Well, here’s something we don’t see much of these days: a compromise. One that appears, outwardly at least, to placate all sides. After two marathon days of mediation, the stakeholders in the downtown Miami site of a Tequesta village and other historical artifacts have come up with a plan that preserves the archaeological finds while allowing a proposed development of a hotel and entertainment complex to proceed. Good for everyone involved. And good for history, which gets so little respect in South Florida.
The site, once a parking lot adjacent to the Miami River, was discovered during early work on the new development. It contains several layers of Miami history dating from the time of some of Miami’s earliest inhabitants 2,000 years ago to when the area was a staging ground for the U.S. Army during the Seminole Indian wars to the days of the city’s early tourist development. How significant — and just plain cool — this discovery was. But then came the inevitable disputes between the developer and preservationists.
After a few adroit maneuvers by the developer, MDM Group, to avoid seeing the site designated as a protected landmark — meaning no construction — to the consternation of preservationists, Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff proposed mediation to attempt to resolve the dispute.
Commendably, both sides agreed to talk. So MDM Group, consulting archaeologist Bob Carr, local preservationists, including historian Arva Moore Parks, and a number of city, Miami-Dade County and state historic-preservation employees and legal advisors worked with mediator Angel Cortiñas to create a design that includes glass enclosures over two circular areas of carved postholes in bedrock that archaeologists believe are the foundations of Tequesta buildings.
Also, a brick-lined well believed to have been part of the U.S. Army’s 19th-century Fort Dallas will be covered with a glass floor. And the steps from Henry Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel, built in 1896, will be incorporated into a public plaza east of MDM Group’s complex, to be called Met Square.
The developer also will pay for a scale model of the Royal Palm Hotel for exhibition on site and fund a film about the site’s history. MDM also agreed to allow HistoryMiami to operate a public museum on the property and to build the public plaza. Markings on the complex’s ground floor will trace the Miami River’s original shoreline to where it spilled into Biscayne Bay before that junction was covered by fill material.
In exchange, MDM will ask the Miami preservation board to vacate three resolutions intended to preserve the site so that it can apply for building permits. MDM won’t oppose a historic designation as long as it doesn’t stop construction.
Absent any last-minute hitches, Miami commissioners should give the plan the go-ahead at its meeting on Thursday. If this compromise succeeds, it could serve as the template for the next time the imperative to preserve local history collides with commercial interests. Another bit of ancient Miami-Tequesta history, the Miami Circle at Brickell Point south of the river, is in public ownership, thankfully. HistoryMiami opened a park there in 2011, but the circle itself remains buried to protect the site. That means that much of the public’s access of its true historic worth lies buried, too. Soon, though, history buffs can glimpse remnants of Miami’s past at Met Square, whose owners will benefit from the lure of historical attractions.
What a smart compromise.