In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Miami soccer site may be ludicrous, but that’s not unheard of here

 

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

It would seem ludicrous, the notion of obscuring that last open tract of downtown Miami's public-owned bay front with a soccer stadium.

It seems even crazier, considering that David Beckham’s stadium would infringe on Museum Park, considering that the design of the city’s stunning new art museum was contrived to incorporate open vistas of sky and water.

“The first thing you notice about the Pérez Art Museum Miami is that the new setting is as much a part of the gallery as the collection,” the Washington Post wrote in February. “Set along Biscayne Bay — the water laps just a few feet away — the museum offers deep-blue views, the cruise-ship-filled channel leading out to the ocean, the endless sky, palm trees.”

Would Miami really want to out-of-town writers to substitute “endless sky” with “sports stadium?”

The plans, floated (perhaps not the right word in this context) by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, would first entail spending $17 million or more to fill an historic 1,200 foot inlet just to the south of Museum Park.

Looking north across the 300-foot wide boat slip toward the new park, across the landscaped plaza and the art museum and the new science museum nearly completion, you think, “surely not. Not for a soccer stadium.”

Then the eyes stray south, where the American Airlines Arena, a basketball palace, rises over another piece of the waterfront – a looming reminder that in Miami, ludicrous happens.

Maybe there’s some comfort knowing how many other grand and not-so-grand ideas for Miami’s bayfront never happened. Miami historian Paul George wrote that in 1947, the city commission seriously considered converting a large swath of Bayfront Park into a parking lot.

In 1964, the city wanted build a 7,000-seat convention center in the park, setting off a fight between environmentalists and business leaders that lasted until 1970, when city voters finally rejected a necessary bond issue.

The acres south of Bayfront Park, purchased by the city from the FEC railroad in 1972 as designated park land, have inspired all sorts of ideas. There were plans for a maritime museum, an aquarium. Developers wanted to build condos on the northern end of the tract. There was talk of a world trade center. There was a proposal in 1982 to offer the slip to Navy vessels, which could loose their sailors on the downtown. “If one ship comes in a week, we can easily get $50,000 of purchasing power into the small shops.”

In 1983, a Miami businessman planned to berth a long-retired 900-foot Italian cruise liner, the SS Michelangelo, in the boat slip. The ship, which the Shah of Iran had once planned to turn into a floating hotel, was to have been converted into restaurants and shops and restaurants. Perhaps the Michelangelo was preempted by the Bayside Marketplace, one of those ideas that actually happened.

In the early 1990s, Port of Miami Director Carmen Lunetta wanted to grab the old FEC tract for an extension of the port and build four new slips for cruise ships and festoon the waterfront with shops and restaurants. But Lunetta, caught up in a notorious scandal, resigned in 1997 with the port’s finances in shambles. So much for that.

And there was the plan in 2007 to put a Bay of Pigs Museum on the public’s Parcel B, where voters were promised a park, just behind the American Airlines Arena, though the museum was really political cover for the construction of a large parking garage beneath of the museum to serve the arena. Absurd, but not as absurd as the Miami Heat’s proposal in 2003 to build a 236-unit condo tower on Parcel B.

The city did give into the ludicrous in 1986, when it allowed the Miami Grand Prix to run a racetrack through Bicentennial Park, a once beautiful, award-winning space allowed to go derelict. I suppose it said something about the state of the Miami bayfront in 1993 when a federal judge said the city could temporarily remove the homeless living in the park to make way for the Grand Prix, but that the city must leave their 17 homemade shanties intact and store their belongings, making sure the vagrants could return once the race was over.

The homeless, at least, appreciated the grand vista of the city's waterfront. Civic leaders, not so much. At one time, the city fathers had promised a contiguous linear park along the bay, from Flagler Street north to the MacArthur Causeway. A soccer stadium is just the latest deviation – make that ludicrous deviation – from that vision.

I came across an old quote from Dan Paul, the prominent lawyer and Miami’s great champion of parks and public spaces who led the 1972 referendum campaign that led to the city’s purchase of the FEC’s bayfront land. He was talking to the Herald’s Linda Robertson in 1996 about the city and county’s shared compulsion to fill up the bayfront with anything but open park land.

Paul, who died in 2010, else he would be raising hell over the notion of a soccer stadium along the downtown bayfront, told Linda, “If Miami thought it could get more on the tax roll it would construct a whorehouse in Bayfront Park.”

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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