Downtown Miami’s Museum Park to open Saturday

06/12/2014 6:40 PM

06/12/2014 7:26 PM

It’s finally here and it’s not going away after all: Museum Park, in the making for 14 years, will open to a patient public Saturday on the downtown Miami waterfront.

For Miamians who’ve been waiting such a long time, Saturday in the park will be a happy occasion, especially after Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado pulled the plug earlier in the week on a plan to build a pro soccer stadium in the middle of it.

Parks activists and downtown residents had planned to show up in force to hold an unofficial ribbon-cutting and a picnic-in at the new park as a demonstration against the contemplated stadium for retired footballer David Beckham’s Major League Soccer team. They will still come and “occupy” Museum Park, but in a spirit of celebration.

“Everybody still plans on going there and having a good time, which is what the park is for anyway,’’ said David Polinsky, president of the condo association at 10 Museum Park, a tower across Biscayne Boulevard where many residents vocally opposed the stadium. “I’m going to be there with every friend I have and every dog I know.’’

Sometime overnight Friday, temporary barricades lining the perimeter of the park along Biscayne Boulevard will be removed, and the park and its companion deepwater slip will be officially open after years of design and construction that proceeded in fits and starts.

At 10:45 a.m. Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard training ship Eagle, a three-masted sailing vessel, will glide into the fully refurbished slip with a contingent of local officialdom on board to inaugurate the park. The ship will remain tied up to the slip’s new mooring bollards for three days just steps from Biscayne Boulevard and welcome the public for free afternoon tours.

After all the controversy over the stadium and budget cuts that forced planned, elaborate park features to be scaled back, parks and elected officials say Miamians should be well pleased with their scenic new waterfront oasis, which boasts a broad promenade from the boulevard to the bay, an extensive new baywalk, a great lawn, paths shaded by massive oaks, a sandy “beach” near the water’s edge, and unparalleled views of Biscayne Bay, PortMiami and the downtown skyline.

“It should be a great day,’’ said Tim Schmand, director of the Bayfront Park Management Trust, which will also run and maintain Museum Park. “I think people will be mightily impressed. Kids can run round. There are trails to meander. There’s room to kick around a soccer ball, even if you’re not Beckham.”

The new park replaces the old Bicentennial Park, which saw little use because it lacked attractions and had a design that walled it off from the street. The site has been essentially closed for years except for special events as it awaited transformation into Museum Park.

The origins of the new park stretch back to 2000, when a group of activists and civic leaders defeated a plan by baseball’s Marlins to build a new stadium at Bicentennial.

A new plan, hammered out over scores of public meetings, called for two new museums and a revamped slip framing a 19-acre expanse of green open space. The Perez Art Museum Miami, along with a new public plaza and a renovated Metromover station, opened in December and is drawing large crowds. The Frost Museum of Science is now under construction.

The park that’s opening Saturday, at a cost so far of around $40 million, is a pared-down version of an elaborate design by the celebrated New York firm of Cooper, Robertson & Partners. City officials say they have built a frame that will allow elements like a children’s garden and a restaurant next to the slip as money becomes available.

But Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes downtown, says the park is plenty nice as it is. One helpful factor, he said: Swire Properties paid $700,000 to barge about 40 mature trees, including massive figs, gumbo limbos and 100-year-old oaks, from the site of its Brickell City Centre development.

“Come see your park. Just stand out there, and look,’’ Sarnoff said. “We’ve created great bones for this park. It can be improved and enhanced. But the infrastructure came out much better than I ever expected. Everybody should be proud of this park.’’

Beckham’s development team proposed filling in the slip and taking over a big chunk of the new park for the stadium, saying the area would otherwise be “dead space’’ because it lacks reasons for people to visit it.

But Sarnoff, whose office will host a July 4 picnic at Museum Park, and other city officials say they believe the park will get significant use, pointing to the sold-out new condo towers across Biscayne Boulevard and the new museums.

PAMM has attracted more than 150,000 people in the six months since it opened, substantially over its projections. The Science Museum now draws 300,000 people a year at its cramped present location opposite Vizcaya, and that number is expected to increase dramatically at the new Museum Park building. A good number of those visitors would likely wander through the new park space, proponents say.

“There was never a reason for anybody to be in that park. There are reasons to be in the park now,’’ Sarnoff said.

Some condo dwellers who have wandered into the site for a preview say they can’t wait to enjoy it every day. They say it fulfills its promise as a quiet space in the heart of downtown.

“People showed a lot affection for the park even before it opened,’’ said Polinsky. “It was designed be a peaceful place. That’s the nice thing about the vibe.”

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