Downtown Miami

Who pays for $2M Museum Park playground? Might be anti-blight agency

Berliner, the manufacturer providing the equipment for Museum Park’s $2 million playground, makes an atypical play set, shown in this rendering.
Berliner, the manufacturer providing the equipment for Museum Park’s $2 million playground, makes an atypical play set, shown in this rendering. BERLINER

Miami’s signature park is about to get a $2 million playground. And it looks like an anti-blight agency will get the bill.

On Wednesday, the Bayfront Park Management Trust voted 5 to 4 in favor of a no-bid proposal to erect a “cutting edge” play area in Museum Park. Working with German manufacturer Berliner and sales agent ARC Florida, the public agency that oversees Miami’s Bayfront and Museum parks hopes to begin installing the equipment in the near future.

Frank Carollo, a Miami commissioner and chairman of the trust, brought the deal to the board and cast the deciding vote.

Though some board members criticized him for foisting the vendor and project on the board with no input and scant detail, he billed the project as the first step toward finally upgrading a bare-bones, underfunded park that was originally designed as a lush $68 million lawn.

“It’s cutting edge,” Carollo said of the play area. “It’s the newest thing that’s around.”

The trust will pay upfront for the pricey playground, which looks like an elaborate, futuristic jungle gym. A construction estimate created in May put the price of the project at $2.08 million.

But in a sign of things to come, Bayfront board members want to be repaid by a Miami redevelopment agency that since 2014 has been on the hook for an annual $2 million Museum Park maintenance payment — but has never paid.

Holding up the money: A dispute over whether it’s appropriate for the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency to spend $30 million through 2030 in order to make upgrades at a waterfront park bookended by two brand new museums and the AmericanAirlines Arena.

The sprawling Global Agreement contract that paved the way for Marlins Park and the PortMiami Tunnel also required that the redevelopment agency spend millions creating and maintaining Museum Park. But redevelopment agencies are intended to fight slum and blight, and their use to fund big-ticket projects to the detriment of smaller neighborhood initiatives has proved controversial in South Florida.

Just $2 million a year would represent a massive increase in capital funding to Museum Park, which has been starved of money since before it opened. But the redevelopment agency’s leadership has been working diplomatic channels for months to try and de-obligate the funds in order to pursue housing initiatives west of the Florida East Coast railway tracks.

“That is the wrong pot of money to use” for Museum Park, said Ken Russell, a city commissioner and chairman of the Omni redevelopment agency.

Russell says he is willing to let go of the $2 million due this year if it helps settle future debts (the decision is ultimately up to all five city commissioners). But Carollo said Wednesday that he expects to push for more money from the Omni redevelopment agency in order to finally begin upgrading Museum Park.

Whether they find a middle ground may determine what the redevelopment agency can do for housing in one of the city’s poorest areas, and whether Museum Park receives upgrades at any point in the near future.