Brothers Randy and Brian Alonso have deep roots in Downtown. La Época, the iconic department store on Flagler Street, was founded by their grandfather and great uncle in Havana, 1927. Three generations later, the brothers opened Lost Boy across the street, a Western-inspired denim and dry goods store with a unique hipster feel. Randy is a member of the Downtown Miami Partnership, while Brian is President of the Dade Heritage Trust, Board Member for the Miami Dade Homeless Trust, and Chair of the Flagler Street Task Force that’s about to embark on a $13M facelift of Miami’s historic main street.
JP: How long have you lived in Downtown?
RA: This is my tenth year. I grew up in Coral Gables, went to college in North Carolina and immediately moved home. Within a month, I went to One Miami and have lived here ever since.
JP: What are the biggest changes you have seen over those ten years?
RA: The foot traffic and amount of people at any time of day. One of my favorite parts of living Downtown was, and is, the grit and the character. Soya e Pomodoro, one of my favorite restaurants and a pioneer here, used to do Cuban music every Thursday night. I’d walk 5 blocks from One Miami through barricades, barren streets with no cars, and hear a trumpet in the distance. Then you come to this beautiful, broken down arcade and feel like you’re in Italy. Taking that walk today, I’d pass people walking their dogs, going to the store…I’d get that ambiance, but it’s packed with people now. There’s energy.
JP: Do you think Downtown is going to lose that grittiness?
RA: No, I think we have a great opportunity. You’ve got Brickell City Center on one side and Miami World Center on the other, with big anchor stores. You have two giant retail developments that will absorb every major retailer. That leaves anyone on Flagler something unique. Something cool. There’s nowhere else in Miami with historic buildings and vertical infrastructure on the water. There’s buzz about people who are pioneers in their own neighborhoods eyeing Downtown. There’s still that local flavor and it isn’t corporate mainstream.
JP: Tell us about the Flagler Street renovation.
RA: The Flagler Street Task Force was aimed at improving the street. If we have a strong main street, we’ll have a strong neighborhood. The $13M reconstruction of Flagler will go 16 feet down. You’ll still have lanes of traffic both ways. No more on-street parking. Date palms at intersections and live oak on the sidewalks will create a big promenade with shade. It’ll take about a year and a half.
JP: How has the process been working with developers and preserving Miami’s heritage?
BA: From a developer perspective we see a lot of respect for historic preservation. We have a 2,000 year old Tequesta Indian village, the site of Fort Dallas during the Civil and Seminole wars, and where Henry Flagler had the Royal Palm Hotel, the birthplace of modern Miami, all in one place. They’ve discovered 13 circles and we’re building a condo on top of all this. Three circles will be preserved. Two will have glass boxes around them so people can see them in the lobby of the condo. Artifacts will be relocated to a plaza between Met 1 and Met Square. From a historic preservation standpoint, what we learn from the Met Square site is we’re one of the oldest cities on the east coast. Telling that story makes us a better community.
JP: Can you talk about your work with the homeless?
BA: We had 8000 homeless and are down to 800 in Miami-Dade and 300 in Downtown over a 25-year span. We are down to the chronic, the hardest to rehabilitate. We’re doing a pilot program delivering medication to the mentally ill on the street so they’re cognizant enough to make their own decisions. People have a perception homelessness is our biggest challenge, but we have some of the lowest crime statistics here. Transportation is our biggest challenge.