City of Miami Commissioner Sabina Covo meets with Professor Real Estate Suzanne Hollander who served as Director of Real Estate and Asset Management for the City of Miami

Muchas Gracias Downtown News – It was a beautiful day to participate in Downtown News‘s urban expert meeting with new City of Miami Commissioner Sabina Covo! Learn more below!

Sabina Covo was elected on February 27 for the Miami City Commission, District 2, after a short but intense campaign. Like most elections, it was rich in promises. Candidate Savina Covo promised to devote equal attention to all the neighborhoods that comprise District 2, including Downtown. Some Downtowners, not without reason, remained skeptical.

But once the new Commissioner was sworn-in, she reiterated a determination to be the steward for the entire district. Downtown News and a group of Downtown residents invited the new commissioner for a candid conversation —emphasis on conversation, an exchange of ideas aiming for solutions not a complaining festival. We met at the LOFT 2.

We divided the two-hour working-session into two parts. Part One, analyze the most pressing issues for the community with experts Downtown News invited, Urban Designer Aaron DeMayo, Suzanne Hollander, FIU Professor and former Director of the City of Miami Real Estate and Assets Management, Attorney Elena Bondarenko, and Loft 2 Property Manager Yadira Hernandez. For Part Two we walked the streets with Miami Chief of Police Manny Morales.


Photo by Aaron DeMayo.

Flooding is an increasingly common reality for Downtown residents. “Weather effects from extreme rain events, king tides, and sea level rise appear to be more regularly disrupting daily life and causing unnecessary property damage as the flooding takes longer to subside and is happening more often, especially on Biscayne Boulevard and NE 11th Street, 11th Terrace, and stretching hundreds of feet to NE 13th Street. These have been problem locations for years, but the recent Signature Bridge construction has worsened the flooding, shutting down Biscayne Boulevard and the on and off ramps to 395 on multiple occasions,” indicated Aaron DeMayo. “The FEC train tracks are also affected by heavy rain as well, often with the gate arms lowering when the tracks flood, even though no trains are passing by, completely stalling movement on NE 2nd Avenue.”


On transportation, Aaron DeMayo observed: “Downtown Miami has a diverse transportation system, including the Metro Rail, Metro Mover, buses, trolleys, Freebee shuttles, protected bike lanes, and a ferry. However, many personal vehicles are still on the roads and seem to grow with the influx of development and new residents. Particular locations appear to create pinch points and exacerbate traffic throughout the transportation network. The I-395 Signature Bridge project substantially affects the regional transportation system, which will most likely not be relieved for years until completion, a heavy price to pay in addition to the $800M+ price tag. However, more precise surgical interventions can reduce congestion and keep people moving freely, safely, and efficiently, providing economic, social, and environmental benefits.” He discussed over a dozen small-scale urban updates on micro-mobility, vehicle movement, curbside management, crossing the Miami River, and increasing pedestrian safety, all to improve the function and quality of life with minimal impact and a significant ROI.

Commissioner Covo, Elena Bondarenko and Yadira Hernandez. Photo to the right, Aaron DeMayo, Raul Guerrero, Suzanne Hollander and Commissioner Covo.

Commissioner Covo seconded Aaron DeMayo’s assessment that businesses and people are flocking to South Florida, bringing new energy, points of view, and capital. But were also creating more congestion on our roads, significantly driving up housing costs, and putting additional strain on the environment. It was time to assess the existing conditions of the city, and take action together to reshape and redefine it.

City Assets

Professor Hollander highlighted to Commissioner Covo that the City of Miami owns a real estate portfolio that ballooned in value to over an estimated over $17 Billion USD. “The largest percentage of the value of City owned properties is located in District 2, many on long term leases (50–99 years). These properties include Olympia Theater complex (theater, apartments and ground floor retail), Fort Dallas, the Hyatt & James L. Knight Center, the land under the Centrust tower, Bayside Marketplace, Watson Island (Parrot Jungle, Island Gardens & Miami Yacht Club), the Rickenbacker Marina and all three-city owned and operated marinas totaling over 1,300 boat slips and dry docks at Dinner Key, Marine Stadium and MiaMarina.“

Suzanne Hollander brought the large zoning maps she sometimes uses in class. From the LOFT 2 rooftop she pointed out to the various City assets and noted: “It is important to remember the City has a duty to act as a steward and fiduciary to operate these City owned assets professionally by best-in-class real estate standards to preserve their value and physical structure for generations to come.”


One critical issue for Downtown residents, in particular the Central Business District, is homelessness. More so around the corner of NE Second Avenue and NE Second Street, where a 7-Eleven has been the epicenter for aggressive panhandling, criminality and vagrancy.

Can’t discuss homelessness without the participation of law enforcement. We invited Miami Chief of Police Manny Morales to join Commissioner Covo in conversation with residents of the LOFT 2 and Vizcayne Condominiums, two of the more affected residential towers.

