Can a street redesign bring business to Downtown Miami? This resident hopes so

Downtown’s attracting plenty of new residents and developments, but it’s still not a destination like South Beach or Wynwood, and it’s quest to become a real neighborhood has been a major focus for city leaders, the Downtown Development Agency and groups like the Downtown Neighbors Alliance.

Residents like Stephen Dutton are hoping to change that by getting Downtown residents to stroll, browse, and dine their streets. And Steve hopes to kickstart that with Avenue 3, a plan to turn Northeast Third Avenue – which runs only two blocks – into a pedestrian-friendly zone.

He hopes to mimic streets like Española Way on the Beach and Giralda Avenue in Coral Gables, breathing new life into an area that’s looking for ways to combat homelessness, dwindling business, and after-dark emptiness.

It’s an extremely personal mission for Steve whose husband, Tom Lang, was killed a few years ago after he was attacked by a mentally-ill homeless man. The couple settled here in Miami about five years ago after living in Texas and both of them worked with agencies combating homelessness. Steve decided to stick around in Miami to try and improve the neighborhood in his husband’s memory.

Here’s what Steve’s got in mind for Avenue 3:

Remove the street parking  on Third Avenue and replace it with parklets that will allow additional seating for the restaurants on the street. New lighting and colorful awnings would be installed over the restaurants and along the street.

Downtown’s filled with one-way streets and diverging roads, but Northeast Third Avenue is a real anomaly. It goes from Flagler Street to Northeast Second Street but… that’s it. Southeast Third Ave. is a few steps west and extends down to the Miami River. Steve thinks that’s part of what makes his project an easy experiment.

Steve said he wanted as little city involvement as possible so that the project wouldn’t be held up by construction delays or bureaucratic issues. The city does still have to approve certain changes to make room for the project but the installation, at Steve’s planned it, will not be a city-led project.

“The city has given me preliminary approvals to start this, this summer. They’re going to help but they’re not in charge,” Steve told us. “A committee of volunteers that I’ve assembled are in charge.”

He’s still waiting on official city approval to replace the parking spaces and move the seating from the sidewalk into the street. Work is expected to start soon after that.

The street has a mix of mom-and-pop shops and is home to nearly a dozen restaurants, including a CVI.CHE 105 and a Pizza Rustica. There are also healthy food spots like Ten Fruits and Freshealthy. Steve says a lot  of the owners have bought into the idea of changing up the street and are hopeful that the re-design will lead to more foot traffic.

The local U.S. Green Building Council is also offering free consulting to the businesses to help them reduce energy and water costs.

“I’ve promised all the business and restaurants on this two-block street that we’re not going to close [your businesses], we’re going to build a customer base starting right away,” Steve says. “We’re going to transform this street into a destination for Miami.”  

Interested in getting involved with the project? You can contact Steve at [email protected] He’ll be presenting the idea to the City of Miami commission at their June 28 meeting.