The 30-month Flagler Street Beautification downtown is starting its second year of construction with businesses struggling to get customers and keep their doors open.
Miami’s Downtown Development Authority has provided $5,000 apiece to businesses that have been hardest hit by the construction. On Friday, the authority is to add $2,000 more for each to help the businesses with rent and any problems that they’re facing as the city’s main east-west street – the dividing line between north and south – remains ripped up.
Manolo Reyes, authority chairman and city commissioner, said he made sure these businesses would continue to stay open during construction.
“There was a lot of concerns from the businesses about how much business these were going to lose by that street being closed,” he said. “I asked to keep it open to have them remain open, during which people will cross from the north side or to the south.”
Among the struggling businesses is Manila Kantina, a family-owned, decade-old Asian food buffet and grocery store at 245 E Flagler that’s struggling to gain new customers, many of whom are seafarers.
Owner and primary cook Judith Blasco decided to locate this Filipino restaurant downtown, where the primary customers have kept it running. During the pandemic, she started getting only locals. Now, the new construction has made it harder for most patrons to eat there.
“We have elder customers that cannot walk two blocks through the construction,” Miss Blasco said. “We understand about it, but it hurts our pockets. We’re just hoping that that they will finish this in June.”
That’s not likely. After a year, work is on only the third of five sections, starting on Biscayne Boulevard and working west. Work on May 16 began from Southeast/Northeast Second Avenue to Southeast/Northeast First Avenue, with the closure due to take about 12 months. No street parking is allowed.
The street is blocked off, with black-and-orange fences surrounding the area. However, the north and south sidewalks remain in use as businesses stay open.
Construction, which had been sought for a decade to level sidewalks and beautify the main thoroughfare, finally began in May 2021 in a partnership among the city, the Flagler District Business Improvement District and the Downtown Development Authority. It’s to end up with a curb-less street with expanded the sidewalks, added outdoor dining, improved lighting, better signage, public art, and new seating areas.
Mr. Reyes was elected authority chairman after the project started and was told it was “not going anywhere” due to differences between the city and the county.
“I took it upon myself to try to bring everybody to the table,” Mr. Reyes said. “I tried to expedite the permits and get them from the county departments. If there were any discrepancies, they had to sit down and agree on it.”
After the street is complete, sidewalks are to be remodeled. But it’s step by difficult step because of old, unmapped pipes and wiring below.
“That is an old street and you cannot do it with heavy equipment,” Mr. Reyes said. “It has to be done by hand.”
Mr. Reyes said “My mission with this project is to try to make the street a place that people want to visit” in years ahead.
Businesses, however, worry about the here and now.
An antique store employee witnesses construction workers as they create this new street and says they’re unsure when it will be finished. “I am worried about my business,” he said. “It is unbelievable.”