Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Friday December 16: Master Plan Needed For Little Havana

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Apparently, the current members of the Miami City Commission didn't learn the painful lessons that came to their predecessors who approved the old Miami Arena: If you build it, he may not come.

"He," in this case, refers to any high-end business owner who might have wanted to set up shop near the Miami Marlins' new ballpark. As with the Miami Arena during the late 1980s, city and team fathers and mothers hoped a new sports facility would trigger new businesses. But the devil was in the bureaucratic details.

One commissioner who obviously hasn't learned from city history is Frank Carollo. He evidently had the idea of making the area around the ballpark into another South Beach.

The Little Havana neighborhood, originally known as Riverside, was a middle-class area until after the Mariel boatlifts and Central American immigration of the 1980s. Today, the area has a mixture of middle and low-income residents.

Through the years the Orange Bowl stood on the land that now hosts the ballpark, there were a few businesses nearby - restaurants like Dairy Queen, among others.

Carollo - and for that matter, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria - don't seem to understand that the majority of baseball fans who will go to the ballpark are middle-class families. Some will want a place to eat before or after the game. High-end cafes won't cut it - especially if families can't afford ballpark food, which is quite possible.

At its best, Little Havana is a neighborhood of mom-and-pop businesses, good for strolling and dining for people from all walks of life. It's never been exclusive, nor should it be (I should know: I grew up there.).

In recent years, charming and historic bungalows have been torn down for some ugly condominiums. But other bungalows and apartment buildings from various parts of the early and mid-20th century remain.

More than 80 years of high-profile sports at the Orange Bowl didn't change the atmosphere of the neighborhood, and the new ballpark shouldn't change it, either.

But a master plan is needed to restore Little Havana's historic buildings and streets. A classic neighborhood getting a new ballpark deserves the best for its residents and visitors.

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