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Billionaire Ken Griffin dons hardhat, celebrates final stretch of Miami’s Underline

As construction on The Underline’s delayed second phase inches toward a year-end finish, key supporters of the planned 10-mile linear park and trail below the Metrorail tracks aren’t just sitting around. On Tuesday, they broke ground on the $140 million project’s third and final section.

The standing-room-only groundbreaking, at the University Metrorail Station in Coral Gables, was purely ceremonial, with attendant hoopla and at least one billionaire supporter — Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin — donning a hardhat and wielding a shovel to dig into a big symbolic sandbox.

But Miami-Dade County transit and public works officials say they’re ready to start digging dirt for real on what will be the ambitious project’s biggest and most complex segment by the middle of next month, after construction permits from myriad local, state and federal agencies are in place.

Expected completion date for the whole enchilada: End of 2025.

Ken Griffin, Citadel founder and CEO, at center, applauds Friends of the Underline founder and CEO Meg Daly, second from right, during a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, at the University Metrorail Station for the third and final phase of The Underline linear park and trail.
Ken Griffin, Citadel founder and CEO, at center, applauds Friends of the Underline founder and CEO Meg Daly, second from right, during a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, at the University Metrorail Station for the third and final phase of The Underline linear park and trail.

With some final design refinements still under way, the plan for that final phase covers more than seven miles between the Dadeland South station, the Metrorail line’s southern endpoint, and Coconut Grove, and it includes some of The Underline’s most elaborate and innovative features. Among those are self-sustaining micro-forests and walkways suspended over botanical rainwater ponds.

Also coming in phase three: An artisan market; a dog park with an agility course; pickleball courts; a skate park; half-court basketball and a soccer mini-pitch; plus lots of public art.

The third segment also will bring 1,800 trees and palms to the trail, expanding the existing tree canopy along that stretch to 3,960 specimens, according to plans developed by construction managers NV2A Group and builder Central Civil, both Miami firms, They are working with designs by New York’s James Corner Field Operations, the landscape architecture and planning firm best known for co-designing Manhattan’s massively popular High Line.

“Look what we have done,” Friends of The Underline founder and CEO Meg Daly said to a standing ovation from a high-powered crowd of political, civic and business supporters gathered under a tent in the transit station parking lot. “This phase truly has something for everyone.”

Innovative stormwater ponds in The Underline’s planned third and final phase will collect rain runoff, support native plant habitats and provide a backdrop for public art. Raised walkways will traverse the shallow pools, which will be wet only when it rains.
Innovative stormwater ponds in The Underline’s planned third and final phase will collect rain runoff, support native plant habitats and provide a backdrop for public art. Raised walkways will traverse the shallow pools, which will be wet only when it rains.

The Underline, Miami’s answer to the High Line, will run from Brickell and the Miami River to the Dadeland South Metro station. Work on The Underline’s second section, which extends more than two miles from Brickell to the edge of Coconut Grove, began in September of 2022, and is scheduled to end in December, with a public opening likely in January.

The first half-mile section, running south from the river through west Brickell, opened in early 2021. Daly said that Brickell Backyard section has had two million users in each of its first two years of operation.

Griffin, who moved to Miami from Chicago and is bringing his corporate headquarters to Brickell, made a $5 million donation in 2021 to seed an endowment fund to pay for maintenance of The Underline. In brief remarks on Tuesday, he alliteratively called the project a demonstration of “the power of public-private partnerships.”

Construction of the trail, which is replacing the threadbare M-Path under the Metro line, is funded mostly through local, state and federal money, but corporate sponsors support specific elements and programs, while the Friends organization is responsible for raising funds privately to manage and maintain the trail in perpetuity.