In the decade or so since it was conceived, the Miami Worldcenter project promised to transform a desolate swath north of downtown Miami into a busy shopping community. It’s promised to bring modern retail infrastructure to a corner of the city where most shops were built over 50 years ago.

Ahead of a key vote by the City Commission, project managing director Nitin Motwani suggested another goal is to get Miamians used to the idea of a car-free downtown.

At an open meeting Tuesday, Motwani spoke to about 150 people who gathered to hear the latest about the development. The project is requesting approvals from the City Commission today to close sections of three public rights of way, two of which would be incorporated into the master plan as pedestrian thoroughfares.

The community outreach is key for the Miami Worldcenter, which was criticized by members of the city’s advisory planning and land use board last month for “bad communication” with neighbors. The project is envisioned as a 750,000-square-foot mixed-use center on 17 acres between North Miami Avenue and Northeast Second Avenue and from the Florida East Coast Railway tracks to Northeast 10th Street.

Previously undisclosed, Motwani noted during the meeting that the project would include several open plazas including a 20,000-square-foot space facing Northeast First Avenue between Seventh and Eighth streets and a 14,000-square-foot arcade at the northwest corner of Northeast First Avenue and Ninth Street.

Motwani also announced plans to build a 40-story tower on Northeast Second Avenue and Ninth Street across from the 63-story 900 Biscayne Bay skyscraper.

Who Needs Cars?

The biggest pronouncement of the night might have been Motwani’s description of a project that runs counter to the region’s car-centric habits.

“When we started this project ten years ago, the idea was we’re going to have a great downtown and we’re working to make sure that the pedestrian experience is great,” he said at the meeting, later adding the design was focused on “getting the cars out of the way to focus on pedestrian and cyclists.”

While the new shops and restaurants at the megaproject will undoubtedly add a substantial amount of traffic, parking would not increase, Motwani said. Planned garages would include 3,000 parking spots designated for retail, but he noted the same amount of existing parking would be demolished to make way for the project. An additional 3,500 spots would be built but reserved for the project’s new hotels and residences.

Motwani told the Daily Business Review it’s part of a concerted effort to change the way Miami residents interact with their city. He specifically contrasted the way the development would work with the design of Brickell’s financial district, which in his opinion prompts people to drive from high-rise to high-rise even when they’re just travelling a few blocks.

The hope is that people will park on the outskirts and either walk or take public transportation to their Miami WorldCenter destinations.

“I think we’re kidding ourselves otherwise,” Motwani told the DBR. “Otherwise you get Brickell, and Brickell doesn’t work.”

Walk Away

The idea of developing downtown Miami to make it less car-friendly, forcing people to park outside the urban core and then either walk or use public transit, appears to be very much in vogue.

The redevelopment of Flagler Street’s retail district envisions eliminating much of the on-street parking and forcing cars to the periphery. Preliminary plans presented last month for a soccer stadium complex at PortMiami would push fans to park—at the closest—on the edges of Miami’s urban core and march across Biscayne Boulevard to the games. City bureaucrats also are considering congestion pricing for downtown street parking.

Motwani is likely to get a shot at implementing his pedestrian-friendly vision although some long-time critics maintain closing the rights of way would amount to a giveaway of public land.

Bradley Knoefler, an entrepreneur and community activist who has been a constant critic of the development, was at the meeting but did not speak during the question-and-answer session.

Motwani appears to have a line ready for any criticism that might arise at the City Commission hearing. At various times during Tuesday’s meeting, he noted that when proposed public areas and pedestrian zones are taken into account, Miami Worldcenter was “giving back more than we are taking.”

Greenberg Traurig land use attorney Ryan Bailine, one of the project’s lobbyists, said he expects the commission hearing “will be interesting.”