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Miami’s Answer To The High Line Breaks Ground This Week. This Could Change The City.

"Having been stalked by this woman, I can tell you, she is not going away, just like her father," Ibargüen said, only half-joking. "It must be in her genes. She makes a good case, and then she comes back."

That Daly thought of it at all owes to an unhappy accident. She had broken both arms in a cycling mishap, couldn't drive or do much else, and was taking Metrorail to physical therapy. One day, walking to the train under the railway, she took in for the first time all that space underneath the elevated train tracks.

There was a paved pathway, but it was threadbare and got scant use. What if someone could instead turn it into a walking and cycling trail lined with lush tropical vegetation? Daly pictured joggers, cyclists, families and rail users sharing the trail all the way from Dadeland through South Miami and Coral Gables to Miami's Coconut Grove, Silver Bluff, The Roads and Brickell neighborhoods.

Daly roped in assistant county parks director Maria Nardi, who now holds the top job at the department, and eventually Gimenez and the transit agency, which owns and manages Metrorail and the land underneath it.

Friends of the Underline has a formal agreement with the county to guide the development of the Underline, which will be built in phases by designers and contractors working for Miami-Dade under competitive bids. The group has also hired the planning and engineering firm Kimley-Horn to draw up a consistent basic design template for the trail and determine the cost for each segment.

The group is now launching an affiliate that will manage and maintain the trail, a job estimated to require $3 million a year.

Daly has not yet figured out where that money will come from, but corporate donations, naming rights and sponsorships and proceeds from a new county taxing district enacted to tap into new development around transit lines could help cover that cost, she and the mayor said.

Daly and Gimenez emphasize that the Underline is only one piece of a broader concept for a longer Miami Loop. It would include the intersecting Ludlam Trail, a similar multi-use green trail and park running from Dadeland Mall to just south of Miami International Airport planned for a former freight-rail corridor. In September, the Miami-Dade Commission approved the purchase of the six-mile corridor for $25 million. The Ludlam Trail could in turn eventually link up with the Miami Riverwalk and back to the Underline.

"It's a very big vision to have a 22-mile, off-road, multi-use walking and biking trail," Daly said, referring to the Miami Loop idea.

The Underline has one built-in advantage: Because there is already a paved path along its full length, people can use and enjoy it before it's complete.

"As soon as the first pocket is developed, you are able to start experiencing it," said developer Brent Reynolds, a member of Friends of the Underline's board of directors. "It's right around the corner."

The inaugural Brickell Backyard segment is the most complex and, at a cost of $14.2 million, the most expensive in the Underline plan, Daly said. But given the booming area's density and young population, it's also the piece most likely to get immediate and heavy use. Funding includes $5.4 million in county money, $4.8 million from Miami, and nearly $4 million from the state.

The section begins at the Miami River and extends seven blocks south to the edge of Simpson Park, the last preserved remnant of a hardwood hammock that once covered the Brickell area. The plan for the nine-acre segment, which was designed by James Corner under a competitively bid contract and is scheduled for completion in 18 months, consists of several outdoor "rooms" with features that Brickell residents asked for during a series of public meetings. Those include:

-- A green, dog-friendly park at the edge of the river. -- A gym consisting of a court that can be used for basketball, volleyball or mini-soccer, workout stations and a running track around the block. -- A three-block Promenade with a performance stage at one end with room for 300 people or 85 yoga mats; tables for chess, checkers and dominoes; a 50-foot-long table for communal dining. -- An Oolite Room with four butterfly gardens set around rock outcroppings that sit across the street from Southside Elementary School.

Phase two, which is set to go out to bid in November, will extend from Coral Way to Southwest 19th Avenue along South Dixie Highway, Daly said.

The project then skips over to Coral Gables, where the city is planning a segment stretching between Douglas and LeJeune roads. That includes a revamp of a tiny, trail-adjacent park, now a fenced-off bit of asphalt, which could become a staging spot for food trucks, Daly said.

That Gables segment also includes a quarter-mile piece to be built by Reynolds and his firm NP International. The Friends of the Underline board member is also developer of the Gables Station mixed-use project now under construction along Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Under the permitting agreement with the Gables, Reynolds will contribute $3 million to build and landscape the trail portion, which is now being designed by Kimley-Horn, the firm already working on the design template for the entire Underline.

Next to the trail, Reynolds will add a public dog park, the city's first. The municipality will pitch in $300,000 toward the dog park.

His architects designed the Gables Station building to face the Underline, Reynolds said. An expansive courtyard will open up to the trail, and the ground floor will have food, drink and other "activated space," he said. His concept is to get building residents out to the Underline, and Underline users to the retail -- just the kind of symbiotic flow that Daly envisioned. It's also an attractive lure for potential residential and retail tenants, Reynolds said.

"Our idea is to draw people out and into the Underline space," he said. "It's definitely part of our story. It plays well into modern-day trends of health and wellness and alternative means of transportation and connectivity." Reynolds plans to start building his Underline section in the second quarter of 2019, and it should be ready when Gables Station opens in late summer 2020, he said.

Meanwhile, Daly remains an unpaid volunteer, five years in. Friends of the Underline, which receives no public money directly and subsists on private contributions, has one paid staffer and depends on pro-bono attorneys and supporters to do much of its work. But for her it's much more than a job, she says. Daly, who has two grown daughters, says it's now her life.

"I do this full time," she said. "This is all I think about."

As the groundbreaking draws near, Daly only wishes her father could be there to cut the ribbon with her. With him gone, she's had to do the work of not just two people, but. sometimes. it seems. that of a whole squad.

"It's like he'd died yesterday. I think it was a huge loss for our community," she said. "You don't replace Parker Thompson with one person."

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