Empty lot to blossom with art, redesign

The Miami Herald

August 16, 2001

Make-over also targets crime

By Adriana Cordovi
Photo by Richard Patterson

Miami River

 The empty lot under Miami’s West Flagler Street Bridge is getting a make-over.

It’s going from trash and overgrown trees to native plants, benches and art work.

The South River Drive lot — called the East Little Havana Riverside Garden — will be the first in a series of projects aimed at eliminating crime in the area and combating what many in the community believe is a rundown look.

“I foresee this area next to the river is really going to flourish,” said Pablo Canton, East Little Havana Neighborhood Enhancement Team’s Administrator.

Plans for the garden began in January when Miami Police Officer Misael Reyes and Inspector Bill Borges of NET teamed up to plan a project that would attract people to the spot.

Reyes is part of the East Little Havana Problem Solving Team, a group of five officers and a sergeant who try to fight crime by changing the environment.

“This is going to be a change from the bottom up,” he said.

Borges says residents of the Hunter River Walk Apartment Complex, a building for senior citizens located across from the park, can use the area to take walks and enjoy the river view.

“I think this will benefit this area and give it a more family-oriented image,” said Kenia Moreira, the building’s manager.

Moreira says she plans on organizing an exercise program at the garden for Hunter residents.

Miami artist Xavier Cortada will paint a mural in the garden that he says will remind residents of the river’s beauty.

“Art is taking ruins and bringing them to life,” he said.

Cortada selected the blue, green and violet colors for the bridge’s columns and he is waiting for the park to be ready before planning the mural’s design.

He says he wants to be able to sketch the design in the park, the same way he hopes residents will be able to go there to write poetry, draw and relax.

A landscape architect and horticulturist selected plants, which were native to the area 200 years ago.

The Miami River Restoration Nonprofit Organization helped the Problem Solving Team and NET get the funding needed for the park from the East Little Havana Empowerment Zone, a group that funds projects to help improve businesses in the area.

Sallye Jude, chairwoman of the East Little Havana Empowerment Zone, says $57,000 was given to fund the project, which will cost between $64,000 and $66,000.

The Knight Foundation funded the rest through a grant.

Jane Caporelli, one of the Miami River Restoration’s board members and manager of the Miami River Inn, calls the project, “a nice mix of police and community.”

“I think one of the wonderful things about the project is that the people who work in the community are making it happen,” Jude said.