Miami-Dade County

Cuban Exile museum may get company on Miami waterfront

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Cuban Exile Museum for county-owned waterfront behind the AmericanAirlines Arena.
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Cuban Exile Museum for county-owned waterfront behind the AmericanAirlines Arena. Cuban Exile Museum

The Cuban Exile Museum may have company on county-owned waterfront in downtown Miami. The administration of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is considering a cultural complex behind the AmericanAirlines Arena that would include a new black-history museum and a relocated History Miami museum.

In a memo released Friday, Gimenez wrote that his administration is pursuing parallel tracks for the area known as Parcel B: one with a Cuban Exile museum alone, and one involving all three entities.

County commissioners in July endorsed the idea of using the five-acre site for a museum dedicated to the history of Cuban exiles. After that, they approved pursuing a site somewhere for a new black-history museum.

Since then, administration officials have broached the idea of combining the two proposed museums with the History Miami facility on Parcel B. The new memo officially unveiled the dual possibilities, but provided no details. It wasn’t clear if the Gimenez administration was considering three museums under one roof, or some other option.

The memo describes the idea as a “comprehensive and unified approach to telling the story of our community’s development.” It adds “each of the museums’ representatives have expressed an interest in working together on a joint project.”

The triple-museum plan comes as organizers of the Exile Museum are preparing to debut their fund-raising efforts with a cruise-ship luncheon at PortMiami hosted on by Norwegian CEO Frank del Rio on Sunday. The cruise chief’s family left Cuba in the 1960s, when he was 7.

Museum considerations add another dimension of controversy to Parcel B, an isolated wedge of waterfront that has been the subject of controversy since the arena’s construction in the 1990s. The Heat advertised it as a waterfront park during a referendum campaign for the new arena in 1996, but the team ended up renting it from Miami-Dade for valet parking and staging for concerts, the circus and other large events.

Miami-Dade recently launched a move to nearly triple the Heat’s rent for Parcel B, from an estimated $80,000 a year to $230,000. Meanwhile, the Heat is pushing back on the museum plan, saying the open land helps keep the arena a thriving destination downtown. Open-space activists are pressing Miami-Dade to resume pursuit of the promised park there, and they’re complaining that the county let the recent Formula E ePrix race pave parts of the parcel for the electric-car spectacle.

The March 12 memo on the competing options does not lay out a timetable but says it will draft a lease for commissioners to consider “based on our progress on these parallel tracks.”