.
Saravia, Cohen, and Hartman are all opposed to the Walmart, but they don’t represent the entire neighborhood. The Wynwood Historical Homeowners Association, a group of mainly senior citizens in the neighborhood to the west of 36th Street, have been collecting signatures in favor of the store. (We’ll have more on them soon.)
Several questions remain. Will Midtown Opportunities go forward with the park and stop DDR from building the entrance to the parking garage on Midtown Boulevard? Will Walmart simply submit a new design that doesn’t conflict with park? How long will it be before someone files a lawsuit?
One thing that should be to clear to people on either side of this debate: Walmart’s plans to build a store in Midtown Miami are far from being a done deal.
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– “Despite setback, Walmart to move forward in Midtown”
– “Midtown developer asks city to reject Walmart zoning request”
– “Opinion: City should reject Walmart zoning request”
– “Puerto Rican business group supports Midtown Walmart”
– “Midtown Walmart Would Force Art Fairs Out”
– “Plans for Midtown Walmart emerge with zoning request”
– “Op-ed: Midtown Walmart will hurt job growth, local businesses”
This post was produced in partnership with Open Media Miami.