Magazine

Creating the Mixed-Use Courthouse Center Parking Facility in Miami

By Mark Santos

Miami has embarked on an initiative to revitalize its downtown area, including a series of projects that capitalize on the city’s unique culture and encourage further growth and economic development.
Although periods of economic stress have slowed down or eliminated many recent projects, others have pressed forward. One of the most significant, the mixed-use Courthouse Center parking facility – led by the Miami Parking Authority (MPA) – has helped to bring further development to the city’s downtown core.
More than a decade ago, the city of Miami realized that the area surrounding the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Federal Courthouse building was in serious need of more parking capacity. An existing facility was filled to capacity daily, and no additional land was available in the vicinity to accommodate the 3,000-plus-space parking demand from the courthouse.
For a number of years, the MPA had sought an opportunity to use the existing parking facility site. The Authority purchased land adjacent to the site for future development, as the plan became a reality.
Once city and planning officials made the decision to replace the existing courthouse parking facility with a larger, more accommodating structure, the MPA took steps to develop a facility to provide the required parking supply to support employees and visitors, as well as the neighborhood. However, the Authority also sought to create a facility that would more effectively utilize the land where the stand-alone parking facility once stood.
The city and the Authority intended for this project to generate a more positive experience for facility users and to create a more attractive destination. It was during this process that the Authority bought the land next to the parking facility to create opportunities for further development.
The city and the MPA understood the need to create a “gateway” to the courthouse, and determined that the development’s design intent and aesthetics were critically important to the success of the project.
The facility was not meant to look like a typical everyday parking garage. All project stakeholders agreed that it should enhance the experience of the courthouse area – and even create a community within and around the building.
To reinforce this level of architectural design and urban planning, the city established an ordinance requiring that any parking facility include mixed-use habitable space, clearly visible within pedestrian sight lines. The design intent, coupled with this new ordinance, strengthened the desire of the owner and the project team to craft pedestrian scale for the structure and to incorporate modern architectural design elements.
From inception, the facility’s primary purpose was to provide the sufficient parking supply not achieved by the previous facility. Although the opportunities to integrate mixed uses and to build a vibrant community created an exciting buzz, the project’s success hinged on its ability to provide enough parking to support the courthouse and adjacent uses.
A comprehensive parking study identified the parking supply required to support the development at the time, and well into the future. Planners and stakeholders also assessed the feasibility of the site to support a project of such magnitude, exploring the numerous opportunities for the site, including the most valuable utilization of the land, as well as the most successful integration of various uses.
However, as plans for the development moved forward, the project met a huge obstacle in the city’s real estate slowdown. The economy took a significant negative turn, and all of the plans that had once seemed so promising required considerable revision and scaling back, at least for the foreseeable future.
The result is the recently opened Courthouse Center, which sits on the site today. Although not as large as once anticipated, the development has already helped to draw increased activity to the area. It provides significant office and retail space, as well as the parking supply needed to support the courthouse, employees and visitors of the mixed-use facility, and the surrounding neighborhood.
The 11-story state-of-the-art Courthouse Center includes 850 parking spaces and about 369,000 square feet, which incorporates 3,766 square feet of ground-level retail. The facility includes more than 36,000 square feet of office space, including the MPA’s administrative offices, as well as the future regional office of Timothy Haahs & Associates. (The firm anticipates LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for Commercial Interiors for their new office space.)
TimHaahs served as the prime design firm for the Courthouse Center, providing full architectural and parking design services.
Although the development was scaled back as a result of the recession, significant opportunities for future growth and expansion remain. Designed with provisions for a future horizontal expansion to the east, the facility has the potential to grow to accommodate increasing demand.
The Courthouse Center’s architectural design is intended to minimize its appearance as a parking facility, and to mirror the building design elements of the courthouse. Using the “Miami Modernist” architectural style, TimHaahs incorporated design elements that complement the unique architectural context, as well as highlight the prominence of the office and retail space.
Its striking architectural features – perforated metal screening, street “liners” on the second and third floor facades, and perimeter blue glass – fashion a building that values both form and function. These features minimize the size of the facility, provide pedestrian-level scale, and generate an attractive aesthetic that enhances the downtown.
The Courthouse Center provides a distinctive new public open space. Actually the site bought by the MPA for further development of the mixed-use project, the passive reflection park offers community gathering space for employees, residents and visitors. Planners decided to convert the area into green space as a result of the recession, a positive outcome in spite of the difficult economy that still affords a valuable bank of land for future development.
The Courthouse Center brings parking, shopping and dining options to this rapidly redeveloping area of downtown Miami. Backers believe the facility will serve as an impetus to development to the core district, contributing to the economic vitality of the city. The facility’s mixed uses – all designed with an eye toward “place making” – will attract residents, businesses and employees.
As intended, the significant parking capacity will support all of these efforts, and serve as a key component to the success of this prominent development in the heart of Miami.
Mark Santos, P.E., Vice President of Timothy Haahs & Associates, can be contacted at msantos@timhaahs.com.

Article Abstract from August, 2011




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