In a final push for the completion of the pedestrian overpass project, Student Government is circulating a petition addressed to the owner of the University Centre Plaza, and the Division of Student Affairs will host a public memorial for the eighth anniversary of UM student Ashley Kelly’s death on Friday.
“We’ve been working on this project for eight years and certainly it’s near and dear to my heart, and we’ve had other situations out there since that time,” said Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs. “… This is our last rather large stumbling block for this project to go forward.”
The online petition, which can be signed on Change.org, urges the property owner to allow for the Ashley Kelly Pedestrian Bridge to be built through Mariposa Court. Acquiring the northwest corner of the University Centre Plaza would be the final step before beginning construction, but the property owner has refused to accept Miami-Dade County’s offer of $1,853,900 for the land.
“There’s been a lack of overwhelming student voice … so the idea was to get more students on board, to get more community members on board, so that [the owner] saw it wasn’t just administration that wanted it,” former SG President Nawara Alawa said.
SG had been planning this response for about two months and considered it the best alternative, according to Alawa. The petition is seeking 5,000 signatures by Friday.
Alawa said she hopes that if the plaza owner and individual businesses see an overwhelming response from the student body, it will help them gauge why this is an important issue to students.
“Those business owners might be able to go back to the owner of the entire plaza and say, ‘… they are the people that keep this plaza alive, so maybe we should really listen to what they have to say,’” Alawa said.
But Alawa said that there are a lot of people who would benefit from the pedestrian overpass if it existed, not just UM students.
“Ponce Middle School is right there, and a lot of people walk from their homes to Ponce Middle School, and in the morning that’s really dangerous,” she said.
The possibility of encouraging a boycott was initially discussed after certain students and alumni introduced the idea to SG. However, Alawa felt this would not have had the right effect.
“The overall owner of the plaza that we’re having this kind of riff with wouldn’t be affected by a boycott,” she said.
Many students and student groups have relationships that exist with those businesses, according to Alawa. For example, sisters of the Zeta Tau Alpha Fraternity have a weekly breakfast at Bagel Emporium, and T.G.I. Friday’s has bingo and trivia nights hosted by a UM student.
“Those relationships have been built over such a long period of time, and they’re such a positive working relationship that we decided that we didn’t want to put any kind of negative strain on those relationships,” Alawa said. “So we figured a boycott was not the best way to go.”
The petition will be taken down after the memorial, which will be held at 4 p.m. Friday at the Metrorail parking lot across the street from the site of the plaza’s contested corner.
“We want to raise awareness, not just about the issue itself, but also to commemorate the lives of students that were lost,” Alawa said.
According to Whitely, Kelly was a freshman in the School of Communication at the time she was killed. She would have been moving off-campus the following year.
It was 8 p.m. on a Thursday. Kelly, who had planned to meet her new roommate at T.G.I. Friday’s at the University Centre Plaza, ran across the street and was hit by a car. She died around 2 a.m.
“Everyone was incredibly saddened,” Whitely remembers. “Ashley was just a wonderful, wonderful student, as everybody knows. She had her life ahead of her, and I think she had just turned 19.”
Kelly’s parents have since worked with the university over the years to put forth the Ashley Kelly Pedestrian Bridge, according to Whitely.
The Miami Hurricane made an effort to reach out to Kelly’s parents, but they have remained silent about the incident since it occurred.
They will attend the memorial and speak at the press conference.
Whitely hopes these efforts will bring about a change.
“To the UM students and community, it’s important for them to have their voice heard about how important this project is, and the reality is that we’re hoping that the shopping center owner would reconsider,” Whitely said.