Last month, the Bayfront Park Management Trust approved in a 5-4 vote to put a futuristic playground for kids within Museum Park. That’s the wide-open space downtown that’s south of the art and science museums, and north of the arena, that has the potential to become Miami’s signature park — the city’s breathtaking counterpart to New York’s Central, to Chicago’s Millennium.
This month — in fact, at its meeting this week — Trust members should hit “pause.” In theory, a play area, indeed belongs in the park — but not yet. The Yes votes acted irresponsibly, which was a disservice to government process, residents, taxpayers, and the spirit of Museum Park.
First, there was only one vendor considered, German manufacturer Berliner. With good intentions of jump-starting upgrades to Museum Park, City Commissioner Frank Carollo, who chairs the Trust, proposed what he calls a “cutting edge” play area. But there were no requests for proposal, no other bidders sought, no other designs floated. What’s the rush? There is absolutely no urgency here.
Second, funding for the more than $2 million playground is uncertain. In fact, this unnecessary project has caused a kerfuffle between Carollo and Ken Russell, a fellow commissioner who heads the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA has a contested agreement to give the Trust $2 million a year for 15 years — $30 million total. But the CRA won’t turn over a $2 million installment for the playground because, as Russell has said, CRA funds are to be used to eliminate slum and blight. He is committed to using the money to help build desperately needed housing for low- and middle-income families. Carollo and Russell are in negotiations for a one-time payment that would settle the controversial agreement once and for all. But they’re not there yet.
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Third, is the vision thing — or the lack of it. There is an expensive and already-approved master plan for Museum Park by Cooper Robertson, an internationally respected urban design group. It is a cohesively designed project of trees, art, water features and other elements — including play areas. But in typical Miami fashion, rather than bringing that plan to fruition holistically, the city and the Trust are taking a piecemeal approach of plunking down anything that seems like a good idea at the time. Some new lighting here, a playground there — which will result in a park with all the elegance of a design by a committee of nondesigners.
That’s three strikes. Do we really need to complete the baseball analogy?
The city showed its weak hand a few years ago when it rejected the creation of a Museum Park conservancy, a public-private organization that would raise funds and operate the park. There already were at least $22 million in private-sector pledges. But rather than take this innovative big-city approach, Miami’s leaders worried more about who would be in control. Conservancy proponents always made clear the city would retain ownership of the park.
Unfortunately, rather than get to a mutually beneficial Yes, the city let the proposal die.
Carollo has been the smart skeptic on the commission, looking out for taxpayers’ money and questioning dubious expenditures. With all its demerits, the playground project warrants the same look askance. Though the commissioner’s intentions are solid — who can argue that an urban park doesn’t need a playground to serve families? — he and the Trust should reverse course, take this one off the table, and responsibly push to make Museum Park something that will make the entire community shine.