Miami-Dade County

Vote to privatize Museum Park to be deferred, again

Rendering of a proposed grand entryway for Museum Park
Rendering of a proposed grand entryway for Museum Park

The Miami commissioner sponsoring a fast-moving proposal to privatize the city’s $10 million Museum Park has pushed pause again, this time to allow for more time to vet the concept.

A vote on whether to create a nonprofit conservancy and give it power to manage and redesign the 19-acre bayfront lawn was scheduled to take place Thursday. But Commissioner Marc Sarnoff signaled Monday morning that he intends to pull the item so that proponents have more time to work with the city’s Bayfront Park Management Trust, the semi-autonomous city agency that currently operates and maintains the park.

The trust’s chairman, Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo, says he’s open to partnering with a nonprofit to raise money for park improvements, but questions whether the city should cede control of a prime asset without greater details on how the park will be managed and upgraded.

“There’s some high-level meetings going to try to work out where there’s a situation where they don’t oppose the conservancy and we all coexist together,” Sarnoff said of the trust.

The push to create a conservancy to manage the park and an adjacent deep water boat slip gained steam over the last year after the city opened a pared-down version of Museum Park, located just off Biscayne Boulevard in the location of former Bicentennial Park.

The city spent about $10 million on its design and construction. But a group led by the Miami Foundation wanted to see the park built according to a $50 million plan designed years ago, so they came up with an unsolicited proposal to have the city retain ownership but cede control over operations and design to a non-profit conservancy.

There's some high-level meetings going to try to work out where there's a situation where they don't oppose the conservancy and we all coexist together.

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff

Proponents like Sarnoff say they can raise half the cost of the improvements from private sources, and already have one-third of that money pledged. But they say people are far more likely to contribute money to a small private organization than to the city.

A development agreement on the table would cede control over the park for at least 10 years. But Carollo has questioned the details of the proposal, and Mayor Tomás Regalado said more public input was needed. Commission Chairman Wifredo “Willy” Gort recently told the Miami Herald editorial board that he’s wary of turning over city assets to non-profits, given how badly that worked out with the failed effort to have the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium restore the historic venue.

Carollo said Monday that the trust is “now becoming part of the discussion.” Miami Foundation president and CEO Javier Soto said the organization will take the extra time to bring back a better proposal.

“Deferring the conservancy proposal item until January gives The Miami Foundation and partners time to continue developing a robust public-private partnership,” Soto said in a statement. “We will keep engaging the City of Miami, Bayfront Park Management Trust, elected leaders, private donors and residents to agree on a management structure that works in the best interest of all Miamians.”

Sarnoff initially brought the proposal to the commission two weeks ago, but deferred the issue to Thursday after Soto suffered a medical emergency. By delaying it again, the term-limited commissioner would ensure that he won’t be on the dais to vote on the proposal when it comes back Jan. 14. But Sarnoff said that’s fine with him.

“You’ll have a new commissioner,” he said. “They can make their own evaluation.”