Chief of Police Morales, Downtown News’ Raul Guerrero, Commissioner Covo, attorney Elena Bandorenko, Viscayne Condominiums’ resident Roly Masferrer, and Lost 2 resident Dan Cruz. Photo, Downtown News.

Resident Jorge Sanchez and LOFT 2 Property Manager Yadira Hernandez pointed out the constant assault on residents and visitors — people drawn to Downtown who park at the College Park Garage and Metro mover riders. Vagrants spit on residents, physically threaten them if they don’t give them money, not to mention public drinking, public urination, etc., which more than an aesthetic affront constitutes a serious public health hazard for children, adults and pets.

7-Eleven, NE Second Street. Photo, Downtown News.

Vizcayne Condominiums’ resident Roly Masferrer expanded on the issue of safety and cleanliness of the streets and the reduced police presence. “The current strategy of stationing empty police cars (on sidewalks no less) may work to prevent speeding in the suburbs, but it does little to improve safety downtown. I witnessed a clear drug dealing operation on the corner of 3rd Ave and NE 1st at 2:00 pm. My wife can’t walk the dog up NE Second Street. Just down our street my family and I encountered three instances of nudity in plain sight. The homeless population is increasing and becoming more aggressive. A recent morning, aside from the nudity, we were followed for half a block in an attempt to antagonize us.”

Dan Cruz corroborated: “This area is clearly a problem. I have called the police dozens of times to report incidents. When officers show up, one hour after they leave is back to business as usual.”

Afternoon scene at the bus stop, NE Second Avenue. Photo Downtown News.

Attorney Elena Bondarenko has analyzed homelessness in-depth. She was with the Downtown Development Authority for years. She suggested that a social worker should accompany the police, a social worker trained in dealing with people with mental health issues and substance abuse, and the City should fund the social worker. “Homelessness it’s not only an issue of law enforcement.”

Chief Morales reminded residents that crime in Downtown is down to historical records, but he understood this was a hot corner. He would speak to the Commander in charge of Downtown to strategize a solution.

The consensus to eradicate the dangerous problem of vagrancy in this central Downtown area, one with a high concentration of residents — seven residential high-rises within a two-block radius — is adopting a measure proven to be an effective crime deterrent: the presence of beat officers, having uniformed officers patrolling the streets. Research by John Jay College of Criminal Justice shows that the presence of police officers walking the streets deter crime drastically and improves the relationship between police and community.

And there is a local antecedent. In February 2022, a group of residents with the President of the Downtown Neighbors Alliance met Chief Morales at the Police Headquarters to present the same idea. A week later, the then Commander for Downtown Antonio Regueira texted Downtown News: Having spoken with the Chief, he wrote, the program will start now. The program was very effective but short-lived.

We realize such initiatives require funds. Downtown News asked Commissioner Covo if she would sponsor legislation to fund beat officers. Her prompt reply: “Yes.” Downtown News asked Chief Morales if the community can count on the presence of uniformed officer walking the streets. “Can we publish that you have agreed to implement the initiative?” Half in jest, like a good diplomat, Chief Morales replied that we could publish that the Commissioner and the Chief of Police are committed to working on a solution.

Coincidence? A mounted officer did the rounds around the 7-Eleven the day after. Photo, Dan Cruz.

Flagler Street

The walk-through ended at the source of the many inconveniences the closure of NE Second Avenue has caused residents. The cost of redoing Flagler Street.

Second Avenue has been closed between NE First Street and SE First Street. Also, NE Second Avenue has been mutilated to one lane. Residents can’t drop out groceries, take an Uber, etc.

Commissioner Covo and residents walked to the intersection of Second Avenue and Flagler. It seemed ready to open but for the array of county and city inspections and permits.

The stretch from Biscayne Boulevard to NE 2nd Avenue has been completed, and, indeed, is beautiful and for now pedestrian only. Of course, residents appealed to what seems a logical conclusion: making Flagler Street pedestrian for good, like Lincoln Road and Espanola Way in South Beach.

On the matter, urbanist Victor Dover noted in his seminal book STREET DESIGN: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns. “Instead of being a dim, forgotten nowhere, Lincoln Road is now a bright social center of the city. Crowds stroll and dine there every night, even in the off-season. After languishing for decades, Mr. Dover observes, “Lincoln Road sprang back to life, with one of the highest concentrations of pedestrian activity in the American Sunbelt.” Perhaps a better model for Flagler Street will be Espanola Way, pedestrian but cars have limited access.

Flagler Street activated for Art Week, photo, Aurea Veras.

End of the Story

It was a lot to cover and digest in 2 hours. Commissioner Sabina Covo added her own ideas towards potential solutions, but contrary to many politicians, enamored of their own voices, she listened. Listening to constituents and building on their ideas is a good first step against demagoguery.

Shared from Downtown Article March 19, 2023 by Raul Guerrero

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Disclaimer: Professor Real Estate® written materials apply generally to real estate subjects and are not intended to apply to specific legal issues. 

Copyright 2023 ~ All rights reserved. ~ Professor Real Estate® Suzanne Hollander

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