Brickell City Centre showed Miami you can build for people, not cars

All week we’re going to be looking at people, companies, and organizations who dominated their sectors in 2016. Tomorrow we’ll be looking at neighborhoods. Other winners: Lyft and Uber (transit), Kairos (tech)

Brickell City Centre might be the last piece of the puzzle to going truly car-less for Brickell residents who also work there. With restaurants, bars, gyms, grocery stores, and coffee shops every couple blocks, large-scale retail and a movie theater were maybe the only regular needs missing from the neighborhood.

And going car-less might be a good thing, because as Brickell’s population soars, the traffic is only going to get worse. People are only going to want a place where they can shop, eat, and catch a movie without getting in their car even more than they already do.

The Miami Herald, which dubbed Brickell City Centre a “city within a city,” reported a couple weeks ago that Brickell’s population has almost tripled since 2000.

Real estate developer Swire came in with the 9.1-acre, $1.5 billion-dollar Brickell City Centre – which includes condos, office space, a hotel, and a shopping center – at the right time. Swire purchased most of the property in 2008, in the depth of the recession and South Florida real estate crash. It was a big bet.

That’s why we’re calling it the biggest real estate win in Miami this year (even if the retail is only about 50 percent occupied right now).

When you walk through Brickell City Centre on a balmy winter day, you might want to pack a sweater – chance are there will be a cool breeze flowing through, thanks to a nifty piece of green technology on the roof.

It’s called a climate ribbon – a $30 million engineering project that pulls in wind blowing outside the building and funnels it into the mall’s breezeways. It’s what makes an outdoor mall in the middle of the concrete jungle of Brickell bearable, maybe even pleasant, even in the middle of summer. (Steve Owens, the president of Swire, explains it in this video.)

This is Swire’s first mixed project in the U.S., although Brickell Key was its first foray into Miami. The company specializes in mixed-use projects like Brickell City Centre and has done similar concepts in Hong Kong, among other spots, that stitch neighborhoods together.

“This is what Swire does,” says Clare Laverty, assistant vice president at Swire.

To that end, they made sure the Metromover stopped at the center (the station will be fully functioning in early 2017) and that people could walk into the retail area right off the street. They also donated $600,000 over the next five years to help the Underline come to fruition. Residents have branded bikes that they can use, free of charge. Editor’s note: We’ve corrected the amount of money given to the Underline.

“It’s so important to have ground-level retail and interconnectedness,” she says. “[It is] what Swire does – build communities and centers inside cities.”

There is underground parking for the mall (we are still in Miami, after all). It stretches across five city blocks. But crucially, it is below the street level, which allows the mall to feel completely accessible to pedestrians.

Making that happen required digging into the water table under the center, emptying it out, and sealing it with concrete – an engineering feat.

The fact that they went to such lengths to have a parking garage points to an issue that could end up undermining Swire’s vision for Brickell – that the rest of Miami, even the rest of Brickell, is still trying to figure out this whole pedestrian-first mentality and build an infrastructure that can support it. In a place as dense as Brickell, every growing pain is going to be felt.