Construction to begin on wheelchair-accessible beach deck, upgraded park in Miami Beach

Martin Vassolo
·4 min read

A new beachfront observation deck and park designed to be accessible for people with disabilities will soon be built in Miami Beach.

The $680,000 project, funded mainly by Miami-Dade County, will redevelop the city’s existing Beach View Park at 5301 Collins Ave. with adaptive playground and exercise equipment.

Planned features for the 1.25-acre Adaptive Oceanside Park include adaptive zip lines, inclusive playground equipment and a shrub maze and butterfly garden. A brick-paved “Pathway of Inclusion” will connect the park to the beachwalk. A wheelchair-accessible ramp will be constructed at the beach access point, leading up to double-sided observation deck that extends over the dunes and can be removed during hurricanes. The bench-lined viewing platform would be able to fit about 20 people in total.

The new outdoor spaces are the creation of disability-rights activist Sabrina Cohen and her nonprofit foundation. Construction is expected to begin this summer. The park’s expected opening next summer will set the stage for the future construction of a $10.5-$12 million wellness center that the Sabrina Cohen Foundation has been approved to build on the adjacent city parking lot with private donations.

“We all at the core want to be included, and we all have been excluded,” Cohen told the Miami Herald. “That to me is the heart of this campaign, supporting inclusivity.”

Renderings show the proposed Adaptive Fitness and Recreation Center, designed by architect Kobi Karp, at 5301 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach.
Renderings show the proposed Adaptive Fitness and Recreation Center, designed by architect Kobi Karp, at 5301 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach.

County Commissioner Eileen Higgins sponsored legislation allocating $577,000 in general-obligation bond money to fund the park’s construction. The Sabrina Cohen Foundation will fund the rest, Cohen said.

County and city leaders held a press conference with Cohen on Friday to announce progress on the new park and observation deck. Former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning appeared as a surprise guest speaker at the event. Higgins later presented a check to the city for construction of the park.

“Tens of thousands of Miami-Dade residents live with a disability. And to think that they have never had easy access to the beach,” Higgins said. “Everyone deserves to experience the magic of Miami’s beaches. I’m very happy that we are making that happen here today.”

Cohen, a former Miami Beach Senior High swimmer who sustained a spinal cord injury after a car crash at age 14, has worked for years to give people with disabilities more access to the beach. In 2016, she launched her popular Adaptive Beach Days program, a bi-monthly event that helps those with disabilities get onto the sand and into the water using beach wheelchairs and flotation devices. Due to COVID-19, the program has been suspended since last year, but Cohen said it may relaunch this summer with new CDC-aligned policies.

The new wellness center, which does not have a target date for construction, will provide storage space and locker rooms for the Beach Days program to ramp up from twice a month to more regular operations.

Currently, the program’s equipment — which includes heavy access decks to accommodate wheelchair users — is housed in a trailer that Cohen’s team drives to the beach access point at 63rd Street and Collins near Allison Park. She championed a 2017 city project that renovated Allison Park as a more accessible space with an accessible dune crossing. The playground there now bears her name.

The proposed 3-story wellness center, which features a wheelchair-inclusive wrap-around design by architect Kobi Karp, will house an adaptive gym, rooftop pool and robotics lab. Planned services include a resource library, yoga and meditation classes and various therapy forms (water, art, dance, music).

“Imagine this is a mixture of a SoHo beach house and a JCC [Jewish Community Center],” said Stacey Glassman Mizener, executive director of the Sabrina Cohen Foundation. “It’s supposed to feel non-clinical.”

Receiving city approval to build the wellness center hasn’t been without controversy. Residents organized in 2016 to oppose Cohen’s plans to build the center at Allison Park. She faced opposition the following year when she changed the location to the 53rd Street parking lot, which may eliminate up to 20 parking spots. In 2017, the commission approved a management agreement with Cohen’s foundation to build and operate the center on the lot. Both the center and the park will be owned and maintained by the city.

“It’s just been a very personal journey,” Cohen said. “I am a voice for a community that is getting louder, but it’s been silenced. We’re fighting for rights.”