Museum Park was imbued with a celebratory mood as the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle glided into the park's boat slip to inaugurate the new green space in Downtown Miami on Saturday morning.
Visitors reclined in grassy, palm-tree-shaded spots by the water and gathered by the slip to take pictures and wave as the cutter pulled in; they jogged and picnicked along the park's winding paths, many with their children and dogs.
Just days earlier, the fate of the boat slip and part of the park remained uncertain, threatened by David Beckham's proposal for a Major League Soccer stadium on the site. The proposal was announced a no-go by city officials on Tuesday, largely due to an upswell of civic activism by downtown residents and other activist groups.
More than 150 people showed up at the park’s opening Saturday to celebrate that victory. Posing for pictures with activists carrying “We love Museum Park” signs, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said previous visits to the park convinced him to oppose Beckham's plan for the downtown space.
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“The park is for the city, for the residents, for downtown, but mostly for the next generation,” Regalado said. “It took 14 years, but it’s here today.”
In response to thanks from park-goers, Regalado said, “Your voices were the ones that made the difference.”
Over the years, there have been many incarnations of the downtown site.
In 1976, it was Bicentennial Park, widely considered a failure. Design choices, like walls around the park, along with the lack of a downtown community at the time, limited its appeal. A racetrack ran through it and then a homeless community took it over. Even before Beckham's stadium proposal, it was suggested as a site for the Marlins’ stadium. Since then, much has changed in downtown Miami; along with the changes has come a community structure and the formation of organizations like the Downtown Neighborhood Alliance — a group that played a prominent role in the fight for the park.
Many who gathered to celebrate the park's opening Saturday had worked for decades to see it through.
Gregory Bush, vice president of the Urban Environment League and a historian at the University of Miami, began advocating for a park in the space in 1998. Nancy Lee, a former member of the Urban Environment League who lives in Aventura, has been fighting for the park for even longer, since 1995. She said Bicentennial Park was “terrible,” and said she was particularly excited about the slip being saved from Beckham’s proposal to fill it in, since she has seen manatees and dolphins swimming there.
For others, like the residents of condominiums across the street from the park, who turned out in droves, the battle over the park has been shorter but no less pressing. Steve Smith, who lives across the street from the park at 900 Biscayne Bay and supported the movement to stop the stadium, said the controversy has been going on for the entire three-and-a-half years he’s lived there. “It seems like it’s been forever,” he said.
Smith said the park was a “wonderful” addition to his neighborhood, where he says there is a scarcity of green space.
“Museum Park gives you the ability to build your community instead of just live in a tower; it lets you meet your neighbors. It’s a fabulous place to gather,” Smith said. “It's really going to change the fabric of downtown and the quality of life.”
For Helen Hoffman, who lives across the street in the Marina Blue condominiums, the announcement that the park would be saved this week was “just a huge relief.”
“I would love to see soccer here but I don't think it needs to be on a public park. I can’t imagine walking along here and seeing another big stadium,” she said, motioning to AmericanAirlines Arena adjacent to the park.
Her husband, Phil Hoffman, said Museum Park will be Miami's Central Park. “If they took this away, we'd never have one,” he said.
It was a sentiment expressed, too, by Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, a longtime advocate for the park, who spoke to park-goers about the difficulties of carrying through on a plan for this space.
“You have the bones here for probably what will become the greatest park in any city in the U.S.,” he said. “Let's just stick to the plan. ... Sometimes the hardest thing in life is to stick to the plan.”
Many on Saturday hailed Museum Park as the triumph of public interests over corporate interests. For others, the fight over Museum Park was about the future of the changing city itself.
But on Saturday, it was simply a gathering spot for the community. Picnickers spread their blankets out along the grassy space, bikers pedaled along the paths edging the slip and children ran around in the blazing sun, a reprieve from a soggy week.
“Look, sand!” A pint-sized child toddled onto the sand edging the waterfront, a child-sized soccer ball in her hand.
Lee, the activist for whom the park was a work in progress for nearly two decades, says she’ll return again.
“I'll be back a million times,” she said.