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New Miami memorial in Brickell Ave. park honors 9/11 victims

The steel beam is rusted and burned, dented and chipped.

It was among the last to be removed from the 9/11 rubble at the World Trade Center.

For years, the 900-pound girder sat collecting dust in an empty hangar at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. But beginning Thursday, it will stand again, as the centerpiece of a new public park on Miami’s Brickell Avenue.

Miami joins Plantation, Miramar and North Lauderdale in having a piece of the World Trade Center on display. A handful of local fire departments and firefighters’ unions also have acquired pieces of the wreckage.

“It is important for Miami to have a memorial to honor the victims of 9/11,” said Miami Commission Vice ChairmanMarc Sarnoff, who represents the Brickell neighborhood. “We’re hoping it will become part of the community, and that people will travel here to see it.”

Nobody knows from which tower the beam fell, or on which floor it originally stood.

It is one of thousands salvaged by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Each piece was given a number and sent off to the airplane hangar for safe keeping.

“Our goal here was to try and provide pieces of steel that people from around the country and the world could have to create memorials,” said Steven Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman.

Coleman said cities and towns from all 50 states have requested pieces of World Trade Center steel. Several foreign countries have asked, too.

So far, about 1,500 of the requests have been filled. The demand has been so great that Coleman believes the stockpiled steel will run out this year.

Miami’s beam has been incorporated into a sculpture designed by artist Christian Bernard, a Frenchman who has lived in South Florida for 14 years.

The girder, labeled H-0156, stands atop a pedestal and is surrounded by a concrete arch.

Inside the arch, Bernard has painted a wind-swept American flag. Attached to the outside is a plaque with a five-stanza poem written by Rafaella Debest, a sixth-grader at Carver Middle School in Coral Gables when the Twin Towers fell.

Bernard, who also goes by the artist name Narbero, said he intended to keep the design simple and authentic.

“This, as a symbol, is powerful,” he said, gripping the heavy steel with his hand. “It is art on its own.”

Bernard was not compensated for his work on the sculpture, he said. The materials were donated.

The sculpture stands at the center of 1814 Brickell Park, a new green space in the thriving urban neighborhood.

Sarnoff said the park took more than three years to complete and cost about $1 million, most of which was financed by bond dollars. Miami developer Tibor Hollo and his wife Shelia pitched in $250,000.

When the park opens for the first time Thursday, city police officers and firefighters will be on hand to dedicate the 9/11 memorial.

Later in the afternoon, visitors will be able to enjoy the manicured lawns, picnic tables and playground.

City officials are hoping 1814 Brickell becomes a place where visitors can relax — and pay tribute to the lives lost in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“It should be a great addition to the neighborhood,” Sarnoff said.

Miami Herald writer Alejandro Bolivar contributed to this report.