The blooming trees at a popular South Miami park may be on the move. The land where the park is located —along with the rest of the municipal complex — has become valuable real estate.
The city has received more than half a dozen offers that range from $50 million to $70 million for the land that includes the park, city hall, the police station and the historic Sylva G. Martin Community Center, in addition to the city’s former inspection center.
Jean Willis Flowering Tree Park, a green sanctuary just west of city hall and east of South Miami Hospital, was named after the city’s first woman commissioner, Jean Willis, in 1992. Willis, who served on the city council from 1956 to 1978, focused her political career on beautification. She died in August 2001.
Willis’ daughter, Ann Bass, describes the park as “an oasis of green space right in the middle of a bustling city.”
Jean Willis, who served on the South Miami City Council from 1956 to 1978, focused her political career on beautification.
The Jean Willis Flowering Tree Park, which is about three-quarters of an acre, first became a showplace for tropical flowering trees about 25 years ago when the Flowering Tree Society donated more than 60 flowering trees as well as labor and planting materials. It was the organization’s first public landscaping project and the first passive park in the area that was dedicated to flowering trees. It features a gazebo and picnic tables, and the tree canopy is a haven for birds.
Some of the trees and shrubs planted at the park include crape myrtle, butterfly tree, China doll, firecracker plant, bell flower and white candles.
“It’s located in a place where all the surrounding businesses and homeowners can get to it on foot.” Bass said. “They can walk and enjoy a peaceful place in the center of the city of South Miami. If they want to take their lunch and have a place to go that’s peaceful, that place is within walking distance.”
Now, as part of a plan under consideration to sell the city land and build new municipal buildings, the South Miami City Commission is talking about relocating the park about 70 yards south of its current location on Southwest 61st Court, just south of Sunset Drive.
Sylva G. Martin Community Center, which was dedicated in February 1936 and has been an integral part of the city’s history, would be moved with it. At various times the center served as a meeting place for clubs and fraternal organizations, a hurricane shelter, polling place and public library.
“Although nothing has been finalized, we’re just considering these possibilities,” said Mayor Philip Stoddard. “Moving the park there would be a place where a lot of people would encounter it.”
The proposed new location for the Jean Willis Park would be along The Underline, the land below Miami’s MetroRail, which is to be transformed into a linear park, urban trail and art destination.
The new location would be along The Underline, the land below Miami’s MetroRail. Plans are to transform the 10-mile stretch of underutilized land from the Miami River to Dadeland South Station into a linear park, urban trail and art destination.
“It would get a lot of attention along the Underline,” Stoddard said. “One idea is to make the community center a museum or a cafe, or both, alongside the flowering tree park.”
If the city decides to sell the properties, Stoddard said the trees at Flowering Tree Park will be uprooted and replanted. The community center, which is made of limestone, will be dug up and relocated. The properties sold would become mixed-use developments that would include a blend of residential and business units.
“It won’t be cheap but it would be worth it,” Stoddard said.
“City hall would move to the current library site, where a new library will also be built. The police station would be built on the parcel of land just north of the metro rail station, next door to the post office,” Stoddard said.
But an environmentally-friendly, state-of-the-art city hall is not the only thing propelling the commissioners.
“The reason for me being a big proponent of this is because the proceeds would also go toward putting sewer systems in the majority of neighborhoods in South Miami,” said Vice Mayor Robert Welsh. “As the sea level rises, septic tanks will not work.”
Another factor: South Miami Hospital has zoning rights to build up to eight stories high. Currently its buildings have only two to four floors.
“By moving the park, there is a guaranteed source of sunlight, where trees wouldn’t die of light starvation because tall buildings would create enough shade to kill them,” Welsh said. “It makes biological and botanical sense. If the hospital builds, it would essentially kill the park.”
He added, “There’s a lot of people that hold sentimental value, and personal value for this park, so I think we need to recognize and we have to honor that by protecting the park. There’s a lot of love in those trees.”
South Miami Hospital did not return calls seeking comment on its plans.
Bass, who also served as a South Miami commissioner in the ’90s, says the park is priceless.
“I can’t put a price tag on this,” Bass said. “This is a historical building. This is a flowering tree park. Many of these trees are unavailable in 99 percent of the nurseries in the state of Florida. They are so unique and have been blooming and growing all this time. They very well might not survive that move, you’ll lose a large majority of them.”
On Nov. 8, South Miami residents will vote on whether the city should entertain offers for city hall land in exchange for new municipal buildings and other possible improvements such as new sewer connections, park improvements or tax reductions. If voters approve the measure, city officials say the park probably will be moved.