Children who first learned to swim at the Morningside Park pool at age 5 have not been able to use it for four summers, and they will be 13 or older before they can jump in again, but at least the popular neighborhood park will have a pool in a city desperately short of them.
Miami leaders unveiled the latest improvement plan for the bayfront park at a packed meeting Wednesday night, telling residents the city intends to demolish the old pool, which has been closed for repairs since 2016, and build a new one in a different section of the park. Cost: $6.4 million. Timetable for completion: four years.
The park’s original pool, opened in 1953, won’t be refurbished despite three engineering studies commissioned by the city at a cost of $149,000 that recommended it be fixed. City officials fear it could be damaged by future sea rise flooding because it sits 110 feet from the shoreline. The pool is an urban oasis for historic Morningside and surrounding Upper East Side neighborhoods, including Little Haiti.
The new one, however, will be constructed where the softball field and playground now stand. The city’s 40-page redesign plan — its fourth draft — proposes moving the softball field to a “multi-purpose” open green space that’s also used for soccer, and moving the playground next to a picnic area near where a new dog park will be built.
“There is victory in the sense that they’re keeping a pool in Morningside,” said Elvis Cruz, longtime resident and activist, a former firefighter, and a lifeguard at the pool when he was a teenager. He led the long, contentious fight to save the pool.
“It’s disappointing that the city threw away all that money and time on studies that said it makes more sense to rebuild on the same footprint. Keeping the pool there — and it would be elevated and protected by a seawall and shoreline treatment — would be much less disruptive and create a spectacular venue with bay views.
“Relocating the pool sets off a chain reaction that will move things around. We lose the softball field and the playground and green space in front of the community center that was used year-round for kids’ programs. We end up cannibalizing existing space to shoehorn the pool into that area.”
Softball and soccer players aren’t happy. Dr. Ricardo Komotar, program director at the University of Miami School of Medicine’s neurosurgery department, has been playing softball on the field with his colleagues for nine years.
“It is used a lot because it’s the only field in the downtown area that everyone can get to easily, so it would be a big blow to lose it,” Komotar said. “Softball, baseball and soccer can’t be played on a shared field. You need a pool but also at least one dedicated ballfield. It’s America’s pastime!”
The boat house may be torn down, but the loop road that meanders into shaded picnic areas will remain.
“The most popular usage of the park is for picnics, cookouts, gatherings, birthdays, even weddings,” Cruz said.
The area where the empty pool now sits behind a locked gate is designated as “event space” in the plan. Residents are concerned that could open up the park to moneymaking endeavors for the city, as has been the case at other parks, such as a waterfront restaurant or concert space.
The Morningside Civic Association expects to endorse the city’s park plan — with a few changes — at its Sept. 10 meeting.
Steve Williamson, the city’s capital improvements director, will pass on feedback from the meeting to designers as they assess the cost of 25 new features or enhancements to the 42-acre park, a jewel in the city’s system but one that has suffered from chronic lack of maintenance.