Touted as New Town Square, this rendering shows two major downtown thoroughfares, Biscayne Blvd. and I-395, underground and replacing acres of pavement with public parkland adjoining Miami's Museum Park
Touted as New Town Square, this rendering shows two major downtown thoroughfares, Biscayne Blvd. and I-395, underground and replacing acres of pavement with public parkland adjoining Miami’s Museum Park ()

A cross-section of Miami’s civic, business and political leadership is considering pushing two major downtown thoroughfares underground and replacing acres of pavement with public parkland, the Daily Business Review has learned.

The plan would reshape a prime section of the city’s urban core at the intersection of I-395 and Biscayne Boulevard and scrap plans for a “signature bridge” along the highway west of Biscayne Bay.

The concept has been enthusiastically endorsed by a mix of politicians and business titans, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez told the DBR. He’s the plan’s biggest booster, releasing architectural mockups through social media.

An artist’s rendering envisions burying I-395 for four blocks from the waterfront to North Miami Avenue. The design document also shows a six-block section of Biscayne Boulevard moving underground from Northeast Eighth to 14th streets.

The roadways would become an extension of Miami’s Museum Park, and green spaces would connect the city’s new science and arts museums to the performing arts center just to the north.

Residential towers on the west side of Biscayne Boulevard and any new development on the former Miami Herald headquarters site would abut the green space.

“This is such a fantastic place to live, and this plan would make it better,” Suarez said. “Can you imagine taking your kids to the museum, to the sports arena, to the performing arts center, being able to take a stroller throughout?”

The plan named New Town Square is the result of years of brainstorming by civic leaders. Suarez said the original iteration came over 20 years ago from engineer Luis Ajamil, a principal at Bermello, Ajamil and Partners. Suarez said he lobbied the federal government to fund a similar plan in the late 1980s when he was Miami’s mayor. But engineering issues made the original plan unfeasible.

Engineering Limitations

Three years ago, Suarez said he dusted off his pitch and approached the Town Square Neighborhood Development Corp, a nonprofit focused on development around the performing arts center. The group’s board includes developer Armando Codina as chairman and former Mayor Manny Diaz, whom Suarez said helped move the concept forward by reaching out to Louis Brais, project executive for the just-completed PortMiami tunnel project.

Brais came up with the idea of tackling engineering limitations with a so-called “cut and cross” approach, which Suarez said would make the project feasible.

Town Square, Diaz and Codina did not return requests for comment. In an email, a spokeswoman for Brais’ employer, Bouygues USA, confirmed the engineer “developed a sort of a back-of-a-bar-napkin conceptual alternative” at the behest of civic leaders.

“This was his idea based on speculations of the past that are now real, viable possibilities, and his idea has gained a momentum we did not anticipate,” the Bouygues statement added.

Suarez’s lobbying is on a personal level.

“On Monday [Related founder] Jorge Perez came to County Hall, so I ran into my office and I grabbed FIU president [Mark] Rosenberg who was there and said, ‘You gotta come with me so I can show this to you and Jorge,’ ” Suarez said.

He said he also spoke to Colin Au, president of Genting Group’s U.S. arm, which plans a massive casino, hotel and residential development north of Town Square. Genting’s support is likely to be crucial.

When presented with the idea, Suarez recalled Au saying: “Of course, we have to do this. This is what we have in Singapore and Malaysia.” Calls for comment to Genting’s Miami office were not returned by deadline.

But at least one key stakeholder—the Florida Department of Transportation—is not necessarily keen on the plan.

Gus Pego, the agency’s district secretary, based his comment on the long-planned $600 million bridge that’s already been delayed by litigation.

“It’s a question of the feasibility and delaying a project whose feasibility was determined more than 20 years ago,” Pego said.

Suarez said the support for New Town Square from other civic leaders make it more than just a fanciful idea.

“It’s not like Salvador Dali throwing some paint at a wall,” he said.