The Miami Children’s Museum, which occupies public property on Watson Island, has asked the City of Miami for more land to create a new entrance and expand its facilities.
The popular educational attraction wants to take over a vacant lot that sits just outside its main entrance and add the parcel to its long-term, $2-a-year lease with the city. The scruffy lot, which is just over half an acre and includes several trees, is not assigned to any adjacent projects or enterprises, which include the stalled Island Gardens resort and a seaplane terminal.
In the short term, the museum would spruce up the property, add benches for picnicking and turn it into an inviting new entrance, said director Deborah Spiegelman.
“It’s right outside our front door, but it’s incredibly blighted and neglected,” Spiegelman said. “We want to turn it into more of a green space and picnic area.”
In the longer term, the museum is contemplating development of a new building on the land that could house programs for young children, including those with autism. Those plans are at an early stage, she said.
The museum’s request has been endorsed unanimously by the board of the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority, said its executive director, Lourdes Blanco. The city authority is the landlord for Watson Island.
Because the island is waterfront property and the museum would be the sole bidder on the land, the request will likely have to go to Miami voters in a referendum, City Manager Daniel Alfonso said on Tuesday. Although MSEA-managed city property was formerly excluded from the referendum requirement, that exemption was removed last year under a measure sponsored by Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, whose district includes Watson Island.
The museum request for the additional land will be considered on Thursday by the Miami Commission, which can instruct Alfonso to draw up an agreement with the institution or make a recommendation on the idea’s feasibility, he said.
“That is where we are right now,” he said.
The nonprofit museum, which also runs a preschool and a charter elementary school at its site, now takes up about 2.5 acres of public land. The facility, which opened in 2003, draws about 440,000 visitors a year, Spiegelman said.
The museum has been undergoing a $20 million, multi-year renovation to update its exhibits and improve the building’s energy efficiency.